OPINION: Zoning arguments, gentrification and diversity


John Hewitt's Opinion Piece for Champion NewspaperMany who oppose another property owner’s plans for development will quickly throw out the term “gentrification,” which is defined by Merriam Webster as “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”

Just as often, those who attempt to influence what another does with their property will at some point in their arguments include the term “diversity” and insinuate that newer, more-costly homes, condominiums or apartments will negatively impact the diversity of the community.

When these arguments are made, there is also an argument that those making those statements perhaps believe that not all segments of society are able to afford the newer housing options. Is there an inherent prejudice built into these beliefs that only White people can afford nicer housing?

When those in opposition to redevelopment argue that diversity will decrease, it seems to suggest that they believe not all can earn an income that would allow them to purchase or rent these spaces. This mindset is insulting to its core.

Granted, some property owners in areas targeted for redevelopment may see an increase in their taxes due to increasing values of surrounding newer properties; but they also will see a marked increase in the value of their homes and property should they decide to sell or rent.

Neighborhoods have changed numerous times throughout the history of our city and region. Many homes were originally built and owned by factory workers. When factories closed, original homeowners or tenants had to choose to move from the community or find other employment nearby. As this occurred, home values decreased and a second set of owners and tenants who took advantage of the opportunities moved into the communities.

It is a fair assumption that most of those who today oppose rezoning are likely third- or fourth-generation inhabitants of their homes and the communities they seek to control. They likely replaced previous tenants or property owners who, for whatever reasons, chose to relocate.

Diversity is an all-encompassing term that should include socio-economic and educational differences in addition to age, racial and ethnic differences. It should not be used to insinuate that not all are capable of, or want to, improve their living conditions.

Aside from the social consciousness issues often voiced in opposition to redevelopment and their inherent biases, there is the issue of property owners’ rights. Unless a community is protected by covenants, one property owner has no right to suggest to another property owner what should be done with his or her property. Each has the right to voice opinions but that should be as far as it goes.

Luckily, more than 20 years ago, my wife and I decided that we had had enough of being told by others how our lawn should appear, what color options we had to paint our home and that we could only have two vehicles in our driveway.

We moved to a rural area and built our home on a single-lane dirt road. We are in what many would consider to be a “food desert,” we don’t have public utilities such as sewer and water, and I am forced to travel long distances to find desirable work. We have age, educational, socio-economic and ethnic diversity in our neighborhood. We have single-wide mobile homes, hunting shacks, cabins and million-dollar homes next to each other and nobody tries to tell anyone else what they can or should do with their property.

It baffles me that some feel they have the right to tell others what they think should be done with property they have no ownership of.

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