Credit: Kate DeCiccio y Rose Jaffe (artists), Department of Public Works Murals DC Project
On January 20, 2020, El’gin Avila, MPH, CPH, a PhD student studying Industrial Hygiene at the University of Minnesota and the founder of Equitable Health Solutions published an article in Environmental Health News “Beyond coffee and condos: Black and brown families displaced and erased” https://www.ehn.org/gentrification-in-us-cities-2644882255.html.
He reported that in cities across the United States, displacement of long-time residents and their culture, and their exclusion from community decision-making is creating a public health crisis. He gave an example of when he lived in the DC Metro area, he witnessed the gentrification, subtle ethnic cleansing, and displacement of neighborhoods of color from one of the historically blackest cities in America. Avila, sited a neighborhood in DC that he frequented near the Navy Yard and remembered a mural of a Black family on a wall in a playground. Credit: Kate DeCiccio y Rose Jaffe (artists), Department of Public Works Murals DC Project
This was a neighborhood landmark for him, and then in the summer of 2019, it was gone. Now, in its place was a new development.
Like so many other communities (i.e. New York City, Detroit and San Francisco) that are also undergoing a similar transition as the Navy Yard, where Black and Brown families are being displaced and replaced by an influx of usually white, affluent, college-educated migrants under the guise of urban revitalization. Those displaced communities are often thrown into a cycle of instability and forced to combat disruptions in health care access, loss of community support networks, and additional financial and mental distress.
Waverly Place in Chinatown, San Francisco. (Credit: Russell Mondy/flickr)
However, there are communities who have survived this gentrification and displacement, such as Chinatown in San Francisco. Why..?? Because, of the Chinatown Rezoning Plan https://www.urbandisplacement.org/sites/default/files/images/urbandisplacementproject_policycasestudy_chinatown_april2016.pdf , which was implemented to protect the community from being re-designed by property developers. The result has been a community that currently retains its culture and its people.
Unfortunately, the current federal administration plans are focused on property and economic development, not on the community and its residents. As displayed by Trump’s Executive Order 13878, “Establishing a White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing,” dated June 25, 2019, https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-establishing-white-house-council-eliminating-regulatory-barriers-affordable-housing/ which will worsen this problem. This plan seeks to reverse many of the policies which protected communities like Chinatown in San Francisco.
Avila concludes by stating that he and other environmental health leaders, have a critical role to play in righting this wrong, and need to advocate for rapid change as these issues persist and grow. He also says, we have to be stewards of the public and demand greater accountability from those in office and in positions of power who can implement policies, laws, regulations and programs at the state and federal levels. Additionally, what is needed is to provide grassroots services to organizations who have the ability to listen, educate and mobilize communities that are at risk of displacement. This will help them stay in and improve their communities from the ground up and collectively echo their demand for tangible action and change.