“We Are All Gentrifiers” | Guest Blog by Calvin Eaton

white men talking on city corner

Each week on Tuesday and Thursday through October 20th 540Blog will feature guest blog’s from city residents themed around gentrification. Today’s blog comes courtesy of our Founder Calvin Eaton (aka theglutenfreechef). Check out Calvin’s blog below and be sure to register to attend 540WMain’s

‘Fall 2018 Gentrification Conference // Who Are the Gentrified?

Saturday October 20th // 10am-4pm

Thomas P. Ryan Community Center

“We Are All Gentrifiers” by Calvin Eaton

The historical, present day, and future of urban gentrification is nothing less than complex. There are many systemic, institutional, and individual factors that facilitate the process of gentrification and usually by the time the identifying markers of what most know become visible ( coffee shops, high end luxury apartments, mixed use housing development) the powers that be have already made planning decisions behind the curtain that will affect a neighborhood for decades.

When taking in all the articles, research, and study material on the growth of cities in the United States it is easy to become cynical. Once you dive into the“facts” it becomes crystal clear that centuries of exploitation, marginalization, commodification, and racism have made cities ripe for the problems and issues that we currently see all across the country. The situation looks even more bleak when we look at the state of the world politically. You can begin to feel that gentrification in itself is a monstrous beast and in its totality; unable to be rectified. But is this the case?

Is Gentrification All Bad?

Several months ago I spoke at a workshop curated by Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Rochester. Titled “We Are All Gentrifiers” the workshop had a goal to put human faces to the development and neighborhoods that we all live in in Rochester. It challenged students, faculty, and community members alike to challenge the concept of what it means to gentrify, improve, revitalize and develop a neighborhood. Throughout the discussion we learned about the backgrounds and stories of staff members that moved into neighborhoods like PLEX, Mount Hope, and the South Wedge. Each of them had a goal of making a living and securing a better life for their families. Like most of us, none of these individuals had a motive other than making a decent living here in Rochester. Even the students assessed their role as gentrifiers. That of Moving into a neighborhood with a purpose albeit temporarily to improve their lives through higher education.

When positioned in this context it became clear that most of us moved from somewhere. And in most neighborhoods in the City, the people that live next door to each one of us more than likely didn’t always live next door to us. Neighborhoods like the cities they make up are living organisms that ebb and flow with human energy and change with the time. Throughout the discussion, I was able to think about my own experience growing up moving into three different neighborhoods and becoming part of the history of each. My family eventually purchased a home in the Marketview Heights neighborhood and for the past decade has made this the Eaton Home. We like most folks that move into a property don’t know much about the neighborhood before we moved there. In fact, we still know very little about our neighbors. I can even look at my infiltration of the Susan B. Neighborhood as gentrification. So what is my point?

We Are All Gentrifiers

As we look at our individual neighborhoods it is important for each of us to think about our existence in the context of the history and ebb and flow of that space. None of us exist in a vacuum or in isolation but as part of a bigger narrative; a larger portrait. Unless you built your home from the ground up there were people that lived in your space before you. Like you they became part of the makeup and growth of that space in the same way you are. Understanding this makes us more aware of our physical presence in our spaces and helps us to see our individual homes and families as part of a collective.

This is why it is so important to say hello to your neighbors. Get to know the family down the street. Start a block party. Get to know your neighbors and more importantly get to know your neighborhood.

  • Who lived their before you?
  • What was it like in the past?
  • How has it changed over time?

Understanding the past, helps us better interact with our present, so we can make our futures together on this planet, in our cities, in our neighborhoods and on our streets collectively better and stronger.

About Calvin Eaton

Calvin Eaton aka theglutenfreechef is a freelance educator, digital content creator, and social entrepreneur. As a professional Mr. Eaton’s areas of expertise include social media and digital content creation, food blogging and recipe development, antiracism, diversity, inclusion, K-12 curriculum writing and teaching, and higher education.

Who Are My Neighorbors Living Downtown? | Guest Blog by Michael Corey

Each week on Tuesday and Thursday through October 20th 540Blog will feature guest blog’s from city residents themed around gentrification. Today’s blog comes courtesy of Michael Corey; a downtown resident. Check out Michael’s blog below and be sure to register to attend 540WMain’s

‘Fall 2018 Gentrification Conference // Who Are the Gentrified?

Saturday October 20th // 10am-4pm

Thomas P. Ryan Community Center


Who Are My Neighbors Living Downtown? by Michael Corey

Since I moved into my apartment in downtown Rochester 4 years ago, a constant question I find myself trying to answer is “who are my neighbors?”. I don’t necessarily mean who just moved in down the hall from me or the floor below, but who are the people quick to lease units in the new high end housing developments? Who are the people who have lived in my neighborhood for years, that I rarely interact with? While this decade has brought a dramatic uptick in development accompanied by a spike in population, the center city remains a fluid place – in my eyes, block to block is much more patchwork than a seamless garment. Just as I question who my neighbors are, it seems important to question who the newest projects , plans and proposals will serve. Does downtown’s future represent a place that will cater to all of Rochester’s residents?

Many of the people who have recently moved downtown cite proximity to workplaces, restaurants, bars and other conveniences as motivators. It is not a unique stance, but I am quick to admit that I enjoy having amenities close to my home – I appreciate finding live music or breakfast a short walk from my door. In acknowledging this, I try my best to realize that the things that appeal and serve me are not always the most needed or necessary. Luxuries taking priority over necessities can be one of the clearest ways to spot gentrification. This is not to say we can’t have and enjoy nice things, but a reminder to question purpose and access.

For people who might have trouble obtaining fresh produce, new restaurants promoting craft food and drink might be an afterthought. Living downtown can be a great central location for people with easy access to transportation, but surprisingly far from larger concentrations of retail and stores for those who rely on public transit. I am certainly guilty of taking comforts and amenities for granted, but being aware can at least be helpful in realizing how new developments and projects can benefit the greatest amount of people.

Being the center of the city, there will always be attractions meant to draw people from the highest income levels. There will likely be hip places meant to draw creatives and millennial’s and there will always be events and jobs that largely cater to suburban populations. These are all acceptable realities, but a concern for downtown would be becoming a place that large populations of the city’s residents only use as a place to pass through.

I often ride my bike around my neighborhood, walk when my destination is close enough, and try to take the bus when the weather is poor. I know I am interacting and passing people who have much more than me as well as people who have much less than me. In both directions, it can be humbling but a good reminder of what makes up a community. In a city that can be divided along sharp race and class lines, downtown provides an interesting contrast. Some of the cities most expensive rentals can be found within a stones throw of very dense pockets of subsidized housing. I think one of the biggest challenges going forward for the center city will be the creation of spaces that can serve this entire range of people. Be it retail, restaurants or parks, there will always be a danger that they become reserved for a small demographic of people. Even if this might be inevitable to a degree, I love living downtown because of how diverse it can be and hope that identity is emphasized as the area develops.

About Michael Corey

Michael Corey is a musician, creative and engineer who lives in Downtown Rochester.

Source: (cover and article photos) Jake Sell Hicks Photography

Gentrification and The Policing of Black Bodies | Guest Blog by Calvin Eaton

‘Fall 2018 Gentrification Conference // Who Are the Gentrified?

Saturday October 20th // 10am-4pm

Thomas P. Ryan Community Center

Gentrification and The Policing of Black Bodies by Calvin Eaton

D’Arreion Toles, of St.Louis just wanted to enter into his luxury apartment for the night. Hilary Brooke Mueller (a white woman) didn’t feel he belonged there and took it upon herself to invade his space, obscure his rights and block his entry to his door.

A back and forth transpired which ended with the police being called and the questioning of a black man’s existence in his own home ensued. Fortunately, this time the story doesn’t end in tragedy.

What does this now viral story have to do with gentrification?

As luxury lofts and skyscraper buildings line a cityscape more than the physical landscape of a city changes. With the physical, the cultural, socioeconomic, and racial landscape changes as well.

As transplants relocate to a now gentrified city, they typically bring their own ideals, judgements, perspectives and sometimes racism along with their pour over coffees and luxury luggage.

Long time minority residents and even new folks of color are quite literally overcome and pushed out of an area that they once dominated. People, norms, and habits that once were part of the cloth of a neighborhood are now seen as foreign, untrendy, and a nuisance. Residents (typically POC) are policed by the new in their own neighborhood and no longer belong in their own home.

D’Arreion’s story could easily be a story in downtown Rochester. In fact his story is the story now popping up weekly in urban districts all across the US. Black bodies living their lives, doing nothing illegal; policed by the white and the privileged in their own neighborhoods.

The questions remain: Who are the gentrified? Who are the gentrifiers? What are their stories? To whom does this space, this space belong.

Read the entire article via NYT:


Attend the 540WMain Gentrification Conference this Saturday to support development without racism and displacement.


Addressing Fears of Displacement in the Rust Belt | Guest Blog by David Riley

Each week on Tuesday and Thursday through October 20th 540Blog will feature guest blog’s from city residents themed around gentrification. Today’s blog comes courtesy of our David Riley. Check out David’s blog below and be sure to register to attend 540WMain’s

‘Fall 2018 Gentrification Conference // Who Are the Gentrified?

Saturday October 20th // 10am-4pm

Thomas P. Ryan Community Center

Addressing Fears of Displacement in the Rust Belt | Guest Blog by David Riley

In graduate school, I worked on a transformation plan for a neighborhood organization on Buffalo’s east side. The project revolved around a central conflict. Our client asked us to develop strategies to help neighborhood residents restore and replant vacant lots, improve conditions of existing homes, and create new housing options for existing renters and homeowners. We also were asked to find ways to minimize the potential that our plan – if successful in spurring new investments and improving services to the community – could end up displacing the very residents who worked long and hard to strengthen their neighborhood. 

Here in Rochester, there is growing concern and advocacy around this same tension, which lies at the heart of many debates about development. The central worry is that new development or improvements in physical conditions will result in higher property values. This can be a good thing for some homeowners. But for people just managing to make rent or mortgage payments, this may render their homes unaffordable. Along with this kind of literal displacement can come cultural and political changes as existing residents leave a neighborhood and newcomers move in. Even well-intended, much-needed investments in neighborhoods that have experienced longtime neglect and disinvestment can carry the risk of this result.

To develop a meaningful response to these concerns, we need to understand how they play out at the local level. The kind of displacement that happens in larger cities, which dominate many discussions about gentrification, differs significantly from places like Rochester and Buffalo. Cities like San Francisco and New York City have tremendous demand for housing, significant development, soaring real estate prices, and displacement taking place at a measurable scale.

Many Rochester neighborhoods have the opposite problem: decades of disinvestment, resulting in deteriorating housing and abandonment. Portions of the city are indeed experiencing new development, but overall, city home prices are fairly anemic, at least in comparison to larger urban markets. Problems with housing affordability are driven in large part by concentrated and racialized poverty, not a booming real estate sector. In other words, the concern in Rochester is less runaway housing prices than the fact that one in three Rochester residents lives below the poverty line, including a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic residents.

There’s little evidence of widespread displacement here, but that doesn’t mean that concerns are unfounded. We have many neighborhoods that desperately need investment, but it takes only slight increases in property values and rents to price out people living on very little. Recent housing advocacy has focused in part on pockets of the city that have indeed seen increased development and more home purchases by professionals and students. If these incremental changes build into broader interest in living and investing in the city – a larger urban resurgence that I think many of us might like to see, at least in the big picture – we need to be thoughtful about how to make that recovery beneficial to as many people as possible. If planners, policymakers and urbanists are serious about working to make Rochester a growing, more vibrant and more equitable city, we ought to take fears of displacement seriously, too.

How might we pursue community development that brings about these kinds of improvements, while also mitigating the risk of displacement?

In these conversations – at least many that I have – we often focus on the roles that individuals play in gentrification. It’s important to put a human face on the issue, and there’s certainly value in potential gentrifiers like me – a professional white man – examining the privilege and power that our social class brings to a neighborhood, whether we wield it intentionally or not. Reflecting on these subjects at a personal level also can be a helpful starting point for thinking about larger, systemic problems. But we’d be mistaken to think that individual choices can prevent displacement, which in many ways is a default result of a “successful” real estate cycle. We need public policies and initiatives that can help to intervene in this cycle while still encouraging development that contributes to our city.

So with a focus on what we can control and accomplish locally, I hope we’ll seriously explore ideas like community land trusts (CLTs), a mechanism for preserving affordable housing and providing some community control over neighborhood change. We already have a relatively new CLT, the Beechwood-based City Roots Community Land Trust. But there’s also potential benefit in multiple CLTs working across several neighborhoods, or alternately, for a CLT to take on more of a citywide role. We also can explore affordability goals and incentives tailored to the needs of Rochester’s renters, many of whose incomes are too low even for many apartments developed as affordable housing. (Unfortunately, it is exceedingly difficult to finance this type of development without more resources from the state or federal level.) 

Zoning changes could require a percentage of affordable units in newly built multi-family housing, and / or allow denser multi-family construction in areas now restricted to single-family homes. These steps might at least provide more affordable housing options to city residents. PUSH Buffalo, an organization working for economic and environmental justice, offers a potential model for community-driven plans designed to develop and preserve affordable housing, while also building green infrastructure and providing training in green jobs. Broader efforts to improve life for those in poverty – whether through better public transportation, a truly region-wide effort to improve public education, actively encouraging employers to locate and hire within the city – might begin to address some of the reasons so many of our neighbors fear displacement in the first place.

David Riley is a planner, researcher and former journalist. He worked in community journalism for a decade before earning a master’s degree in urban planning at the University at Buffalo. He has worked as an independent consultant on planning and data analysis projects, and completed a graduate internship with the Community Design Center Rochester. He now works as a research associate at CGR (Center for Governmental Research) and lives in the City of Rochester with his wife and daughter. He is particularly interested in how public policy can improve life in cities. 

Photo credit (cover): Jake Sell Hicks