Economic bigotry in JP

June 24, 2011
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Gentrification always ignores the poor, as demonstrated by the Hi-Lo grocery catering to Latinos that will be replaced by a Whole Foods. “Whole Paycheck” may offer them products they desire but can’t afford. Next perhaps a Trader Joe’s, but when a Market Basket?

JP’s gentrification certainly improves property values, as on Jamaica Street, but raises the ethical question: Why should anyone with more money deserve to do whatever they want? Economics prevail, and it is good for the physical fabric of the city, but it’s also economic bigotry. If you can’t spend so much on renovations, or if you don’t share the same aesthetic (preferring the existing), you no longer belong in your neighborhood? It’s also aesthetic bigotry.

Born in NYC, my sense of urban grace was later born in Minneapolis. Gentrification is certainly there, too, as in most cosmopolitan cities, but the sense of entitlement is less in the Midwest.

Boston has such an entrenched culture of entitlement (including its greedy unions), yet also a strong tradition of education and could thus learn that architects are not necessarily arbiters of fashion, that aesthetics are not right or wrong, and that struggling people (now including much of the middle class) are also entitled to safe homes and streets and good schools: that it’s not simply racism.

Racism is disgusting, but the overriding bigotry is of poverty, clustered in a few Boston neighborhoods, suffered by Asians, blacks, Latinos and whites. All races suffer poverty. All pull themselves up, given education and opportunity: trickle-up economics.

But the Boston public schools are shamefully inadequate among an urban concentration of higher education. The poor aren’t entitled to good schools? Before serving in Memphis, Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson helped Minneapolis with its great urban school system, but she struggles here against intransigent entitlement.

Perhaps some day, a Latino gentrification will grace Boston with houses painted vibrant colors to brighten the dull winters, in an expression of urban tolerance and good will.

Brian Karlsson-Barnes
Jamaica Plain