How We’re Killing Cultures Without Even Realizing It


Lexi Kayser – Staff Writer

It cleverly disguises itself as neighborhood “improvement,” but is it really improving life for the right crowd? Gentrification is one of the biggest issues facing St. Louis and cities around the country today, yet it’s one of the least talked about. Chances are you’ve never even heard the word before.

I hope to change that.

Gentrification is politely defined by the Webster Dictionary as, “The process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.” So, to put it bluntly, it’s when white hipsters move into a neighborhood, drawn by its “fixer-upper” charm and historic buildings, and decide to make it their own. The issue is that it was never their own to begin with. These neighborhoods typically belong to people of color and those in poverty, and to take them over with cute coffee shops, trendy boutiques and luxury lofts is to systematically push out a vibrant culture.

Sure, there are “benefits” on the surface. At first glance, these areas are riddled with crime and poverty. It’s easy to look at them and think that they need a good revamping. By adding a new Shake Shack or an upscale clothing shop, or even a new set of apartments branded as “lavish,” we’re increasing the value of the area. And perhaps that’s exactly where the problem lies.

Most of the people living in these areas haven’t been granted the best circumstances in life, and therefore, the majority of them are living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to meet rent each month. They can’t afford a $6 drink at a new coffee shop or a $12 deluxe burger. The businesses being put in are not being put in for existing residents; rather, they’re being put in to push them out. The local businesses that have been around since the start now have to fight for their place on the block as newer, hotter places attempt to shove their way in. Even worse, as the area gentrifies and becomes “nicer” property values skyrocket. When rents go up and people can no longer afford to pay them, they’re forced to move out. Imagine leaving the only home you’ve ever known, and leaving it unrecognizable. It’s not fair. It’s not just.

This is happening all around us, and chances are, we don’t even realize the extent of the harm that we’re causing or the ways that we’re perpetuating it. Take, for example, the Shaw neighborhood, one of the most gentrified in the St. Louis area. You probably know it as home to quirky and eccentric eateries and shops, such as Lulu’s Local Eatery, a place for fairly high priced vegetarian and vegan options, or Found by the Pound, a resale store for vintage items where the average cost of a piece is $12. South Grand is full of cute, Instagrammable brunch locations like Rooster, and home to a variety of international cuisines. But once you hit Utah Street, you also hit reality and can truly see that this gentrification is covering up the real issues surrounding Shaw. In the aftermath of a police shooting in 2014, with food deserts and the impaired walkability that accompanies them and with crime rates and a fear of victimization, Shaw is struggling. We’re masquerading these issues with chai lattes and upscale avo-toast locations and, honestly, that’s not okay.

So what can we do? We can support local businesses instead of commercial chains. We can vote for candidates that want what’s truly best for our organic populations, and do our due research to ensure our accuracy in these decisions. We can advocate on the issue and understand that there’s a line between the natural recycling of neighborhoods and the systematic oppression of certain demographics. Most of all, we can be aware and be honest.

We owe it to our city.