Gentrification lessens the character of cultural hubs

Lilly Montero, lilly.montero3@gmail.com

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Imagine a cute New Age coffee shop for a moment. Off white walls, clean wood furniture accented by little green succulents. There are also quirky trinkets or photos to contrast the green against a deep blue or a mustard yellow. There’s some kind of upbeat indie song playing. You don’t know the song, but it sounds familiar in the way that all indie songs sound familiar.

This could easily be any coffee shop in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland or New York. It could even be any small town shopping center trying to keep up with the capitalist benefits that come with the increasingly popular hipster aesthetic.

When people think of hipsters and gentrification, they often overlook the changes it can bring to a community’s character. The focus of gentrification has been about rising apartment prices thus far, but one thing we shouldn’t overlook is the way it has uprooted the character right out of old communities.

Admittedly, the problem of diminishing character in turn for a New Age style is perhaps less economic than rising apartment costs. Forbes magazine noted that a study done by Rachel Me

tzler of The New School found that small businesses “are not displaced at levels higher than that seen in non-gentrified neighborhoods.”

However, the study did note that rising costs of business in gentrified areas could potentially run a small business out or even change the character of such businesses.

The real economic problem here when it comes to small businesses, or coffee shops in particular, is that the New Age hipster aesthetic is a distinct capital boost. So while our favorite old coffee shops may not be completely disappearing, the character they once brought to the community definitely is.

For example, my old home town Fresno is not really the kind of place one would expect hipsters to flock to, though it does have little hubs for the kind of art and music hipsters tend to like. The old Tower District in Fresno has been notorious for bringing out art-seekers, drag queens, hippies, and those obsessed with the occult for as long as the community can remember.

So when one of our oldest coffee houses, Mia Cuppa, came under new management and reclaimed its original name, The Revue, the community thought that it was being restored not being newly renovated.

What the community was expecting was that the old beatnik coffee house would maintain what it was known for – open mic nights, soft red mood lighting and classic movie posters adorning the walls. What the community got was another New Age coffee house that looked like it had been copied and pasted right out of San Francisco.

Yes, we still had our coffee shop, but a coffee shop with all of the character sucked right out of it.

Most of the artists that once flocked to Mia Cuppa have since left and only a few patrons who remember what it once was have remained.

So the next time you think of gentrification remember that it is more than rising apartment costs. It’s small businesses trying to keep up with hipsters and the money that they bring, it’s the character being wiped out of your neighborhood, it’s the loss of artists and poets leaving because they no longer recognize their community.

Coffee shops in San Francisco are nice, but not every coffee shop has to look like San Francisco.