How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Gentrification

bakery square 2 race

If you were to leave my house, make a right turn, and drive a half mile down Penn Avenue, you’d pass Bakery Square — a 150 million dollar redevelopment project that became open for business a year ago and houses (among other things) a 115,000 square foot Google office, Anthropologie, the Urban Active Fitness Club I now belong to, the Coffee Tree Roasters where I’m writing this entry, and the nearby Marriott that I’m stealing wi-fi from because the Coffee Tree connection gives you a two hour time limit.

If you drove 300 feet further and looked to your right, you’d see a Trader Joe’s and a shop that does repairs for custom bicycles that cost somewhere between “obscene” and “the approximate price of my life.” On the left hand side you’d pass a doomed shopping complex that houses a liquor store, the nastiest dollar store that’s ever existed, a Weave Mart, and a predictably hood supermarket my parents affectionately coined “BeBe’s Giant Eagle.”

Drive another 200 feet and you’ll run right into a spanking new Target. Behind this Target is a mix of $200,000 lofts and Section 8 housing. My barbershop is within a two block radius, as is Rent-N-Roll — a place where you can put 26′s on layaway (No, seriously. If you don’t believe me, go to their website) — Whole Foods, Rainbow, The Kelly-Strayhorn theater, and a homeless shelter/soup kitchen.

Also, if you were to look on a map, the name of this section of Pittsburgh would be “East Liberty.” But, if you happened to look at all of the recent signs and advertisements promoting this area, the name somehow morphs into “Eastside.”

This all makes me a living and breathing solider on the country’s most important battlefield — a high stakes war where instead of machine guns and Humvees, the enemy is armed with Sperry Top-Siders and $13 cupcakes. Yes, my friends, I’m a first-hand witness to the world’s most retched 14 letter word: Gentrification.

Now, this is where you’re probably expecting me to talk about how jarring is it to see a community I grew up in undergo such change. Included would probably be a passionate treatise about black people being displaced and black businesses getting priced out. I’d might even quote a passage from “The Bluest Eye” and cite something Sister T wrote. But, since I’ve obviously taken advantage of the many perks the gentrification has brought with it, you’re probably expecting me to end this piece with a paragraph or two describing my ambivalence towards the entire situation and a bit of genuine reflection about the guilt I feel for not leading the “reverse the redevelopment” movement

This is (partially) true. I am aware that these things are going on, and I am definitely ambivalent. But, I’m actually ambivalent about my complete and utter lack of ambivalence.

Basically, I really don’t give a f*ck about any of the gentrification negatives I’m “supposed” to care about, and I’m (kind of) worried that I’m supposed to.

I know I should care that many people who look like me are being forced out of this community. In fact, I actually want to care more. I want to feel like sh*t whenever I choose to get my produce at Whole Foods instead of BeBe’s Giant Eagle. I want to want to protest whenever I leave my barbershop and have to sidestep the pale-thighed joggers hoarding the sidewalk. I want to want to run up and kick the motherf*cker who’s walking his dog at night in a neighborhood where you couldn’t even wear red t-shirts 15 years ago.

I wonder if something’s wrong with me. I’m convinced that I’m supposed to be concerned, that I’m supposed to feel a perpetual uneasiness about the change going on in the “Eastside”; this gotdamn gentrification. Sh*t, I even hoped that writing this would induce at least a little bit of worry.

It hasn’t. I still really don’t give a f*ck, and it’s likely that I won’t find a f*ck to give any time soon.

Actually, you know what? Nevermind that. I’m going to go for a nighttime jog around the neighborhood with my girlfriend in a couple minutes¹. Afterwards, we’ll probably walk to BRBG and get some milkshakes. We might stop at Bakery Square and watch a Jazz show on the way back. Maybe I’ll find a f*ck to give when I make it back home.

¹I’m lying. I don’t do jogging. I will walk briskly, though.

—The Champ

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