Hiding Behind The Word Gentrification – An Excuse for Inaction

The other night at ECC,  the candidates were asked about gentrification,  Ward 3 candidate Gwen Wilkins went to the heart of the matter. “You have to ask yourselves, ‘How are we going to fix the abandoned, boarded-up housing if we don’t rebuild if we don’t remodel? People don’t want to leave their neighborhoods and I will fight to keep them there — but those abandoned, boarded-up houses need to be remodeled, they need to be redone or they need to be torn down.”

Wikipedia basically says: Gentrification is a process of changing the character of a neighborhood through the influx of more affluent residents and businesses, which can force out low-income residents due to the increased cost of rent and higher cost of goods. Gentrification can shift a neighborhood’s racial/ethnic composition.

This description of gentrification is more appropriate for a phenomena that takes place in a large city like Chicago, filled with different ethnic neighborhoods. Contrast Chicago’s 2.7 million residents to Rocky Mount, NC population of  54,242, the 17th largest city in NC. Ours is a small area of manageable consequences. It is an unworkable tenant to contrast a large urban city like Washington, DC, as mentioned the other night at the Forum, and infer that what happens there will happen here.

The word gentrification has become stigmatized. The negative connotation of this word is a convenient excuse for inaction and further skullduggery behind the scenes by those with their thumbs in the pie. When pressed, there is a button on a blinking sign that says, Displacement! If you think that’s wrong,  so is the state of neglect our earliest housing stock is in.

Gentrification will not have a strong negative impact on Rocky Mount. There is sufficient evidence now to prove that gentrification does not equate with automatic displacement. Restoring our neighborhood housing in Rocky Mount will significantly improve the economy and quality of life for many people in low-income areas. It encourages home ownership, and lowers crime. John Kennedy is credited with saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” If that is true so is the fact that we already have a substantial amount of the housing that is needed. If saving our neighborhoods becomes a priority, the lives of those the politicians say they care about, will change. You’ll love this…..I found in my research that there is now a more accurate term being used in communities like ours. Rather than gentrification, they are calling it revitalization.                                                                                

Take A Minute to Read Two Earlier Posts:                                                                               Gentrification and Displacement in Rocky Mount -#1

Part #2

Celebrating Four Years of the Main Street Rocky Mount Blog – 2015 – 2019 with D.J. Rose

I want to celebrate this anniversary by honoring D.J. Rose once again because I never write about Main Street and the surrounding areas, the commercial and residential architecture of Rocky Mount, that I don’t think of him. His legacy can be found in the Ricks Hotel, the original Masonic Temple on Main Street, the May and Gorham building, Rocky Mount Municipal building on Main Street. the Peoples Bank building, the First Methodist and First Presbyterian Churches, Planters Cotton Seed Oil factory, Rocky Mount’s Railroad Passenger Station including the addition of the second and third floors, Rocky Mount’s first electric power plant and water plant, as well as portions of the building you know today as The Power Plant, the Sunset Avenue Water Plant and significant portions of Rocky Mount Mills buildings. Some of the schools he built are Abraham Lincoln, R. M. Wilson School, and Edgemont. The firm he founded, D. J. Rose and Son Inc., is the oldest continuously operating general contracting firm in North Carolina and to this day maintains the North Carolina General Contractors License number 27. The future that is being reimagined today is partially built upon the architectural assets Mr. Rose and his company contributed to Rocky Mount. We owe him our gratitude for his work and legacy.

Staircase in the D.J. Rose home on Sunset Ave

I’ve written more about our local politics this year than any of the first three years combined. The blog has always been about anything but that. I suppose I’ve been preaching to my own choir (constituency) that largely agree with me, rather than reach the people I would hope to change. I keep thinking maybe someone on the far side of the moon from where I stand will hear me. So I keep trying!

Affordable and workforce housing made available in our existing neighborhoods is the top of my list these days along with rescuing a negative connotation of the word gentrification. According to Wikipedia,  Gentrification is “a complex process involving physical improvement of the housing stock, housing tenure change from renting to owning, price rises and the displacement or replacement of the working-class population by the new middle class.”

D.J. Rose home on Tarboro St.


To my way of thinking, playing the gentrification card is an excuse. The party line is if we fix roofs and put a new porch on – -why rents will go up and people will have to move, so the answer is to do nothing. Yet I am certain that if we ask the average ‘Joe’ in our at-risk areas, which they would prefer, an 18-million dollar garage and a hotel or money invested in fixing properties, making them safe, and decent to live in, saving our neighborhoods, would win.



I wish I could persuade the ‘at risk’ neighborhoods to look honestly at their councilman who discourage reinvestment in their Ward’s housing/neighborhoods because that will ultimately change their councilman’s constituency and that means votes. If our housing statistics are suppressed, it helps when applying for grant money. In the end, only the voters in each Ward can decide if after many years if anything has improved?  We have a full slate of candidates, and an opportunity to select the ones that can put self-interest aside. People ask me, how can I help?  How about a campaign donation?  “White money” is being disparaged as a tool to discredit an opposing candidate, but never mind about that. Everyone gains with new leadership that believes  A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.

Stepheny saying, “Thank you for joining me on Main Street.”


Thank you for reading and following Main Street. I hope you will continue to do so. The writing brings me joy and keeps my head in gear. I can’t imagine my life now without the many bright, and interesting people I meet. I’m grateful to wonderful friends who have taken me in and shared Rocky Mount as it once was and is becoming. I continue to believe and clap my hands. I hope you will too.

How Do We Look at Gentrification and Displacement in Rocky Mount, NC? – Part 2


Click On: It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?  -Fred Rogers

Please, don’t let your notion of Gentrification fall into the category of an unexamined idea. By that I mean, picking out the consequences of gentrification as it pertains to large urban areas and saying, “You see, this is what happens!” Gentrification coupled with smart urban policy is a powerful tool in reversing the direction of slowly dying areas. I hope we agree that here in Rocky Mount it is a good thing when neighborhoods are proactive for themselves and one home after another is cleaned up. It is a positive sign when investors, homeowners, and landlords, are involved with the restoration and preservation of their properties. We know rents go up, as they should when landlords keep up decent and safe places for their renters.  The aphorism “A rising tide lifts all boats” is associated with the idea that improvements in the general economy will benefit all participants in the economy. Take it up with John Kennedy, who is credited with the phrase, if you must.

Displacement is understood as the evil consequence of gentrification. Without the pluses of gentrification, however, a blighted neighborhood remains just that. Our historic districts already have neighbors with income and educational differences, and there is no reason to believe otherwise that revitalized neighborhoods can also retain their age, ethnic, and racial diversity. New arrivals are already blending in with longtime residents. One of the reasons we know the revitalization of Rocky Mount will be successful is because we offer exactly what researchers say is needed to draw transplants, investors, and new businesses. Villa Place and Edgemont, support the research:  historic! and architecturally interesting.  (Five homes have been recently bought in Edgemont, which is exciting.) We shouldn’t assume that longtime residents in areas that are attracting investment aren’t happy to have the services that spring up, a decent grocery store, adequate police patrols, and other upsides of gentrification….things that in our imperfect world they have been without. There is no reason why Rocky Mount should feel anything but enthusiasm and goodwill for gentrification, embracing the good that comes from it while at the same time staying sensitive to, and solving, any problem it creates. It is not an either-or decision. This is a win-win for everyone. This is a community filled with brilliant people who can solve gentrification and displacement issues because everyone wants to make HOME a better place.

Downtown Rocky Mount has iconic landmarks, distinctive features, and unique neighborhoods. Surely there is no other agenda in play. Everyone wants people living in safe and decent rental properties and sees the advantage investment in our neighborhoods brings. No one would put their own political gain before the good of the community. Dismissing that possibility, I say, let’s get on with preservation and restoration of our residential and commercial properties that represent the history, image, and character of Rocky Mount.