Monday, March 31, 2014

When Will Gentrification Include Diversity Instead of Excluding It?

Posted by Debby Yoder, SEATTLE, WA -- On the south side of Seattle rests Columbia City, a neighborhood the locals like to call “the most ethnically diverse zip code in the country”. There are still more than 50 languages spoken and businesses that reflect such diversity. Historically, Columbia City has been home to Seattle’s marginalized: first the Italians, then Japanese, African American, Filipino, Latino, Vietnamese and East Africans.

Currently, Columbia City hosts a weekly international farmer’s market. There’s also a Beat Walk, where shops and restaurants host musicians and open their doors to let the sounds fill the street. What was once a garbage dump has been turned into a beautiful 57-acre public park. Nearby is the Northwest African American Museum where the current exhibit details the history of African American baseball in the state of Washington.

Unfortunately, while this neighborhood has historically absorbed waves of new residents without much contest, the most recent redevelopment has been challenging and mirrors gentrification taking place in places like Brooklyn, NY. Lower-income housing has been replaced by mixed- or high-income homes. Residents have been displaced and businesses have closed because they lost their customers or been unable to afford higher rents. Many more new complexes that will certainly alter the character of the neighborhood are planned. With Lake Washington nearby and the views of Mount Rainier and Mount Hood, the Rainier Valley is being recognized as a very desirable place to live. But Columbia City has survived all these years by embracing its cultural heritage while welcoming new residents and their cultures into the community without displacing others. This new trend in redevelopment may simply destroy this wonderful neighborhood forever. Why don’t developers think about such consequences?

Debby Yoder is a Contributor to Social Shutter as well as a student at Georgia State University majoring in Sociology. She can be contacted at

Sunday, March 23, 2014

March Madness: Basketball and a Sociologist's Run for Congress

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, SAN ANTONIO, TX – I just got back from San Antonio where I attended the Urban Affairs Association Meeting (UAA). Little did I know that San Antonio is one of the venues for the college basketball “March Madness” championship. This couldn’t have been a better coincidence because one of the professors attending the UAA meeting is not only a former basketball player but running for congress as well. Virginia Institute of Technology Urban Planning Department’s Derek Hyra is that sociologist and he’s running for Virginia’s 8th District congressional seat held by Democratic Representative James P. Moran for over 20 years. Moran is retiring. If Hyra were to win, he would be the first sociologist to be elected to Congress since Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  



I became friendly with some of the Iowa State players and a lot of the fans because they were staying at my hotel. I also heard Professor Hyra’s stories about the campaign trail. What I realized about March Madness is that whether you’re a basketball player, a fan – many of whom are kids and seniors – or running for congress it’s a grueling yet exhilarating ride. It takes dedication and passion, and I think in the end, the experience is more important than winning. Perhaps those in the ‘game’ wouldn’t agree with me on this, but I was impressed with all the enthusiasm and endurance. One of Iowa State’s star players was injured but the team overcame this adversity to beat University of North Carolina today. That's a real win.

Hyra like Iowa State is competing against a wide open field, many of whom are season politicians with large monied war chests. In this sense he’s an underdog. But unlike his opponents he’s the one who really knows policy and has a deep policy team, like Iowa State has a deep basketball team. Hyra's expertise is housing policy as well as economic and community development. His “4E” platform – economy, education, environment, and equity – calls for more inclusive strategies for economic prosperity. In fact, his platform is driven by the main issues he’s explored in his ongoing research – and the very same issues that Obama talked about in his State of the Union and included in the budget he recently sent to Congress.

An eclectic field of 11 democratic candidates are running in this North Virginia district primary including several locally-elected public officials, a car dealer, a liberal talk show host (“The Aggressive Progressive”), and an openly gay state senator. But Hyra is the only one bold enough to talk about economic inequality. And while it’s too soon to tell who the favorites are, whoever wins the primary will probably get this liberal district’s congressional seat. So I hope Iowa State keeps winning March Madness and Hyra does the same by climbing up the brackets and upsetting the field with a well-earned win.

Deirdre Oakley is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University and the Editor of Social Shutter. She can be reached at

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Atlanta’s Redevelopment Rap Sheet

Photo Credit: Hunt Archbold

Posted by Terrence C. Wall, ATLANTA, GA – This city keeps destroying and building and ignoring blight. Now there are plans for a new Georgia Dome to make sure the Falcons don’t move to the suburbs. At the same time since the Braves announced that they are leaving Atlanta for Cobb County, the city has said that Turner Field, a stadium that’s not even a quarter of a century old, will be demolished and replaced with middle income housing. All of this destruction and redevelopment costs money. I really don’t have a problem with that as long as the neighborhoods surrounding these huge projects benefit. Unfortunately Atlanta’s rap sheet on redevelopment doesn’t include supporting the poor surrounding neighborhoods.

For the ‘new’ Georgia Dome the city is tearing down two historic churches. Less than a mile away is the now abandoned Morris Brown College, a Historical Black College that fell on hard times about four years ago. The city is talking about purchasing the campus. Will this be another tear down? I recently visited the campus and found that many of the buildings boarded up closed and a dilapidated football stadium. It looked terrible. I cannot believe the city is willing to build a Billion dollar stadium without addressing the blight and poverty that will surround it. The Georgia Dome we have now is not ugly looking or old, which begs the question as to why we need a new one. Maybe it will be state-of-the-art but it will still be in the same situation the existing one is in if things around it are not fixed up.

 Photo Credit: Emily Bacher

Terrence C. Wall is a Sociology major at Georgia State University. You can contact him at

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Masking Ignorant Hate for Religious Freedom

Posted by Hanan Yasin, ATLANTA, GA – Last semester I was walking past the main library at Georgia State University (GSU) where I was a senior finishing up my courses. There is a small stage there where various musicians perform every Tuesday and Thursday during lunch. Sometimes there are other events and sometimes there are unwanted ones.  In fact that day unsolicited ‘preachers’ had taken over the small stage “preaching” to a rather large crowd of very angry GSU students. 

It only took one look at their signs and less than a minute listening to one of them yelling through a bullhorn for me to realize why student were so angry. These middle-aged, mostly overweight white guys were basically saying that rebellious women, potheads, drunks, lewd women, homosexuals, sport nuts, baby killers, Jesus mockers, Mormons are all going to hell unless they repent and accept Jesus. You may wonder way GSU administrators and public safety would allow such hateful people to carry on like this. Well, we are a public university and therefore that small stage outside the library is public space. 

A woman responded to them saying: “Am I rebellious because I’m getting a college degree and want to be successful?” Someone else yelled back; Potheads love Jesus!” Another said “I’m gay, but I’m Christian!” And yet another student responded: “So do you all watch Sunday night football?”  The ‘preachers’ didn’t respond…they just kept ‘preaching’…hate. GSU is very large and racially and ethnically diverse school which draws students from all walks of life. In fact we have received national recognition because of our diversity.  GSU also has a large LGBT community. None of the students gathered appeared to be supporting these “preachers” and I was impressed by how many stood up to them. 

But in the wake of the “freedom of religion” Anti-Gay legislation in Arizona which thankfully the Governor vetoed, I have become especially concerned for the LGBT community. And while these ‘preachers’ that day last semester seemed more anti-gay, anti-women, anti-drugs, and anti-alcohol, anti-abortion, and oh, anti-sport nuts, I’m also concerned about their potential ethnic and racial prejudices and hatreds. As a young person who just graduated with a Sociology major, it seems to me that we now live in a world bifurcated by informed tolerance and ignorant hate – and there are powerful political leaders who advocate for one side or the other. Thankfully many are on the side of informed tolerance but I still don’t understand how ignorant hate has made it so far into America’s political discourse in this post 2000 day and age. We are supposed to be a democracy, not a bunch of ignorant haters.

Hanan Yasin graduated from GSU with a major in Sociology in December 2013. Good luck Hanan!