Two things I read this week troubled me.
The first was an article on gentrification by urban ministry practicioner Bob Lupton where he considers how those doing urban ministry should think about the different issues raised by increasingly gentrified urban cores (thanks Anthony Siff at MereMission for this link). Lupton writes:
“Resisting gentrification is like trying to hold back the rising ocean tide. It is surely coming, relentlessly, with power and growing momentum. Young professionals as well as empty nesters are flooding into our cities, buying up lofts and condos and dilapidated historic residences, opening avant-garde artist studios and gourmet eateries. If market forces alone are allowed to rule the day, the poor will be gradually, silently displaced, for the market has no conscience. But those who do understand Godâ€™s heart for the poor have a historic challenge to infuse the values of compassion and justice into the process. But it will require altogether new paradigms of ministry.”
“For years, USC has struggled with its image as a campus in the heart of the inner city and tried to link its fortunes to downtown Los Angeles, a few miles north. Now, a newly gentrified and hip downtown is marching south, while the university is creeping north.”
The L.A. times article quotes one author saying:
“I don’t know a lot of people who would consider the neighborhood around USC a particularly prime place to live yet. It’s a problematic location. It is still adjacent to some of the poorest parts of L.A.”
We live just down the street from USC. Our church meets one block West of Vermont, the major street that separates USC from “us”. It is my neighbors and their children; it is their community; their businesses and livelihoods that are the “problematic” part of USC’s image and its market hunger for “location, location, location”. And it is the “yet” and “still” that carry the warning: what are we, a church called to love and serve the poor in this city, called and willing to do in response to these trends of displacement? As we contribute (many of us have bought old, historic homes that we are lovingly restoring) to the rising property values and prohibitive rents (we have had people who wish to move into our neighborhood to be a part of our church not be able to because rents are just too high), how are we doing so responsibly and “with justice” as Lupton commends?