The harsh reality of gentrification for a local
“Marshall Park to get bulldozed for redevelopment project,” the headline read. That’s when I reached a tipping point. A city that once felt so familiar is now more foreign than than the latest Maserati.
According to Merriam-Webster, gentrification is the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood), accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people and that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.
Some will say this definition doesn’t necessarily equate to what is happening in Charlotte, but those of us born and raised in the 704 know otherwise. Everytime I ride through my Southside childhood neighborhood, a certain sadness comes over me. I will never again see the things I once loved in person. I’ll never be able to show my future children the places that I experienced some of my greatest joys. I literally have to ask people for directions in an area where I spent the first half of my life.
I grew up off of Poindexter Road, right where it intersects with South Boulevard, in the Sedgefield neighborhood. Our neighborhood was a mix of black and white, young and old, nuclear families and single mothers, mostly working and lower middle class homes. My mother and I moved into a small, brick duplex on the corner of our street only a few days before I began kindergarten in 1989. She worked as a clerical assistant for BellSouth and I attended Myers Park Traditional Elementary. As an only child, used to playing alone, I was thrilled that my new neighborhood was filled with other children around my age. It was my safe place.
This area was so diverse, I never felt out of place as a young Black girl. I was exposed to kids of many ethnicities and races. We all played together. We had sleepovers at each other’s houses, our parents shared snacks with everyone, and most of us attended school together. We became each other’s families.
My friends and I would ride our bikes to the Krystal’s on the corner of Poindexter Road and South Boulevard, going HAM on those $.50 mini chicken sandwiches and burgers. But our favorite hangout was the Sedgefield Shopping Center. One of my best memories is entering an Easter drawing at one of the local stores. To my surprise I won a 3-foot rabbit–my first time ever winning a public contest. I cherished that stuffed toy like it was a first car.
By the time I entered high school, in 1999, the rent had increased by $200 on the 3-bedroom, 1-bath duplex. The area was changing and that was reflected in the prices of everything around it. One by one, the mom and pop food spots in the shopping center went out of business. I could no longer get my favorite cheap Chinese food or snacks from the general store. Those things no longer fit the aesthetic of what was to come. After closing, the Sedgefield store was replaced by a Healthy Home Market.
Living in that neighborhood was no longer feasible for my family. Luckily, my mother had been saving to purchase a home and we moved to the opposite side of town.
We relocated to the Derita neighborhood, close to West Sugar Creek, an older Black neighborhood with fewer options than we’d had before. There was one run-down Food Lion, a Subway and a Chinese spot up the road. We had to venture miles away to Harris Boulevard and the University area for better dining options and clean grocery stores. To this day, not much has changed in the area.
This is in stark contrast to my old neighborhood in Sedgefield. The duplex still stands, but rents at $1,195 per month — a 70 percent increase from when we lived there. The shopping center that I once loved going to with friends has been completely demolished and replaced by a fancy neighborhood Harris Teeter, to accommodate the fancy new communities in the area.
As the city increases its appeal, it also increases its pricing. Unfortunately job wages aren’t following suit. An article that literally made me laugh out loud stated that in order for a person to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in Charlotte they need to make at least $22 per hour. Fun fact, the minimum wage in Charlotte is $7 per hour. In the grand scheme of things, $22 per hour may not sound like a lot. However, most native Charlotteans aren’t making such wages. Families are being displaced and forced out of housing that they simply can’t afford. As fancy apartment building after fancy apartment building fills Uptown and surrounding areas to make way for new residents, where do natives go?
Just as the definition of gentrification states, many Charlotteans are being forced out due to these redevelopment projects. That was illustrated in the recent closing of Armada Skate Shop. Owner Patrick Carroll was in his Plaza Midwood location for so long that he watched the kids coming into his shop grow into adults and bring in their own kids to share the love of skating. In late April, he was forced to vacate due to skyrocketing rent. A new restaurant was slated to take over the entire building where his store was located.
I’m happy that more businesses are coming to Charlotte in general to open up shop. But it does make me wonder why these same options aren’t offered in majority Black and brown neighborhoods. We like to eat and experience new things too! But I digress.
I’m now in my 30’s, no kids yet, and managing two career fields. I wrestle with the thought of living the “urban apartment life” in Charlotte but something about it never sits right with my spirit. I can’t see paying upwards of $1300 for a 1-bedroom apartment because the amenities one would need are within walking distance. Especially knowing that in neighborhoods like my mother’s, these same amenities are not even close to being an option.
Chalina Milton pays homage to Earl Village, the neighborhood where she was raised, in a touching poem called ‘Ode to the PJs.’
“The PJs still hold some of my fondest memories.
Jumping in leaf piles before school, although I was told not to.
Chipping my tooth on a raised tree root, in my new church shoes,
Going to the neighbors to borrow Advil,
Then sucking off the coating and handing it to my mom,
Like she wouldn’t know the deal.
LOL that is so gross, but the PJs were the bomb…
Then we moved, and years passed.
Gentrification buried the PJs
Under their privilege, under their cash.
They tried to erase you, and everything they thought you represented,
But they forgot that while you fertilized their soil, we were still standing.
You can tear down a building, but you can never destroy the body.
The body is His, always was and always is.
RIP Earle Village.”
You can read the entire poem here.
In recent months, there have been talks of bringing more affordable housing options to the city, which sounds good I guess. I’m hopeful that a new generation of native Charlotteans will come together to start “buying back the block” to help combat some of these issues.
Many neighborhood groups have started holding town-hall meetings to brainstorm ideas on how to stop gentrification and to educate residents on the effects of selling their property to these investors. This is a start. But it’s not the end-all solution to what is happening and what will continue to happen.
I can’t say I have the slightest idea of how that fully realized solution looks. What I do know is that I shouldn’t have to ask for directions in a place I once called home.