Alberta Street changes (and my ambivalence about being the cause)On my last trip to Portland, I was shocked to see how Alberta Street, once a relatively diverse neighborhood (for Portland, which is about 75% white) with a handful of good taquerias, divey (but tasty) cafes, and a co-op grocery, was suddenly full of boutique clothing shops. There's even a scrapbooking store.
In retrospect, I notice in my photos from a 2004 funky art walk that I labeled one existing shop a "clothing/lifestyle store," and even then the racial shift in the neighborhood was obvious. Everyone was talking about buying houses in Alberta because it was one of the few reasonably priced markets in the city proper, and house values were expected to go up with the addition of a light rail line a couple miles away in NoPo. A couple of my friends who have rented in the neighborhood for about five years said it's now getting hard to find reasonable rents. Real estate prices are edging out the older black and hispanic residents. Alberta now looks like Hawthorne, with lots of young, white people (exactly like me) drinking lattes and walking dogs. It was both comforting to see a place where I felt like I belonged, and frustrating, knowing that I'm part of a problem. I feel the same way shopping at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods in East Liberty in Pittsburgh (which, you could easily argue is worse, because it's being led by huge chains).
Despite my ambivalence about supporting neighborhood development (that subsequently bring in wealthier outsiders and marginalize the original residents), something about the tone of this NYTimes article about gentrification in northeast Portland really bugs me. I was left wondering what was omitted. Who are the nefarious developers leaving fliers encouraging older residents to sell? Was the white nurse really that insensitive? Was the black business owner really being screwed in favor of white business owners? Quite possibly. But it's hard to know for sure, and I'm worried about being the bad guy. (Even one with good intentions.)