Panel, residents debate benefits and harm of gentrifying Indy neighborhoods

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The debate and conversation over gentrification continues in Indianapolis.

There are many definitions for gentrification, but is generally defined as the renovation of deteriorating urban neighborhoods by an influx of more affluent residents.

Residents in some Indy communities say they’re worried about the negative effects of gentrification where they live.

“It’s like having your house redecorated and having the people come in and put the furniture in where they want it, not where you’d like to have it and they don’t even ask you where it should go,” said Sabae Martin. “That’s how I feel about what’s happening in Butler-Tarkington.”

Martin grew up in Butler-Tarkington.

These pictures from her friend and fellow Butler-Tarkington resident Brenda Paschal help illustrate the rapid changes the neighborhood has seen. P.S. 43’s mostly white classes became mostly black in just seven years due to block busting and redlining—racist real estate and banking practices that are now illegal.

Out of necessity, Martin says the community developed a strong culture and identity, but she fears it might be slipping away.

“The idea of what’s important to the people moving in to the community is replacing what was and remains important to the people that have been there,” said Martin.

Martin’s concerns have been echoed by others in neighborhoods across Indy for years. First in Irvington, St. Clair place and Fountain Square, but now in Holy Cross, Fall Creek and other neighborhoods.

Governing Magazine analyzed demographic data for the nation’s 50 largest cities and found many of those areas where residents are now worried, truly are being gentrified as median incomes rise.

“I think it’s about displacing a culture,” said Martin.

The concerns of long-time residents there is in part what led a group of IUPUI graduate students to host a panel discussion on the subject.

“I think with gentrification you do see both at play,” said one of the organizers, Charity Stowe. “You're definitely seeing a revitalization of a neighborhood that may be is in some kind of despair but you also run the risk of displacement of a lot of people already living there.”

As evidenced tonight, the debate over gentrification is nuanced because there are positives to the process, which raises median income, property values and sometimes impacts local schools.

“I’m seeing it change in a lot of ways for the better,” said Martin. “I enjoy that, but I feel that we need to have more inclusion, that the existing residents should have more input with the changes that are being made.”

Martin wasn’t the only one in the crowd tonight who seemed to agree with councillor Zach Adamson, whose district has the most economic disparity in Marion County. He noted how important it is that as a neighbor improves, current neighbors aren’t left out of the discussions and plans for a neighborhood that’s still theirs too.

“There are a lot of good ideas that are in that neighborhood that could continue to be brought forth,” said Martin. “But they’re looking outside of Butler-Tarkington for answers and trying to fit square pegs into round holes.”

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