Is Urban Agriculture a Catalyst to Gentrification? Jillian Hishaw

In rural areas, the constant encroachment on small farms is oppressive to say the least.  However, this hindrance also takes place in urban areas.  Urban agriculture at times can be a catalyst, to gentrification.  It starts with a vacant lot being converted to a raised bed garden for the community.  If the community was invested, a few years past and chicken coops are added along with mural’s and nice fencing to add to the aesthetics.   Suddenly, the lot that use to be home to loitering and back pocket drug exchanges by high school kids tired of being broke.  Eventually, it becomes clean, prime real estate in the greater metropolitan area.  After five years, the old home of the late Mrs. Johnson is bought by a flip or flop realty company along with other homes on surrounding blocks.  The low-income aesthetic becomes the “new, trendy” neighborhood for new transplant elites from NYC relocating for affordability.  Once the community farmer or local urban farming non-profit puts in the sweat equity, the City sales the lot to build new condos starting at $250 K for 1,000 sq. ft. units.  While urban farms do add to the resolutions of food insecurity, the reality is it also has a different impact in some cases. 

A prime example is the Washington DC area of LeDroit Park, a working-class community neighboring Howard University and the “trendy, hip” area of Shaw.[1]  Shaw consists of affluent dwellers compared to LeDriot.[2]  With renovated row houses selling at $800,000 in Shaw and LeDroit being home to an urban farm located within a low-income housing area.[3]  Gentrification hits you right in the face.  According to a Civil Eats article "since 2001 the city's [DC] white population jumped 31 percent, while its Black population declined by 11 percent."[4]  Another example is the Peachtree & Pineworks homeless shelter located in downtown Atlanta, Georgia.  Operating since 1997 and managed by the Metro Atlanta Taskforce for the Homeless on August 28, 2017, after 20 years of operation the men’s shelter closed.  Although the relationship between the City and Shelter had been contentious since the beginning, the shelter housed a roof-top garden that was utilized as a job-training program.  The shelter sued and a settlement of $9.7 million was reached which included relocation fees.[5]  During the time of the shelters closing the City of Atlanta and United Way pledged $50 million to combat homelessness.[6]  Will other cities follow Atlanta’s lead in combating displacement and development?  What about the estimated four billion dollar, 30-year redevelopment project of over 500 acres in South Chicago.[7]  The list of examples is endless along with the number of urban gardening and farming initiatives surrounding these “up and coming” neighborhoods or as the developers of the Chicago project advertised it a “new community.” [8]  Mixed-use housing projects should include diversified income requirements to counter the displacement.  Reducing property taxes and rent control initiatives can be resolutions.  Also, encouraging residents to move to less populated rural areas and providing monetary incentives like South Dakota compensating lawyers is a plausible alternative. [9]  Once an urban farming initiative increases the value of a lot and gradually the neighborhood, the same people that beautified the neighborhood are often the first to be displaced.  Eventually, the concern of affordable housing is discussed after the building permits have long been issued.  

 

[1] Massey, Brian, Civil Eats, “D.C. Urban Farms Wrestle With Gentrification and Displacement,” February 27, 2017 https://civileats.com/2017/02/27/d-c-s-urban-farms-wrestle-with-gentrification-and-displacement/  

[2] Civil Eats

[3] Civil Eats

[4] Civil Eats

[5] The Metro Atlanta Taskforce For the Homeless Homepage, https://atlantataskforceforhomeless.org/

[6] Capelouto, Susanna, WABE, NPR “Atlanta Shifts Strategy on Homelessness After Shelter Closure” October 10, 2017 https://www.wabe.org/atlanta-shifts-strategy-homelessness-shelter-closure/

[7] Editor, Area Chicago, “Development and Displacement in South Chicago” 2018 copyright http://www.areachicago.org/development-and-displacement-in-south-chicago-the-new-downtown-and-the-same-old-story/

[8] Area Chicago

[9] Rural Attorney Recruitment Program, South Dakota United Judicial System, http://ujs.sd.gov/Information/rarprogram.aspx