For a number of years, I have watched my neighborhood undergo many changes, but primarily due to gentrification. I currently live in the Crown Hill area which is a predominately Black community. I chose to do the Neighborhood Tour Project over an issue that is severely affecting the health of our residents, food insecurities. Many neighborhoods in the U.S. are suffering from this type of disparity. My neighborhood was not always considered a “food desert.” Our last grocery store closed in 2015. Let’s go on a tour of my neighborhood, buckle your seatbelt!
From the corner, I am able to see Crown Hill Cemetery that is less than one block walking distance. In the other direction my house is less than four blocks from the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. I have been living in this neighborhood for over twenty-five years and in that time, I have watched the removal of a post office, hospital, pharmacy and grocery store. All of the closings may not have taken place all at the same time, but they were all based on a plan to gentrify the neighborhood. Living in a neighborhood with disparities, I am concerned with the new developments happening that do not include an affordable market.
Within a mile of distance, we had at least two grocery stores. Double 8 owned both of them, one was located at 3902 N. Illinois St and the other at 555 Fairfield Ave. The conditions of these stores were not great to say the least, but they supplied residents with fresh fruits and vegetables. Complaints were made about the condition of the store, sanitation, maintenance, expiration dates on food, and the high prices in comparison to other stores. Even with those problems, Double was main the source of food for people in the neighborhood. In 2015, the company closed all of the stores with little to no warning of the decision. The closure made local news and was mentioned in the Indy Star newspaper. Shoppers said, “I’m very shocked, “I don’t know where else to shop. I’m worried about my community. Where are they going to go?” This was a concern that many shoppers had and still are faced with since there has not been a sustainable solution to the problem. The disheartening aspect to this particular economic problem is, our neighborhood is not the only low-income area suffering. According to a WFYI article in 2019, about a fifth of Indianapolis lives in a food desert.
There are numerous reasons as to why not having a close by grocery store can cause detriment to any community, but I will only discuss three; transportation, unhealthy options, and dollar stores becoming the supplement. Many people that use to travel to Double 8 were elders, teenagers and people without vehicles. Transportation is could potentially not be big issue if the household needs are taken care of in a nearby radius. But if a person or family is forced to travel two or more miles via public transportation or walking, then we have a huge problem. In the Indy Star article, a man that shopped at Double 8 everyday said to the reporter, “A lot of people shop here who don’t have a means of transportation. There are elders who grew up here, they live here, it’s convenient for them. I’m trying to think where the people are going to go to shop.” I refuse to believe that because we live in a low-income area, we are not worthy enough for a functioning grocery store. It reminds me of the Booth article we discussed in class about the deserving and undeserving poor. An average community in the city is not typically responsible for a market being nearby distance. Yet, when we go downtown, Carmel, and Fishers there are markets everywhere! So, this leaves me to believe that legislatures and large corporations have some sort of control of what happens in these underserved neighborhoods. It’s not because we are not spending money in these places.
In class we discussed neoliberalism and the affects of privatization and free market on society if we continue to move in that direction. My concern is the hand that legislation has on the changes that are made in communities like mine. For example, I don’t understand how grocery stores are able to serve a community one day and then on another day leave people destitute. But politicians will say phrases like, “We need to pick ourselves us by our bootstrap” knowing dang on well they are the ones in control. Is that not a version of institutional or structured violence? Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “America made the Negroe’s [black] color a stigma. It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” I believe this the largest problem that contributes to gentrification and any other oppression that Black people face. My question is, is gentrification a symptom of neoliberalism?
Lastly, families in my neighborhood are forced to shop at places such as gas stations, dollar general, and family dollar for food. Those places tend not have fresh fruits and vegetables, so families more often times do not cook balanced meals. Prices are raised higher at these locations for a number of reasons, but mainly because they know residents need the food and families may receive SNAP benefits. Unfortunately, residents understand that the condition they are in is a form of mistreatment. Other residents and community institutions have come to together in COVID-19 to help supplement family’s needs with connections to pantries. Also, they have planted gardens for neighborhood use. Community members are filling in the gap of food insecurities. No one is paying them; they are contributing because they understand how severely important is to have access to fresh food.
I cannot say that I know what is going to happen next within my neighborhood. However, I am grateful to the people that have stepped up to help families in need. COVID-19 has truly affected each community different and our classroom presentations showed me that. The Neighborhood Tour Project reminded that even though institutional racism is alive and well, there is a power in community that continues to feed the soul.