The rather disturbing trend of turning once rundown buildings and city blocks into upscale shopping centers aimed at the wealthy upper middle-class demographic has been happening for a while here in the Denver metropolitan area. Neighborhoods that were once little more than slums are now completely redone, filled with remodeled Victorian houses and Alfalfa's on every corner. LoDo has gone from a homeless neighborhood to a trendy nightclub spot. My grandfather refused to come to Denver for years because he remembered what downtown was like during the 1950's: passing through on his way home from the Korean War, he saw Larimer Square as a slum filled with the homeless. Today, Larimer Square is prime real-estate, covered with trendy restaurants, eclectic furniture and clothing stores, and a tiny skating rink. At Christmas, the city (or the shopowners? I'm not sure) put up strings of lights and turn the entire thing into a brilliantly white glowing strip that advertises its affluence. Look! it says, It's too bright here to have social problems! Lesser elements keep out, because we can see you!
I call this trend disturbing because it isn't an end to the problems of homelessness or slums; it is simply a relocation, a condension. Our shelters still overflow on freezing winter nights. About a year ago we had several gruesome murders in the homeless community, and the killer (or killers) has never been caught. The homeless and poor have become even more invisible in our society because we recreate or disguise their former homes.
A more benign example of this trend is my local mall, Southwest Plaza. It was never "in the ghetto," despite what my friend from the very rich Cherry Creek area may have called it; it was, however, not an upscale mall. Prices were low, stores were more along the lines of Sears and Montgomery Wards than Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and there was always a pack of kids, many of them from my local junior high and high school, standing outside the doors, smoking cigarettes and more potent things. Cops were crawling all over the place. Many people wanted to shop somewhere nicer but couldn't afford it. The floor was bare tile, the food court didn't have anything even resembling a Starbucks, and there were always stores empty.
Starting about two years ago, someone new bought the mall and started to upscale it. The neighborhood around it was also becoming more upscale, but poorer neighborhoods still depended on its low prices. The new owners gave it fancy new entryways, a nicely carpeted floor, more expensive stores, and, perhaps most offensive to the local teenage community, new signs outside every entrance: No smoking allowed.
Subsequently, all the prices went up.
At first, I will admit, I was more upset about this "de-ghettoing" of my favorite mall for selfish reasons. I used to hang out there before it was "trendy" and "cool". I hung out there when my parents didn't want me to. Then I started thinking about the implications for someone besides myself...
Where, I want to know, are the poorer people supposed to shop? Goodwill?! By upscaling the mall, they've taken away one more refuge for those who want their dignity but can't afford the nicest things. It's one more way of laying down class lines. It's one more thing we can take away from someone who isn't making over $50,000 a year. Where are they supposed to go?
Well I suppose I should add something now, since gitm has essentially called the entire essence of my node into question. Let me just explain that the things I talk about in the first part-- the 16th St. Mall, homeless people, etc.-- are very different from what I talk about in the second part. There I'm not talking about homeless people, I'm talking about people who are not as financially well off as their neighbors. Southwest Plaza was a cheaper solution, as were stores like Target, which has now also upscaled. And just because there are homeless people playing chess with you on the Mall doesn't mean that they haven't been forced to move away from their traditional homes. This isn't about the economy; it's about people. And finally, I never called it a "ghetto" mall, as I explained in my writeup.