Breitbart gets in on “Gentrification” myths

Somehow this junk piece from Breitbart ended up in my news feed, and my iPhone was really insistent that I read it, so I did. It is good to read contrasting viewpoints that challenge you. If you believe in racial unity and equitable gentrification, and aren’t afraid of black people, you too will benefit from this piece challenging your thinking.

I have to boil this down to the simplest terms possible because responding in their own language, with veiled references to the scary #BlackLivesMatter movement, makes me want to lose my mind. Despite constituting the most significant right-wing/conservative acknowledgment of urban migration since Joel Kotkin’s screeds, it was clearly written from a suburban perspective. See the lead-off:

Re-Suburbanization?

The premise is this: Gentrification is a function of safety and nothing else. On its own, this treatise is reasonable enough, although I don’t completely agree. I think there are cultural factors that are even stronger, and I think moderate improvements in safety were the vanguard, while it took a virtuous cycle cemented by gentrification to bring urban crime down to where it is now. I am willing to overlook all of that, however, as mere details.

As we have seen, gentrification is a function of safety; the young and the restless might be up for a little yeasty adventure in the big town, but they don’t wish to be mugged or murdered—that’s taking the urban experience too far.  So we can say: Where there is no public safety, there is no urban renaissance.   -James P. Pinkerton, Breitbart.com

So I guess for those of us on this yeasty adventure, whatever the %$#! that means, Breitbart has some advice for us: It was fun, but it’s over, and now’s the time to throw in the rag and come back to the suburbs.

In fact they state that we are seeing the emergence of a third migratory wave, “Re-Suburbanization.” No, not right now. But it will happen, as soon as all those urban lovebirds see what they see.

The assertion that this will happen hinges on the emergence of BLM and a perceived backlash against “broken windows” policing. “Broken windows” policing is pro-active policing that goes after early signs of trouble, rather than reacting once it’s too late. I am supportive of this. So too are most urbanites.

The section on the “broken windows” backlash is mysteriously devoid of links or evidence to back up the claim against the backlash, except for one: a linked article in which Martin O’Malley’s 1999 Baltimore mayor campaign pledged “zero tolerance” against petty crime. That proves it! Especially because O’Malley clearly has the Democratic party apparatus under his thumb.

Conveniently Forgotten Details

Yes, “broken windows” policing is a thing. Breitbart is correct that it works, but they are wrong that there is a backlash against it. It is however true that policing is in a state of transition, as superior police departments (not all police departments are the same) are naturally honing their police tactics to today’s context and challenges. This is where we are seeing the emergence of community policing.

Breitbart would like to convince and scare readers into believing that the transition is from “broken windows” policing, to simply no policing. Read more about the concept of community policing on discoverpolicing.org. It is a very simple three-step process that similar to “broken windows” in the 1990s, has proven to be very successful in the 2000s: 1, build effective community partnerships; 2, engage in problem solving around community deficiencies; 3, implement those partnerships to deter and solve crime.

Under this model, cops walk the same beat they always have. They are very visible. They spend a lot of their time helping people find their way, talking to neighbors, asking how people are doing, visiting schools, and even making youtube videos where they pull people over just to give them gift cards. They aren’t not policing. They are instead focusing on rebuilding trust so that they can work with people that might know more about potential crime than they do. Cops can’t do it alone.

Nobody can do anything alone.

This last thought gets me to something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Most of the societal and organizational failures that surround us are because people cannot improvise. More often than not, people freak out rather than embrace change. I see this as the root cause of so much anguish that grabs the headlines nowadays.

False Choices

One of my grad school professors has an excellent article quote arguing that comedic improv could basically save the world:

Upon learning Jason Sudy started city planning firm Side Street Planning and co-founded improv troupe Fake Bacon, I was intrigued− mainly because I couldn’t find a common thread between the two. Then he mentioned the central tenet of improv: “yes, and…”

In improv, especially with a surrounding cast, you have a split second to react and build upon what your cast mate just did. You can’t stand there and grandstand him/her, disagree, and suggest what he/she should say instead. All you can do about it is “yes, and…” Which, I think is perfect.

How often do transit proponents, who should be on the same side, come to blows over bus versus rail? Both sides simply cannot bring themselves to say “yes bus, AND rail.” This applies to virtually every other public discourse we have over seemingly competing choices. We waste most of our time getting sucked into the fallacy of false choices.

This brings me to my last point, which are the false choices that Breitbart wants people to make regarding cities.

It’s not unlike the whole backlash against BLM. Some people have deluded themselves into thinking that Black Lives and Blue Lives cannot both matter at the same time, it must be one OR the other!

Or, not unlike the infrastructure funding battles we fight everywhere. We cannot invest in both urban and suburban areas, it must be one OR the other! Must choose one (guess which one).

Or, not unlike the battles we wage over gentrification. Go to Citylab.com and you’ll see a gloomy narrative of white people aggressively colonizing minority communities and kicking them to all the curb. Breitbart meanwhile is weaving an alternate narrative of angry minorities going around and threatening would-be gentrifiers on their yeasty adventure in the big town. Even though the latter narrative is 100% absurd and adverse impact on minorities is a real thing, both of these narratives push the same false choice, and erode the public will to live together in harmony.

I have an alternate theory of my own: Anyone pushing the false choice is on the same side. Citylab and Breitbart are merely the two sides of the same coin that we don’t have to keep flipping, expecting different results.

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