Back in my July 11, 2016 post, I wrote that the introduction to bike lanes in a distressed area could lead to gentrification by upwardly mobile young professionals, the creative class. While I still feel this is sometimes the case, Bike Lanes are White Lanes by Melody L. Hoffman posits the opposite: that gentrification comes first, followed by a demand by the new residents for the cycling infrastructure. This leads to conflict between the city and the older residents of the area who question why the safer infrastructure is being provided now for the newer, more affluent members of their neighborhood when the need was just as great for those who lived there before. This leads to conflict between those older residents and the transportation organizations who are promoting the bike lanes/paths in the neighborhood.
In one respect, this is good in that it relieves the advocate of the “guilt” of being a cause of gentrification. This is not the chord that struck in me, however. It is precisely the residents of these low income neighborhoods who can best benefit by improved transportation options, be they bike paths, improved sidewalks for walking or better public transportation options. Unfortunately, these neighborhoods are often black and lacking of more than just transportation. Often, they are food deserts with the most available options being fast food or convenience stores. Employment opportunities in close proximity are few. While schools are there, they are often little more than warehouses for the young residents, as the best teachers are posted to more affluent neighborhoods.
Once again, our problem is not just a transportation issue, but a system issue. With the current zoning laws, it’s difficult for businesses to open that can truly serve the area not only with goods, but with employment. Teachers need to be incentivized to stay or go to these schools as education is the foundation of making lives better there. And, yes, making it easier for the citizens of these areas to travel to other parts of the city is necessary.
So where to begin? How can I as a white middle-class male work to bring these changes about without being just a white do-gooder? How can I help without being looked at suspiciously by those I want to work with? This is the quandary I now face.