Portland is known for its lumber industry, cold weather, charming architecture, and affluent white folks. Telling someone that black people live in Portland is like telling them that a hot dog can run for president.
The very real black population of a neighborhood in Rip City convinced Trader Joe’s to give up on its plans to open a store in their area. The Portland African American Leadership Forum (PAALF) claimed that by opening a clean, affordable, pleasant, convenient chain grocery store, their neighborhood would become too desirable for “non-oppressed populations.” This is, of course, code for “white persons.” PAALF went on the record to state that it’s opposed to any development “that does not primarily benefit the black community.” A clean place to buy cheap, healthy food is clearly a huge “fuck you” to black people throughout Portland.
They are specifically upset that the Portland Development Commission sold the land—which is worth $2.9 million—to Majestic Realty for a paltry sum of $502,160 while not adding an affordable housing component to the plan. Subsidizing property sales to spur development is a common practice of organizations like the PDC. Government redevelopment agencies exist for the sole purpose of encouraging businesses to create jobs through incentives of this sort. PAALF is saying that this isn’t good enough, and they want more, even if asking for more means getting nothing at all.
PAALF describes itself as “united in the belief that we can do more together than separately. We recognize that in order to achieve enduring, positive change in our communities we need a truly transformative agenda; one that is exciting and fresh; one that challenges the status quo and changes the game.” If by “changing the game” they mean thumbing their nose at economic development because they’re afraid of gentrification, then they done flipped the script.
On their website, they even dare to say, “People of color, particularly African Americans, are often isolated from access to the critical resources we all need to create healthy, thriving communities, families, and individuals.” Trader Joe’s is far from a perfect corporation—there is no such thing, anyway—but according to a CNN report, store managers “can make in the low six figures, and full-time crew members can start in the $40,000 to $60,000 range.” They also say that “Trader Joe’s annually contributes 15.4 percent of employees’ gross income to tax-deferred retirement accounts.” Better to keep those jobs out of black neighborhoods to score political points, I guess.
Gentrification is a thorny subject, one that has class, race, and gender implications. Unpacking that mess would take longer than this column allows, but unemployment and economic despair are the flipside to the boogeyman of gentrification. Hiring is picking up speed all over Oregon, but not in Portland. The Portland metro area lost 600 jobs in November of 2013, while Oregon as a whole gained 5,400 jobs in that same month. There’s a middle ground between whitewashing a low-income, minority neighborhood (or as I call it, “San Francisco’ing”) and allowing an area to remain disadvantaged. Rent control, subsidized housing, and outreach to business leaders are just some of the ways that gentrification can be managed effectively. Black community leaders in Portland should be ashamed for seemingly ignoring compromise and further hamstringing the population they serve in the name of “preserving their culture.” RACIST
I usually love VICE mag, but there’s just so much context missing from this piece “this week in racism”. if i had read only this article, i would think, yeah, that’s dumb. people in living in west oakland “food deserts” would welcome a trader joe’s no question!
but as i’m an urban planning student in a program that gives a decent focus on equity, i had heard some more news about the issue.
similar to how the bikeways controversy on North Williams Ave. sparked, trader joe’s did not consult the community before making plans to locate there. the neighborhood didn’t say they wanted a TJs. pretty much, they weren’t given a choice until recently to reject it.
the better way of doing things would have obviously been for TJs to talk to the community and see how they would feel about moving in. instead of getting permits, etc. and just shoving itself into a neighborhood.
and looking at a larger context, a community should be able to choose what they want. yes, they want easily available fresh produce, but maybe not within a trader joe’s. there’ve been ideas for a community market like the forthcoming (2014) Portland Mercado (15.11.13), a latino public market at SE 72nd/Foster. something like a farmers market that’s open every day, with independent vendors.
so now that North Portland eliminated trader’s joe, maybe it’ll be closer to finding out exactly what the community really wants (national supermarket or local market or..) and getting it.