Give and Take (an Open Letter to the Watchdogs)

I know that not many people read this, and I know that this is not the best way to be heard, but it is a way to be heard, and if it helps me work out some ideas and hone them, that's good enough for me, and you all (or you few) can be party to that...

And what do I, what do we, want to be heard about? For the moment, and probably for the foreseeable future, it is this inflammatory and polarizing issue of Gentrification, that people that I presume to be seated in front of computers lob around at will. There was, just a few days ago, an article posted asking "Who's Gentrifying Northeast Lexington?" And it was a fair and researched analysis and critique of a number of major property owners / developers working (and some residing) in the neighborhood.  My major complaint (for obvious reasons) is that it did fail to differentiate between Griffin VanMeter's other for-profit ventures and NoLi CDC, a non-profit whom he is admittedly the President of the Board. However, NoLi CDC is working, as a core part of its mission, to stem, avert, and address issues of gentrification. That much, I think, would be fair and honest reporting.

By wanting to make this distinction, I am by no means condemning Griffin's other ventures, because he does so much for the neighborhood that does not line his pockets, and in most cases appears to have the opposite effect, to the benefit of the neighborhood. It does initially seem a bit deceitful to see all of those LLCs that appear to be shell corporations for one person, but if you get to know the situation, you realize that each of those LLCs has different circumstances and partners and time periods. I'm sure if you asked him about why it is that way, he'd lay it all out for you, and you'd see that deceit is the furthest thing from his intent - he's very approachable. But I digress. 

My next point is this: if you are culling information from PVA, and mapping it out, and determining from metrics that this or that is happening, that in and of itself is valuable information and cannot be faulted. Fact is fact, but where it gets fuzzy and grey and ambiguous is what we glean from those facts. In my mind, what is not at all helpful or productive is to make alarmist statements without proposing alternatives. This article would seem to suggest that the status quo is just fine, and in fact preferrable to any sort of investment and change, which I think many in the neighborhood would not agree with, even if they have lived and worked there for decades. I feel I can say that because I've asked many of them. So, my plea would be to not make broad statements like "Gentrification isn’t a solution to longstanding problems in northeast Lexington; it’s a way of taking advantage of them" without proposing another path, or many other paths even, to getting the neighborhood to a healthy balance and state.

There seems to be a misconception about the role gentrification plays in any investment or redevelopment. Gentrification is not an approach. It is a result. And often, it is a result of insensitive and lazy and money-grubbing planning and design and construction. Because what we are talking about here is building, right? It's all about building - what is getting built, how much does it cost to build, how much does it in turn cost to rent to afford that construction cost. So if someone wants to build something, the litmus test for that is if there are people that will pay for it, either in rent or purchase. It's the American way, right? But, even developers such as Rock Daniels have openly stated that there are solutions to keep this Capitalism-driven process in check, such as having a Developer Fee. (He did also say that if there is a Developer Fee, there should by right be a Landlord Fee). These fees could feed into mechanisms like the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund, to help offset the cost of housing to maintain affordability. Seems simple enough. 

Which brings me to my invitation: to anyone who wants to come see first-hand what is happening, this is an open-door invitation to come talk to us at NoLi CDC, to walk through the neighborhood, to meet people who live here, to hear their thoughts, and if you leave that experience unmoved or unchanged, there is little more that I or anyone else can do to alter that. But the goal is solutions. The goal is to come up with solutions to strike that balance, that equitable way to build on the community that already exists here, and make others feel welcome to come be a part of it. It is going to take both groups to be successful.

I have written previously in this blog about how change costs money, and it is just a matter of how much and for who - the big challenge in this whole debate is what is the right balance between improvement/investment and preserving community/character/context and the cost to access the neighborhood and its components. And to that point, the only way we are going to make any progress in this discussion is if everyone who comes to the discussion starts from a position that they might just have something to learn, rather than taking an "I'm right, you're wrong" approach. Frankenstein wasn't that bad a guy, he just didn't look like the villagers - the mob just didn't take the time to find this out before they mobilized against him. If we just talk to those that agree with us, who are like us, who think like us, it is very easy to find ourselves in this place of "I'm right, you're wrong," and there is no way to move beyond that. So let's try to hear the other side, all of the other sides, and see if we can concede something to the cause of progress, if we can give something to the greater good.