They call it RiNo (short for “River North”) but, for those of us who grew up in Denver, Colorado, it’s still Five Points. Coined the “Harlem of the West,” Five Points was once an area of jazz joints, black culture and cuisine — a place that white folks would once desperately avoid or, at best, pass through on the way to somewhere else.
But in the past five years, aggressive, big-money gentrification has changed that.
Today, the neighborhood brims with local microbreweries, high-priced bars and a bevy of brunch joints where people wait upward of an hour and a half for a cramped table for two. That’s a long time to wait for eggs Benedict and bottomless mimosas, especially in the dead of winter.
Don’t get me wrong: I love eggs Benedict and mimosas — and even a Bloody Mary with bacon as a makeshift swizzle stick from time to time — but families and local businesses in cities across the U.S. are being hurled from their beloved blocks and neighborhoods as a result of gentrification, as a result of these new posh places.
“What’s wrong with revitalizing a neighborhood?” a friend asked me recently. (He is a newcomer himself; he’s only been in town a year.)
“Not a thing,” I responded. “In fact, I’m all for revitalization. But this isn’t revitalization. This is gentrification, and those are two completely different things.” Revitalization can come in the form of beautifying a neighborhood: Planting trees, flowerbeds, painting murals and finally filling in pesky potholes that have flattened tires and ruined everyone’s suspension for years.
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Gentrification, however, is not that. It’s a corporate-driven beast that bulldozes through neighborhoods and displaces both families and time-honored shops and eateries. It dislodges lower-income families on fixed incomes with higher property taxes, and forces the evictions of renters whose parents had lived in and rented the very same house before them.
It’s a nasty, evil scene and it’s becoming ubiquitous in many urban areas in particular. It happens all over the U.S., not just here in Denver.
I saw it when I lived in Brooklyn in 2015: Just up the block from my cramped, roach-packed apartment in a neighborhood long known as Sunset Park, the local grocer — a neighborhood staple — announced it was shuttering after 36 years. In the 1970s and 80s, former owners John and Richard Zawisny would pay the mafia $500 a week to stay in operation; but by 2015, the needs and desires of the hipster kind became too much.
“The hipsters are more demanding than the mafia,” my then-girlfriend said at the time.
Now, four years later, as a result of bullish gentrification, Sunset Park has been renamed by those with the money and power to clear out blocks like a crushing tsunami. It’s now referred to as “South Slope” because Park Slope — a seriously wealthy, brownstone-clad neighborhood in the vicinity — is symbolic of success and wealth to outsiders flocking to the area, crowding out long-time residents with Louis Vuitton bags and $550 trio sport tandem strollers on narrow sidewalks.
Back in Denver, just a few miles west of Five Points, is the North Side. It used to be mostly Mexican-American, Italian-American and Jewish-American families, but not many remain and, like Sunset Park, the North Side in Denver was renamed as quickly as it was claimed; it’s now “The Highlands.”
But it’s not just called “The Highlands.” Of course it isn’t, because it wouldn’t be hip to leave it like that. Like Soho in Manhattan (for “South of Houston”), there’s now “LoHi” (Lower Highlands) and then there’s “HiHi” for fun-loving lovers and young professionals living in shiny new duplexes on plots where immigrants and other families once called home.
It’s seemingly not enough to colonize and condemn, running out the brown and black and poor like roaches and rats; big money realty and corporations also feel the need to rename the place like it’s some “New World,” planting a flag on what used to be someone else’s home, all but erasing that, too.
And, the fast, fierce process of sieging and seizing a neighborhood like Five Points or Sunset Park or the North Side inevitably creates division and hostilities between those who just moved in, and those who stand their ground and refuse to move out (if they even have the means to do so). Often, those divisions manifest in racism.
It was only a few years ago when someone posted several hateful signs in “The Highlands” extolling white supremacy and called for the removal of the Mexican families who have been there for decades. “Get rid of poor Hispanics,” “White Power” and “This neighborhood belongs to the whites now,” the signs read.
Not long after that, Ink Coffee in Five Points ran a message on its sandwich board celebrating the gentrification of the popular area. “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014,” the sign read. Today, no one admits to going there, because to do so is to agree with the sign’s bigoted message, but the business continues with some patrons seen sneaking out quickly, faces covered, like patrons of a porn shop.
Gentrification, then, is just the latest iteration of that awful and brutal act called colonization, which has affected families for centuries here in the U.S. and across the globe. This one, this modern day colonization, just comes with a side of eggs Benedict and bottomless mimosas.
There is no immediate solution to the scourge of gentrification — mainly because we live in a rigged corpocracy and an evil oligarchy — but maybe, just maybe, next time you order another round of those sexy sounding, high-priced cocktails with a mint sprig on the rim in the newly-named neighborhood you just relocated to, consider those who are no longer there, and remember gentrification is never a good thing.
Enjoy your brunch.