The Side-Effects of Gentrification: Should Urban Pioneers Feel Threatened When Living in The 'Hood Goes Mainstream

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Drew Philp Detroit by Garrett McLean

Author Drew Philp in his Poletown home he purchased for $500

Photo: BuzzFeed/Garrett Maclean

Candy and I have been discussing this very interesting long-form story from BuzzFeed about a man who bought a home in Detroit’s Poletown neighborhood for $500 when he was 23 years old. Since then, protesters, investors, and CEOs have bought up property throughout Detroit’s devastated neighborhoods, demolishing buildings and shrinking the city’s footprint.

Drew Philp‘s story is a gripping one if you are interested in reclaiming urban neighborhoods, overcoming a history of civic corruption, and reinvesting in cities wrought by economic peril. I know several people in the southern reaches of North Oak Cliff who have purchased homes knowing that it could be years before their neighborhood transitions into a marketable one and a profitable investment. Did that deter them? Heck no.

Still, Philp’s perspective on broadening gentrification is an interesting one. His account, which takes us through the first couple of years of living in a once-abandoned home that was so full of trash it took him a month to clear the first floor, to now. Here’s a telling excerpt:

Dan Gilbert, the owner of Quicken Loans, has moved more than 7,600 employees downtown. He also just sent a notice to one of my ex-girlfriends, explaining he has purchased the apartment building she’s lived in for the last 16 years and his future plans don’t include her. The city is talking of disinvesting in entire neighborhoods such as mine — literally letting the neighborhood go to seed and removing city services, shrinking the city in what some have termed as “white-sizing”; upstarts backed with foundation money are talking about transforming an entire neighborhood into an 2,475-acre urban farm. The state just approved a $350 million subsidized giveaway for a hockey stadium with a suburban fan base that’s going to tear down another portion of the city and push more people out. Of course, the divide between the gentrifying Detroit downtown and the bankrupt Detroit that is the rest of the city mirrors what is happening in a lot of this country.

These changes are making me feel a bit threatened and defensive. Instead of a lone weird white kid buying a house in Detroit, now I’m part of a movement. I shop at the Whole Foods, knowing every step into that store is a step away from a brand-new city that could be. And if someone tries to break into my house again I will not hesitate to defend myself and someday my family. Some days I feel caught in a tide I cannot row against, but these are the realities. Maybe I’m feeling a bit like the good people of Detroit must have felt to be counted amongst the citizens of “Murder City.”

But there’s another Detroit, too, of which I am but a small part. It’s been happening quietly and for some time, between transplants and natives, black and white and Latino, city and country — tiny acts of kindness repeated thousands of times over, little gardens and lots of space, long meetings and mowing grass that isn’t yours. It’s baling hay.

It’s the Detroit that’s saving itself. The Detroit that’s building something brand-new out of the cinders of consumerism and racism and escape.

Read the whole thing and then tell us: Does the modern Detroit really reflect how our nation is changing? And how do we turn the tide, as Philp suggests we do?



Joanna England

If Executive Editor Joanna England could house hunt forever, she absolutely would. Instead she covers the North Texas housing market and the economy for While she started out with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, Joanna's work has appeared in The Dallas Morning News as well as several local media outlets. When she's not knitting or hooping, or enjoying White Rock Lake, she's behind the lens of her camera. She lives in East Dallas with her husband, son, and their furry and feathered menagerie.

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