Submitted by Colleen Campbell, Intern Erie Regional Chamber
Historically, law has preserved the rights of some while undermining the dignity of many. Across the country, formal institutions have segregated people by race and socioeconomic class, and upon their revision have done little to repair the divisions that prejudiced real estate practices have imbedded among the American people.
Today, in innumerable ways the law still legitimizes the marginalization of minority communities and allows developers to consider their displacement as an afterthought or an unintended mistake. The law permits an abhorrent lack of concern for other human beings, and we often observe no community action in response.
As Erie is faced with a number of opportunities for economic growth and development, it is our responsibility to hold our city to a higher standard than that which has been set by state and federal legislation. We must consciously prioritize the mitigation of externalities which have displaced and disrespected underserved community members across the country.
To start, our city can take inventory. Research suggests that a number of factors impact the probability that a neighborhood will be gentrified. At particular risk are neighborhoods with low median incomes, large shares of nonfamily households and minority residents, and inexpensive multi-unit and rental options. While large urban areas with tremendous amounts of investment and fast-paced development are most likely to gentrify communities, smaller cities like Erie are at high risk for displacing residents in vulnerable neighborhoods adjacent to downtown and central business district activity.
Once the city has conducted a baseline survey of risk, it must move forward by differentiating itself from destructive development practices of the past. We now know as economists, developers, and entrepreneurs that a passive role is not enough to combat the forces which drive growth at the expense of underserved residents. Community growth is in some senses pareto efficient and as such, displacement is deliberate.
In global economic development, we often find that the growth of nations is dependent upon the redistribution of political and economic freedoms. At a local level, this may be done through the inclusion of a diverse set of local voices in the decision-making process of development strategies. Leaders of neighborhood organizations and local nonprofits represent the voices of the community and should not be excluded from conversations relating to the future of our city. Additionally, if a city has failed to develop without causing displacement, it is the role of Erie’s Chamber and other development organizations to actively seek advice from other metropolitan areas on what could have been done differently if given the chance that we have now.
Finally, just because the law permits municipalities to make development decisions based on good feelings and unrelated precedent doesn’t mean that Erie should. Our city has a tremendous need for frequent data collection, analysis, and dispersal. As we implement policy and accept investments and developments, we must also evaluate and react to change. Once we observe measurements of change, it is essential that community leaders do not ignore the signs.