Not Everyone Likes Newcomers Reshaping Southwest Detroit

August 01, 2013, 7:57 AM

This graffiti in Corktown, posted Wednesday at Reddit by a user with the screen name "Mr. Spite," kindled a lively discussion there. Part of his impassioned comment is at the end of this article.

The word "gentrification" can be music to some ears. For others, not so much.

When President Bill Clinton opened an office in Harlem, people figured it would spur more development and result in better housing. It did.

But some residents complained that rents were going up and they were being placed out of the market.

Detroit News columnist Neal Rubin writes about a battle between locals and hipster/gentrification folks in Southwest Detroit.

He writes:

Whoever painted anti-hipster graffiti on at least four buildings in the area over the weekend didn’t provide a lot of detail. But in what appears to be a locals-vs.-hipsters turf war, this could be just the tip of the spray can.

“Respect Our Roots,” read one advisory, in orange, on the side of a defunct party store at Bagley and 18th Street. “Stop Gentrification in Detroit,” said another, in black. “This Is Southwest Go Home,” declared a third, in red. There was a fairly standard Spanish vulgarity — a bit of local color in a heavily Latino district — and then there was “HIPSTER,” in red, circled, with a slash through it.


He adds:

But not everyone wants progress, or at least not progress that looks like change. In the 1980s, residents near Wayne State groused about the influx of gays. Corktown didn’t like yuppies. Everybody wants Detroit to bounce back, but not at the expense of their property taxes.

Candidate Jean Vortkamp, a self-described community volunteer, railed at length at a mayoral forum Tuesday night about gentrification. Non-gentrification, on the other hand, hasn’t worked all that well in a city that hundreds of thousands of people have sprinted to escape.

In a comment posted under the column, fellow News writer George Hunter says:

I live in Southwest, and efforts to rename the neighborhood or change it to make it more palatable for hipsters are more than annoying. I grew up in the Cass Corridor, and most of us who lived there in the '60s-'80s hate the fact that the hipsters have now been successful in "rebranding" it as Midtown. Why not move into a neighborhood and embrace it, rather than reforming it to fit your own image?

That said, I do appreciate anyone whose willing to move in and make a contribution.

The graffiti and Rubin's column fuel lively online discussions Thursday, including a Jalopnik Detroit post in which journalist Aaron Foley wryly advises hipsters "what to do when approached by a reporter" so they "avoid giving such writers ammunition to pit one community against the other."

At a Detroit area on Reddit, the photo atop this article by "Mr. Spite" draws 41 comments as of mid-afternoon -- including these impassioned observations from the photographer himself:

This is a complex issue. As someone who grew up in Corktown and lived there from the late 70s to the early 2000s, I like seeing new businesses and developments in my old neighborhood. Businesses like Slows and Green Dot are big value adds to Corktown, no doubt.

That being said, I think this graffiti was inspired by the attitudes that many in the new hipster community have adopted towards the people who have lived in Corktown all their lives. There are many, MANY new young artists and entrepreneurs who are coming down to Corktown and who are openly condescending and dismissive of the people who have called this neighborhood home for decades. . . .

Yes, thank you for cleaning up the house you bought and opening a new bar. That's great. However, don't act like you're a goddamn missionary bringing religion to the unwashed masses. Don't act like the whole neighborhood is some ruin porn diorama where you and your pals can do whatever you please because obviously the people who've lived here forever didn't care about the neighborhood as much as you do. . . .

There are no easy answers to this one. Corktown needs to support and appreciate people who are bringing new business, citizens, and life into the neighborhood. However, those new transplants also have a responsibility to actually try to become part of the community. And I'm talking about the community of people who have lived in Corktown for decades and not just the community of transplants that came down to try the waffle fries at Slows.

And if either side of that equation -- the old or the new residents -- starts to disrespect or dismiss the other, I think graffiti like this isn't exactly a surprising development. 

Read more:  The Detroit News

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Photo Of The Day 

Potd_img_5632_557 Police in riot gear last night at the protest in downtown Detroit.

By: Jack Thomas