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James Wilder Irvine

March 16, 2017

UWRT 1102-016

Inquiry Into The Gentrification of Plaza Midwood

Gentrification is defined as the phenomena of the revitalization of deteriorated

urban neighborhoods by an influx of more affluent residents. This phenomenon often

leads to the displacement of the long-term residents who are, more often than not, on a

lower socioeconomic level. This inquiry will question whether or not gentrification is an

inherent evil, how the displacement of long term residents can be combatted, how the

markets of illicit substances are affected, and the positive effects that it takes on housing

markets and local economies. Using examples of other Charlotte neighborhoods,

ethnographic studies, interviews of both the residents affected and the developers taking

advantage of the economic upswing, and academic discussions on the topic.

Plaza Midwood is a neighborhood located in the east side of Charlotte near

uptown. The long-standing neighborhood has been a central hub of the arts community

and local music. In 2014 Plaza Midwood was named one of the best neighborhoods to

live in in America by Money Magazine. The social climate of Plaza Midwood has had a

significant change since being reported on by Money Magazine. Money uses the

neighborhoods affordable housing and the local restaurants as examples of what makes

the neighborhood so great. The article also discusses the many public events, such as

concerts, that take place in the neighborhood and draw the community together.

Many of Charlottes new, young, banking professionals have began to move into

the neighborhood and developers began to buy land in the neighborhood to build high-
end luxury apartments. While the influx of affluent residents are raising the property

value of the neighborhood many of the long-term residents and artists are being pushed

out of the neighborhood that was a home and safe space to many underprivileged people.

Many of the new residents seek to live in a community based around the arts, however

the raising of property value is pushing out all of the residents who made the community

what it is. An arts community, which artists cannot afford, is no arts community, but

rather a mockery of what it once was.

Many local businesses where affected in the process of gentrification, including a

nationally known recording studio, several affordable music venues, and many other

various businesses that have been there for as long as most can remember. Today, Plaza

Midwood is at the peak of the mix of affluent and lower income residents. Most long-

term residents still reside in the neighborhood but are constantly reminded by the

looming threat that they can be kicked out of the neighborhood at any moment. Michael

Ridenhour, a member of the local music community and previous resident of Plaza

Midwood, spoke about his experiences with what has happened in the neighborhood. I

was gentrified out of the neighborhood, says Michael who was forced to move into the

west side of Charlotte because of what he could afford.

Phillip Gripper, a long time Plaza Midwood resident and member of the music

community, lived in a house known as RAD-1 on Kennon Street in Plaza Midwood. Phil

and his roommate, Montre, lived in RAD-1 from 2010 until early 2017. In their seven-

year run as a house they helped build a tight-knit community with the families of the

residents in the area. When Phil and Montre moved into the neighborhood in 2010 they

threw a large block party with all required city permits to block the street for the event.
The block party was meant to establish a closer community with long-time residents, as

well as taking donations for charities they believe in. The charitable funds they gathered

went to both Locks of Love and to give underprivileged children in the area bicycles.

During the early years of RAD-1 Phil would help the community by working on, fixing,

and providing bicycles to the community.

As time went on many of the residents who have lived there since the 1960s were

having a harder time affording the growing cost of living in the area. As the new

members moved into the community, Phil noticed a particular trend in how the

developers and landlords would work on the houses in preparation to sell. The house

across the street from them was what was known as a Liquor House, meaning it was a

house where one could purchase liquor after 2 a.m. and hosted underground gambling

rings. When the residents of the liquor house moved out the landlord fixed up the house

by making sure everything was up to code, even though it was the absolutely bare

minimum. Phil saw first hand a house with the rent of $600 a month rise to being sold for

$350,000 despite that it was only barely up to code.

Phil saw this happen to every house on his street and while he didnt like the

change he made an effort to reestablish the same feeling of community with the new

residents. Phil developed a personal friendship with the contractor in charge of the

streets change, Ed. Ed and Phil would often talk whenever the saw each other in various

areas of the neighborhood and maintained friendly conversation, Phil thought of Ed as a

friend. Around the time of the incoming developments Phils landlord told him that he

and Montre were the best tenants the landlord dealt with. However, come 2017, Phils

landlord contacted him to tell him that he and Montre needed to move out soon, Phil
knew this was because of the new revitalization of the neighborhood. Phil and Montre

were forced to leave their home of seven years that founded a community that cared for

each other to move into the neighborhood of Grier Heights. Not too long after the two

roommates moved into their new home Phil ran into Ed, the contractor, again. While

having a casual conversation with someone Phil once saw as a friend Phil mentioned how

he witnessed a community he built fall apart while losing his own home. Ed, without

displaying any sign of sympathy, told Phil Well, thats progress. While talking about

his last encounter with Ed, Phils face became increasingly stoic before he looked up and

said, It was like being stabbed in the heart.

Kennon Street, which was once a welcoming and caring community filled with

hard working people, had become a cash grab for developers to buy low and sell for a

high profit. All the old residents who had lived and owned the houses, for decades, had to

leave because of the contractors desire to take advantage of the economic boom in the

housing market. Phil saw first hand the decline of the community he cared for deeply and

built. When analyzing his last interaction with Ed, Phil passionately stated Progress is

not putting hard working people out of their home so people with money can live there,

its the opposite of progress.

Sadly the phenomenon that Phil experienced is not an isolated event, these events

also transpired in the Cherry neighborhood also in Charlotte. The Cherry community was

established in 1891 as an affordable working class neighborhood but has changed

significantly in recent years. Now, residents in the Cherry neighborhood are threatened

by an influx of affluent residents because of its proximity to Uptown Charlotte. The

community of Cherry was the oldest historic black neighborhood in Charlotte, and now
its history is threatened by the economic boom in the housing market. Since developers

tightened their grip on the neighborhood the average price for a home raised from

$200,000 to $600,000. As well as an eleven percent drop of the black population from 66

percent to 55 percent in just ten years, making Charlottes most historic black

neighborhood lose its cultural value (Dorsey, Sherrel, Charlottes Oldest Black

Neighborhood Grapples With Gentrification, Next City).

While Charlottes battle with gentrification may be viewed as a binary issue

pitting working-class individuals against affluent ones: its important to ask the question,

is there a way to benefit both sides? Maureen Kennedy and Paul Leonard discuss social

preservation at length in their publication titled Dealing with Neighborhood Change: A

Primer on Gentrification and Policy Changes. Kennedy and Leonard discuss the three

types of practices that social preservationists use: Symbolic, Political, and Private.

Communities and social preservationists will use symbolic practices through mediums

such as visual art, festivals, and theater to link the community identity to the original

residents. The purposes of the symbolic practices in social preservation are to preserve

the authenticity of the neighborhoods and perpetuate the association of the neighborhood

in reference to the original residents (Kennedy, Maureen and Leonard, Paul, Dealing

With Neighborhood Change, Chapter 4). To slow the gentrification process social

preservationists will use the political strategy in the shape of committees and civic

organizations. The organizations will plan protests to spark a political discourse about

gentrification; however, these organizations must keep in mind to avoid any form of

participation that will affect the long-term residents displacement in a negative way

(Kennedy, Maureen and Leonard, Paul). The private strategy includes supporting long-
term residents local businesses, as well resisting the sale of property for profit (Kennedy,

Maureen and Leonard, Paul).

Kennedy and Leonards publication follows a study the four different

communities of Dresden, Provincetown, Argyle, and Andersonville. These communities

outline how all members of a community can take action against what could become a

potential threat against developers. The actions the members of these communities took

came in the form of political activism, art, and support of local businesses.

In the community of Provincetown, social preservationists focus political efforts

on affordable housing through the symbolic practices of plays and art display made to

pay homage to the long-term residents. The social preservationists of Provincetown will

select jobs in the community to professionalize the concerns of the preservationists. In

2004 the community residents, with the help of social preservationists, lobbied for the

Community Preservation Act. The Community Preservation Act did pass which added a

3% tax on real estate sales; the tax is placed into a fund for affordable housing and

historic preservation. 80% of the fund goes into the affordable housing (Kennedy,

Maureen and Leonard, Paul).

The town of Argyle, which is in the early stages of gentrification, has many

practices similar to those in Provincetown. The main difference between Provincetown

and Argyle is that Argyles preservationists emphasize the importance of Paternalistic

Advocacy. The practice of Paternalistic Advocacy is designed so that preservationists

speak on the behalf of the long-term residents, rather than creating a platform for the

long-standing residents voiced (Kennedy, Maureen and Leonard, Paul).


In contrast to Provincetown and Argyle, Andersonville preservationists place their

focus on more symbolic strategies. As well as the symbolic strategies, Andersonville

employs the private strategy through daily neighborhood interaction and the local

community businesses (Kennedy, Maureen and Leonard, Paul). The town of Dresden

purposely engaged in the act of Political Abstinence, meaning the preservationists

consciously avoid certain political act. According to Nina Eliasoph, Political Abstinence

is rooted in a sense of political powerlessness rather than apathy to the issue. The social

preservationists will abstain from certain votes, committees, and social commentary to

avoid and possible contribution to the displacement of long-term residents (Kennedy,

Maureen and Leonard, Paul).

The strategies implemented in the four towns discussed by Kennedy and Leonard

can both be perpetuated in and used in many communities. As for Plaza Midwood, many

of the residents use all three of Kennedy and Leonards strategies. Most of the arts

community often speaks out against the rising threat of gentrification through the medium

of visual art, music, and informational films. Many of the popular local bands will use

their platform to speak out against gentrification, in reference to both working-class

displacement and the threat it imposes on the arts communities.

As for the Charlotte preservationists, the private and political strategies

implemented have been long-standing in the community. Many members often attend

city council meetings to voice their concern against losing their, and others, homes.

Several community members are activists in the fight against gentrification, as well as the

many different threats to working-class communities. The Plaza Midwood community

also places a firm importance on supporting the local businesses of minorities. Not too
long ago an individual from the neighborhood made a point to inform the community of a

new Ethiopian restaurant. The community then made a point of going to this restaurant

often to make sure the immigrants who owned and operate it will stay in business and

preserve a cultural cuisine that is not often thought of.

The socioeconomic trends of gentrification can easily lead to negative

consequences of those who are not involved with the buying and selling of property.

Though as Provincetown demonstrated, the displacement of the long-term residents can

be avoided by implementing policies similar to the Community Preservation Act. Having

a tax that will help fund affordable housing would have helped the people of Kennon

Street, like Phillip Gripper, stay in their homes. The idea of the tax would have also

helped the historic Cherry neighborhood, rather than displacing working-class families

who have lived in these neighborhoods for generations. Though gentrification is good for

the economy of a municipality, is the profit worth threatening hard working individuals

livelihood? These people are pushed to more crime-ridden areas, such as Michael

Ridenhour who was forced into moving into West Charlotte. Kennedy and Leonards

defined strategies and how they were implemented could work in every community faced

with the threat of gentrification. If community members stand up the same way many of

the Plaza Midwood residents have then the polarization of the neighborhood would be

less threatening to lower-income residents. Like Provincetown, there is a way to benefit

both sides of the trend started by a citys economic upswing.