Note: this post was drafted while I still lived in Northeast Minneapolis. At the time I was embroiled in my move to the Bay and in the completion of the Mabon and Samhain Sabbat essentials books, so consequently this post got tabled. I post it now as a base of comparison – I now live in San Francisco, at the furthest edge, and I watch and wait for the spread of gentrification to reach me, or what I suspect is really a second wave of gentrification.
A freshly opened cafe somehow managed to wrest a liquor license away from the halal meats powerhouse of the Twin Cities metro. Two shops in direct view of this new, liquor-serving cafe’s plate glass windows feature a soon-to-be florist/candy shop and a Tae Kwon Do school that will replace the Mercado where I used to buy entire bags of avocados. In between remain faded store fronts of still functioning businesses, most geared toward the non-English speakers that bus or drive down Central Ave on their way to and from Brooklyn Park. Brooklyn Park is the poor suburb, the one people go to to get started or to take a step up from what looks to outsiders like relentless violence in North.
We all knew it was coming. The gentrification began in 2002, the year I moved into the Creamette Lofts under Section 42, fresh from divorce and abandoned graduate school. It wasn’t the renovated warehouse, but the new construction, aimed at young professionals like myself, barely affordable to me and not at all affordable to the original residents. At the time I could see artist homes at the edge of parking lots and near basements, weird hangers on from days of rent control or out of some sort of landlord kindness or absenteeism.I was part of the second push, the one that drove out the artists.
Before the artists it was warehouses, derelict, neglected in a wave of suburban popularity from the 1970s. When the flour mills burned down, a fire likely started by a homeless person unaware of the explosive power of residual flour, no one had worked in the building for decades. There was no dent to be made on the economy. Some boy going through some nihilist punk rock phase took me on a date to see the ruins when I moved to the state around 1996. I remember, vaguely, steel girders and blackened ruins.
Then people moved back – first the punks, then the artists, then me.
I have been here about a decade – a decade since real estate developers and the housing bubble drove all the artists from the Warehouse district to Nordeast, and then to Near North, and now a little bit to the dreaded and spoken of if in hushed tones North Minneapolis. It’s been a decade since I have been handed flyers for funky gallery openings and showings above the Imperial Room by mussy-haired boys, many of whom also carried a guitar for no clear reason.
They took over the buildings in Northeast. Studios, unsuitable for living conditions, sprouted up in ramshackle railway stations, in buildings once used to make coffins; sturdy widgets all outsourced to China have given way to paints and clay, acrylics and jewelry – supplies,all too often, still ordered from China.
The Korean restaurant on the corner of Central and 22nd got a make over and now nestles almost primly next to a Mayan Cuisine place and an Indian grocery store. On a corner, in direct view of the 2nd precinct station, sits Central Bath and Sauna. The windows are dirty, the shades pulled and yellowed. Today a big sign reads “Open.” Supposedly, it’s a house of ill repute aimed at men of very specific orientations and tastes. A combination of police corruption and outright homophobia is what keeps it open. No one is harmed, really – and no one really wants to know. I have thought of walking in, all 300 pound woman of me, just to see what they do. What if I just want to install a spa? What if I just want a massage, the only happy ending being a paycheck for the masseuse? I don’t care for the business but I don’t object to it either – it’s all adults, and what gives people a way to keep roofs over their heads is okay as long as no one gets physically hurt. The sensibilities or those offended by prostitution for the most part need some injury, or humbling, or a sharp experience with how they themselves have made prostitution necessary.
This is Minneapolis. There will be no moral argument.
I am watching for them to go. When this naughty little bathhouse goes, it’s all over. Gentrification will be here. It will mean something for the Islamic cultural center and the liquor store right next to it, perhaps a cease-fire as they both fight for their fates. I doubt it, though. The Muslims are pretty offended by liquor. The liquor store owner is pretty offended by Muslims.
Eventually that light rail, friendly to the suit-wearing expensive-phone flashers will speed down Central, displacing the bus and connecting the people of Brooklyn Park to the Mall of America with at most minimal time spent in the city itself. The loss of flavor is inevitable, the temptation of convenience, one more piece of life eased, irresistible.
Is this a bad thing? A good thing? Right now Northeast Minneapolis teeters on that very delicate balance of mostly good. The rents are manageable. Families can actually buy property there. People of color mix – although the racist police of Minneapolis are just as much of a problem as are the kids that steal mail looking for gift cards and social security checks. Do I want to lose the affordability and great food? No. Do I want to keep the damn Edison students that start fights in front of the library, circuiting riotously out into the street and oncoming traffic, thinking of their lives as the only show worth watching, their obstacles as the only trials worth removing? No. Do I love the teenagers that litter in front of my townhouse? Hell no. But gentrifying generally doesn’t change the teenager problems – it just brings in more asshole teenagers, but might bring in parents that are Hummer-driver level assholes themselves.
Should I move back to Minneapolis anytime soon, I wonder what I’ll find. Will the mosque still be there, forever interlocked in the mutual struggle of self-importance it dances with the aggressively Christian liquor store owner next door? Will the expanded East Side Coop put some many wealthy hippies on so many damn lawns it’s impossible to sort them out from their chickens? Lowrey is already something of a dividing line, and as the progress continues, how much more will it divide?
And where do I fall in this, as a white member of the gentry, married well but also an artist who pretty much had to?
I love my neighborhood. I love my happy little townhouse, new, but shared with old-timers, tech workers, hippies, artists, the elderly. I laugh at the chicken coops that spill out in the street, at the weird art pieces that crop up on lawns after every Art-a-Whirl, and god help me, I love the reasons snow gives us to complain even as I am secretly relieved of the burden of seeing anyone as long as it litters the ground. I am what drives out flavor and character, I am what makes it harder for others to have homes, because it’s all about market value and the economic game rather than simple recognition of a need to live. It’s hopelessly complicated, even as I run into cultural conflicts that are less than friendly, less than welcoming, less than safe to me. There is no simple conclusion here – just love for my home and love for those who love it.