Friday, August 11, 2017


Over the years I watched the gentrification of Charlotte NC's economically depressed inner city. For whatever reason it was done--logic, profit motive, real estate development, etc.--I had a front-row seat as a letter carrier. I would deliver mail in places where gunshots were a common background noise, drug deals were open and going on in plain sight, police crime scene tape was like a bright yellow Easter decoration on every block. Fights and screams and threats of violence was something you tuned out and walked through; garbage was piled high from time to time, and stray mutts ran loose while trained attack dogs were chained in about one of of every three yards.

Despite the crime, these neighborhoods were gorgeous. Hilly streets. Enormous hardwood trees everywhere. And even the poverty of the then-current owners and renters could not hide the former beauty of most of the faded old homes that had been built when these neighborhoods were where the people with higher paying jobs had once lived.

And then...poof! The investors came in and started buying up the houses. If the homes were rentals, the new owners waited until leases were done and did not renew. Once the tenants were gone they boarded up the structures until 50-75% of the neighborhoods were vacant. They bought apartments and multi-family units and knocked them over.

After that...the Yuppies moved in. They fixed up the old houses and turned them into attractive and now high-dollar properties. Lawns were seeded and maintained. Flower gardens were planted. Street lights were repaired and replaced. The police were suddenly present as smiling security and not as brutal enforcers. New buildings sprouted where the low-rent apartments had once stood. Nice shops, neighborhood bodegas, boutiques, restaurants--all of these appeared.

It only took, on average, about six years or so for these various neighborhoods to be transformed from poor to middle class. All are easily accessible to downtown Charlotte. The old cars that once rattled around the streets were suddenly replaced with shining, new sedans--Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti, Audi--in freshly paved driveways and on roads gleaming with newly pressed asphalt.

Where did the poor go? In the most massive part of the irony of it all, the white flight that had been from urban to suburban has been reversed. The poor blacks, Hispanics, and Asians I once delivered mail to are now in those suburban houses where the white folk had retreated a few decades back. They just switched places, like a tide ebbing and flowing, but populations being moved by the gravity of money instead of the Moon.

Recently I took a drive through several of the old neighborhoods where I used to deliver mail. These were places many letter carriers couldn't wait to move out of because of the crime and poverty and the labor of avoiding dog bites and dodging bullets (but where I worked for about twelve years). Now, sparkling with safety, not much breaks the silence. All we saw were a few kids riding their bikes and some young moms pushing baby strollers. And the rambling ranch houses one could have bought for $30K in 1995 when I started carrying mail? A lot of them are still there, but you'd hardly recognize them with poured concreted driveways, second-floor additions, fresh paint, and $700K price tags.

Nothing moves humans like the power of cash. Or lack thereof.

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