Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


ohio-city-cleveland

Market Avenue, one of Ohio City's pedestrian-friendly streets. (PHOTO: COLUMBUSITE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Urban Islands of Poverty and Bowling With Strangers

• August 24, 2013 • 3:16 PM

Market Avenue, one of Ohio City's pedestrian-friendly streets. (PHOTO: COLUMBUSITE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Questioning our understanding of “gentrification” is a necessary first step toward helping people who are stuck in impoverished neighborhoods.

Not all poor urban neighborhoods suffer from the same poverty challenges. In fact, not all poor urban neighborhoods have a poverty problem. The poverty rate may be high, but the community provides a wealth of individual economic development opportunities. Senior vice president for program planning and management at the Urban Institute, Margery Austin Turner:

Given our history, a bunch of the high poverty neighborhoods in central cities with predominately black populations have operated as isolating traps for their residents. But there is another group of neighborhoods that may “look” just as bad, but aren’t traps. Maybe they’re launch pads. They might be poor, they might look bad, they might be undesirable places to stay, but they perform really constructive acculturation, integration, linkage functions. People move into them, do well in them, and move on.

Some high-poverty neighborhoods are traps. Some are launching pads. We treat both places as the same, instead of focusing on the neighborhood residents and what becomes of them. The trapped never leave. It must be a great neighborhood. The launching pads suffer from brain drain. It must be a lousy neighborhood.

A neighborhood with no churn, no people coming or going, is distressed. A neighborhood with lots of people moving in and moving out, sporting excellent demographic dynamism, is healthy. Looking at poverty rates and other place-based metrics won’t capture that distinction.

The lens of demographic dynamism puts gentrification in a different light. Popularly, gentrification means affluent whites moving into poor neighborhoods and displacing long-term minority residents who can no longer afford to stay. Armed with that definition, consider this Cleveland neighborhood:

Ohio City, one of Cleveland’s gentrifying neighborhoods, the percentage of black residents increased from 24% of the population to 34% from 1990 to 2010, whereas the percentage of whites declined 58% to 50%. Given that Ohio City is one of the areas seeing an inflow of 25- to 34-year old residents, there appears to be a meet-up of lower-to-middle-income black families that have migrated from the East Side of Cleveland with younger suburban and exurban whites. The same demographic patterns are occurring in other Cleveland neighborhoods such as Edgewater, Old Brooklyn, and Kamms Corners, as well numerous suburbs, like Lakewood, Solon, and Parma, suggesting a “shake-up” of social capital paradigms that have kept Cleveland not only geographically segregated, but psycho-sociologically segregated.

Emphasis added. Blacks are displacing whites in a gentrifying neighborhood. Typically, that’s as deep as the analysis goes. Group moves in and rents go up. Another group moves out. Gentrification. Social injustice. What are we to do about these lower- to middle-income black families of hipsters destroying the neighborhood?

I overlook the inflow of 25- to 34-year-old residents who make up the expected gentrification demographic. Long-term white residents might be the folks displaced. Another possibility is white flight in response to black in-migration. Neither narrative does an adequate job of modelling the neighborhood change, the demographic dynamism.

Ohio City is a mixer, a neighborhood where a resident can bowl with strangers. Turning Robert Putnam on his head, too much social capital turns a neighborhood into an urban island poverty trap. Weaker ties, a more outward facing network, provides a launching pad to upward mobility. Literally and figuratively, bowling with strangers in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles:

Bowler Tony Nicholas’ own family bought a home in the 1940s, east of Arlington Avenue, at Van Ness and Exposition. At the time, “unwritten law” dictated that minorities could not settle west of Arlington Avenue, noted Nicholas. However, by the 1950s, his family had bought a home on Crenshaw between Adams and Washington, joining other black, Chinese, Japanese, and white homeowners in the area. For black Angelenoes, Leimert Park, Crenshaw, and West Adams offered new and better housing opportunities, especially as South Central’s population bulged. Leimert Park’s African American population demonstrated a solidly middle class orientation, as professionals made up 17 percent of employed black male residents and 19 percent of their female counterparts. With city wide averages of professional employment equaling 8 percent and 9 percent for black men and women respectively, Leimert Park and Crenshaw proved critical for L.A.’s African American middle and working class families.

While much of the city remained segregated, Fuller recalled, Crenshaw and Leimert Park weren’t — and “that’s what made [them] exciting.” Longtime resident and bowler Ken Hamamura agreed, noting that Dorsey High School on Exposition divided neatly along thirds: one third African American, one third Asian American — predominantly Japanese and Chinese Americans — and one third white. As the neighborhood grew more multiracial so too did the bowling.

With its modern technology, the Holiday Bowl provided a better playing experience than most other local bowling alleys, and the competition featured numerous talented bowlers. “Holiday Bowl had the capacity to attract a lot of the better bowlers in the area,” remembers Arthur Sutton, recalling his days at the alley. “And if you want to be the best you have to compete against the best. And I loved that competition.”

The visual flair of the bowlers and their teams spoke to the diversity and enthusiasm at the heart of the Holiday Bowl enterprise. “Different groups would come at different times, and it was almost like looking at Bower ware in action. You know, Bower ware being all colorful, all these shirts were different colors — turquoise and black with yellow writing on it,” noted coffee shop patron Renee Gunther.

Early on many of the bowling teams consisted of local Japanese farmers, grocers, and merchants, all of whom competed in divisions that suited their profession: the Gardener’s League, the Produce League, and the Floral League, to name a few. When the area began absorbing greater numbers of African Americans, like the Nicholas family, the teams changed as well. “[M]y team has one black, one Italian, another Japanense, and Korean Sponsor,” Floral League member Dorothy Tanabe told the Los Angeles Times.

The neighborhood histories of Crenshaw and Boyle Heights (also in L.A.) confound my understanding of gentrification to the point of not being a useful concept. Neighborhoods closed off to outsiders are poor, traps. Neighborhoods teaming with people from someplace else are rich, launching pads. An increasing ability to deal with strangers raises the ceiling on our prosperity. Moving out is often part of the journey. Someone angling for the suburban idyll isn’t forced out or abandoning the city.

For a neighborhood to thrive, people must be moving in. What we call “gentrification” isn’t an existential threat. The same should be said about brain drain. Instead, we demonize both the people who are new to the neighborhood and those who leave, limiting our options of dealing with urban poverty:

We need to connect our responses to concentrated poverty to the metropolitan context. Houston, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. all have neighborhoods with high poverty rates – but we can’t help the people in those neighborhoods succeed with the same mobility and community development strategies.

Indeed, and we can’t help the people in those neighborhoods with our outdated notions of gentrification and social capital.

Jim Russell

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


October 20 • 4:00 AM

Coming Soon: The Anatomy of Ignorance


October 17 • 4:00 PM

What All Military Families Need to Know About High-Cost Lenders

Lessons from over a year on the beat.


October 17 • 2:00 PM

The Majority of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

A world without “he.” Or “she.”


October 17 • 11:01 AM

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.


October 17 • 10:00 AM

Can Science Fiction Spur Science Innovation?

Without proper funding, the answer might not even matter.


October 17 • 8:00 AM

Seattle, the Incredible Shrinking City

Seattle is leading the way in the micro-housing movement as an affordable alternative to high-cost city living.


October 17 • 6:00 AM

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

Can an intense belief that you’re about to die actually kill you? Researchers are learning more about “voodoo death” and how it isn’t limited to superstitious, foreign cultures.


October 17 • 4:00 AM

That Arts Degree Is Paying Off

A survey of people who have earned degrees in the arts find they are doing relatively well, although their education didn’t provide much guidance on managing a career.


October 16 • 4:00 PM

How (Some) Economists Are Like Doomsday Cult Members

Cognitive dissonance and clinging to paradigms even in the face of accumulated anomalous facts.


October 16 • 2:00 PM

The Latest—and Most Mysterious—Player in the Nasty Battle Over Net Neutrality

As the FCC considers how to regulate Internet providers, the telecom industry’s stealth campaign for hearts and minds encompasses everything from art installations to LOLcats.


October 16 • 12:00 PM

How Many Ads Is Too Many Ads?

The conundrum of online video advertising.


October 16 • 11:00 AM

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.


October 16 • 10:00 AM

The False Promises of Higher Education

Danielle Henderson spent six years and $60,000 on college and beyond. The effects of that education? Not as advertised.


Follow us


That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.