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Gentrifaction

Spell-checking software will not like this word. But I hope readers understand it in the context of putrefaction: a not entirely welcome process that is unstoppable once it has begun.

District 21 has been a reliably Democratic electorate since I moved here in 1980; thirty-eight years of relative liberality in a state that is otherwise scarlet red. The district constitutes much of the inner city but my precinct seemed a residential wasteland until I canvassed the neighborhood, roughly forty blocks between our two transcontinental rail lines and from Tenth Street to the river, most of it commercial, institutional, or devolved to parking. The local parking authority was devoted to the idea that parking generates business, but failed to notice the reciprocal aspect of that formula: more of one necessarily means less of the other. By the time this sank in, a regional shopping center drew most of the remaining businesses in the CBD (the “B” ought to be in lower case) and our own personal Dresden had become ripe for redevelopment. But when I had canvassed the area for Democratic candidates, imagine my surprise to find hundreds of resident voters—the aged, the childless, the single—hidden in rooming houses, second floor apartments, probably illegal basement rooms (there being inadequate escape windows, if there were windows at all), and the very rare single-family detached home (mine being among them). It was the 70s and these voters were reliably Democratic.

I recall a Republican candidate at my door one autumn evening, a piece of campaign literature thrust at me with a cheery introduction. I passed the pamphlet back—”It will just go in the trash”—and wished him well. In nearly twenty years I had voted for a Republican just once and that was a protest against a Democrat who had come to see his office as a right, rather than a privilege. Things are about to change and I now appreciate my role as an agent of that shift.

When I bout my inner city home, you could barely give downtown property away; my modest house cost one-third of a decent automobile these days. But most of the precinct’s voters rented rather than owned. Today, with a major new institutional presence, the neighborhood seems more like Berlin after the Wall came down. Construction of new apartments—both rental and condo—has changed the demographic hereabouts and I know this from a meeting of the Downtown Neighborhood Association some months ago.

Among the issues that brought us together at the Public Library meeting room, I would have expected parking to rank high on the list. Not so, I discovered when a tall close-cropped woman related how there were disreputable people lingering about the vicinity of her door. More police presence was necessary in her estimation, an opinion seconded by several others in the room. Improved street lighting and surveillance cameras would surely lessen the problem. At some point, in my silence, I began to understand the Great Divide represented in that room.

“How many of you here tonight,” I inquired, “live in security buildings?” and ninety percent of the hands shot ceiling-ward. There’s the rub, I thought; the neighborhood demographic had up-ended. I and my ilk were now the minority in an area havily gentrified. We now boast more caffeine emporia per capita than Seattle! Not to mention high-end fashion shops, vendors of truffle-infused extra virgin olive oil, and gelato. As a reality check, I shared an observation from my bedroom window: “I’m sorry that disreputable people seem to threaten your security, But I wonder how many of you were awakened by your dog and looked out a rear window to see two people fucking in the alley.” No show of hands this time. I’ll cut to the chase and say that neither I nor my husband were notified of another DNA meeting. Nor are we surprised.

So as the November mid-term elections approach, I fully expect a new crop of Republican candidates at our door and that they have a very good shot at winning. District 21 has gone topsy-turvy and the state has turned a little more red.


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