Letters

The Gentrification Question

In response to Adam Serwer's piece on how Washington, D.C., has changed over the last decade ("A City Divided"), reader Nick Sementelli writes: "As a white, young professional who has successively migrated east over my six years in the city (from Georgetown to Shaw to Bloomingdale), I'm squarely in the center of the 'gentrification' phenomenon, and I'm eminently familiar with both the tensions these changes foster and the confusion/guilt my peers and I struggle with in how to approach them.

"One thing Serwer points out that I've always been struck by is how these debates tend to focus on fairly aesthetic issues: restaurants, bike lanes, dog parks, etc. I understand the symbolic importance of these things, of course, but I worry that it gives us new residents too easy an out. The common response -- highlighting that the advantages of nicer neighborhoods (less crime, more amenities, better transit options) benefit neighbors new and old alike -- is certainly true, but it misses a fundamental concern that many residents are implicitly excluded from these developments or won't be around long enough to take advantage of them. Similarly, pointing out that gentrification has as much to do with class as race is important, but it doesn't answer the question of how we ensure all of our city's residents have opportunities for class advancement.

"As Serwer illustrates, there is a genuine crisis for working families in D.C. who have not experienced the same 'recession-proof effect' so many of the rest of us have. From job creation and training to education, health care, and affordable housing, our communities are dealing with real, structural challenges. The history of our city shows that Washington is a healthier, safer, and more united place with a strong middle class with access to all of these things. My advice to my fellow gentrifiers: By partnering with existing community groups and leaders who are already hard at work trying to tackle these challenges, we can start actually contributing to some of the solutions instead of continually asking whether we're part of the problem."

Republicans Gone Wild

Paul Starr's column ("The Ultimate Republican Threat") generated a lot of feedback. Reader Harold Everling comments: "As a former campaign manager and political activist, I often have tried to understand how voters are induced to act in ways against their own best interest. Here Mr. Starr suggests that right-wing, white, Christian zealots have been sold the idea that they are the movement protecting America from 'them': nonwhite, non-Christian immigrants who are taking over the country. Then, conservative political advocates convince [voters] that the way to do this is to dismantle the social safety net, transfer more wealth to the already very rich, and allow business to pursue its greed unfettered by government regulations."

Reader Steven Colatrella notes that our democracy is not sufficiently majoritarian -- incidentally predicting the theme of this month's cover story: "I have noted a couple of very significant developments among the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in the past few years. One is that the abuse of Senate filibuster rules has made liberals more sensitive to and aware of the need for majority rule in a democracy. This may sound odd, but I think that the mantra of 'checks and balances' is so powerful in our national constitutional mythology that it takes a shock to remind everyone that while some defense of individual and minority rights is needed, the basic foundation of democracy must still be majority rule by elections.

"This is a point that has until recently been argued primarily by radicals (both socialists and the Progressive Party under [Robert] La Follette called for more controversial rulings to be ratified by referendum, for instance). It is now dawning on progressives that their opponents are a modern version of 'slow-motion secessionists,' as Howard Fineman called them recently. See recent states' rights Supreme Court rulings, see comments by the governor of Texas now running for president, see the willingness to collapse the federal government in debt-ceiling talks by the far right. Your call for Hamiltonian nationalism is well placed. For generations, the left has, because of its democratic values, seen Jefferson, not Hamilton as its forebear."

Blame Fannie

In response to Robert Kuttner's book review on the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the financial crisis ("Fannie-Backwards"), reader Florida Girl comments: "There is plenty of blame to go around, but Fannie did play a large role in this. In 2002/2003 they were offering loans in targeted zip codes that allowed people with subprime credit to obtain approval with 3 percent down with ridiculously high debt-to-income ratios, at rates given to 'A' credit borrowers. This program was clearly aimed at increasing ownership in underserved areas to borrowers who otherwise couldn't (and shouldn't) obtain financing. I spent 15 years in the mortgage industry but left in 2005. It was obvious to anyone in the industry that we were headed down an unsustainable path."

Write to us at letters@prospect.org or to The Editors, The American Prospect, 1710 Rhode Island Ave., NW, 12th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036. Or join the conversation online at www.prospect.org

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