We were confused by the sweeping use of the term “gentrification” in the Jan. 27 News&Guide article about Whole Foods buying Whole Grocer. As we’ve seen, experienced and (yes, some of us) participated in gentrification, it is the process of people with more wealth moving into under-resourced areas and renovating or rebuilding homes and businesses, which leads to change in an area’s cultural fabric and, typically, a displacement of longtime residents.
Gentrification is a housing, economic and even a health issue that can affect community history and culture. The term centers around the differing impacts gentrification has on longtime community members versus new residents, fostering opportunity for some and hardship for others. It often results in longtime residents being forced to move due to rent hikes, housing being torn down and other reasons beyond their control.
When the term “gentrification” is used to describe a corporate luxury food store replacing a locally owned luxury food store, it ignores the very real and persistent plight of marginalized communities throughout our country as well as here in Teton County.
Losing Whole Grocer and gaining Whole Foods is not the same as the systematic ousting of communities of color in favor of the white, upper middle class. The truest recent example of local gentrification is the eviction of residents who lived in the trailer park across from the Center for the Arts, which is now a Marriott Hotel.
Our community is experiencing a lot of change quickly, but when an older single-family home in East Jackson is torn down and replaced with a larger single-family home, that is not gentrification. Instead, it is the further upscaling of our already upscale community.
The current reality is that Jackson has become a Zoom Town and might be on its way to being a “SuperStar City.” Not that we have the agency to change this, but we are not interested in embracing either status if it means leaving current residents behind.
These issues are things we should all be concerned about, and with rapid change, we are asking readers to consider if we want to live in a community that honors and supports different families, backgrounds, and statuses? A community that recognizes injustice, names it, and works to dismantle it?
Or are we resigned to being a community that makes sweeping generalizations instead of really looking at the inequities that persist in our town?
If it’s the latter, it will be to the detriment of people truly experiencing the negative impacts of a gentrifying world. Language, and how we use it, matters.