A House in a Gentrified Zone

By Olivia Johnson


I remember sitting with the older folks at a funeral when I was 13. A distant cousin had passed, and the older gentlemen were standing on the front porch chatting about real estate and current city affairs. One gentleman brought up how in about 10 years, the city of Omaha would begin the process of flipping the city’s real estate market. They would drive taxes higher in some areas to push the residents into the middle of the city; these residents were of the “affluent” areas.

In order to do this, the city would have to push out the residents of these areas. North Omaha was to be largely affected, and even my 13-year-old self knew that was obvious. It would be years later that I realized what my relatives were talking about was gentrification.

For those high-rise condos to go up, for them to be occupied, the “element” of the disenfranchised and underserved would be displaced, and this is a huge issue. But for many like me, who called 27th – 40th and Dodge through Leavenworth home… the new developments sprouted leave us displaced. This was my playground so to speak, my childhood. Playing pinball at the now closed Convenience Store, chilling with my uncle at the Colonial on the summer nights when I couldn’t sleep and catching the number 2 bus pretty much everywhere were some of the fondest memories a black woman, like myself, can have.

To see a cigar bar where I used to play Monopoly is just wrong. Looking back, I realize how foretelling that particular instance was. The money invested isn’t new money; it’s recycled and moved around US cities. It is a game, but so not childlike. It is a game, but many don’t know they are playing it. And that is the saddest realization of it all.

The selected poem is one created out of the hurt of the gentrification of childhood, for it is that space which cannot be replaced.

Erected in 1918, with a 4-cement wall’d foundation Stationed over 1600 square feet, fenced in yard, corner lot stretched to fit a single family

I have held my silence
I knew my function

But as I prepare for another decade
I must speak on the changes of society’s stages
During my first years, I housed a family who had some money
It was a simple time, not too much tension in my part of town

In the late 1960’s a grandson came to live in one of the vacant bedrooms
I was curious as to why he was called a rebel
He listened to music of the 1960’s
There was a song, “Times a Changing” he listened to repeatedly
He spoke of a “movement” away from “capitalism”
These words I did not understand.

Until now.
With the signing of each new deed or lease
I’ve accepted duality since my creation
I see what people portray to the world
I see what people hide behind closed doors
I see the swing in police surveillance
I see the careless replace the careful
All have been forced out

I inherited a vow of silence from houses before me, around me
But it has become too much
My confession box is filled up
So, when my boards creak and moan
I am speaking of my weariness
change of keys, change of ideologies, change of the flow of money

My true desire to be functional has been painted over
I’ve become a victim in my own skin
My creaks and moans muffled by the slogan of “get your culture here”

As I prepare for a new decade
I see that money is the misrepresentation of value

As I prepare for a new decade,
I cry as I watch the expanding homeless numbers rise

As I watch less children play in the street
I warp my shudders, blister my roof, crack my foundation

With my appearance haggard
I can’t be sold, rented or told to stay
I’ve chosen my fate

I watch the planners, the red ribbons, the bulldozers come
I… cease to be
The dust that rises from my wreckage
Floats up and away from this recycled land

Us houses…we’re not inanimate objects
We live, breathe, and weep
But humanity doesn’t see it.

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