Passive Aggressive Notes: Racial Proportionality and TOD Discussion Continues

I hear that train a comin’

On Friday I had a very direct and honest discussion with Rebecca Saldana of Puget Sound Sage, the author of Transit Oriented Development That’s Healthy Green and Just. First, I have to say it’s refreshing to have a frank conversation over these issues in person, not in the anonymously populated labyrinth of the comments section of a blog.

Sage isn’t very happy with me because of comments I made on CR Douglas’ feature on the report and the commentary I wrote for Crosscut a week ago. On Monday, Saldana had a response to my article (although the anonymous Curlove thanked Saldana for not responding directly to me) suggesting that gentrification and displacement are different. Gentrification can actually be a good thing, suggests Saldana, as long as there isn’t displacement.

Gentrification does not have to lead to displacement. But the two will go hand in hand if current residents cannot afford to stay as the public and private sector make investments.

I’ve known Saldana for at least a decade and I respect her work and the work of Sage (especially this report on the working conditions and health of Seattle’s hospitality workers). I said so when we met. I also appreciate the fact that she contacted me immediately when she saw me quoted in the Stranger on the Sage report and told me what she thought of my opinions about the report. But I still think that the effort to draw a distinction between gentrification and displacement is mostly spin aimed at softening the very strange assertions about race in the report and in Saldana’s Crosscut piece and in our conversation.

The Valley, Sage is arguing, was made predominately a place dominated by people of color by the discriminatory and now illegal practice of red lining. However, now that people of color are the majority of the population there (because of this discriminatory practice) we should try to keep it that way. It isn’t fair to displace people of color who live in the Rainier Valley with richer, white people. It’s perfectly fine for those people to move the Rainier Valley, but they shouldn’t take the place of or exceed the numbers of people of color in the neighborhood.

Saldana said that she found my writing and comments on the report to be grandstanding, negative, and that ultimately I represented nobody while Sage is accountable to a constituency of community and labor groups. I’m not sure about grandstanding, but it’s true, I have no organizational agenda. That enables me to keep making the point that I don’t think that Sage’s study needs to keep on promoting racial proportionality in the Valley, specifically keeping the neighborhood majority minority.

Reduce the effects of poverty and reverse the effects of racism, yes; but lock in redlining? I don’t think so. And certainly almost any of the conclusions of the report about wages are true with our without light rail. Now when it comes to organizations, I’ve heard from Futurewise’s Brock Howell directly and in the comments section of Saldana’s Crosscut article. Here’s what “Brock” said in his comment:

We need to recognize past discrimination, recognize the hundreds of thousands of people coming to the region over the next 3 decades and who they are/will be, and figure out how we can grow our communities together with shared prosperity. Tackling the problem of displacement is a key first step. We need to make sure we protect & strengthen the cultures, social networks, and social safety nets that currently exist. As you highlight in your article, this is key not just to achieve socially justice outcomes, but also sustainable outcomes too.

Here’s my response to the anonymous but vocal Curlove which also works for Brock’s comments.

As for the spin being offered by Sage (and apparently by Brock Howell of Futurewise) that “gentrification is fine without displacement,” it still doesn’t ameliorate the very bold statement in the Sage report that says that people of color should remain the majority.

The spin that, “sure, white people are welcome, as long as they don’t “displace” people of color,” doesn’t make this statement any less problematic. Sage would do well to simply back off that statement, focus on jobs, living wages, and improving the quality of life of all people in the Valley. But they have been put in the ironic position of saying that what redlining accomplished in the past should now be institutionalized in the future. That isn’t sustainable or progressive.

I get that Futurewise wants to work with Sage on TOD in the Valley and everywhere else. I also understand that groups with organizational agendas have to “stick together” when they are criticized. But the truth is that the racial proportionality arguments detract from other useful things in the report and will alienate many people who care about this issue of how we do TOD. Why not drop it from the discussion?

I think the best thing to do if we are to accomplish sustainable Transit Oriented Development is stop trying to bring race into the picture except to affirm that indeed poverty does concentrate among people of color. If we focus on addressing that disproportionality then we will really have accomplished something. Trying to tie the cause of that disproportionality to light rail or the suggesting that the solution to it is to concentrate people of color in one place doesn’t help TOD or the disproportionality of poverty.

But remember all of this is just one guy’s opinion.

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