Macalester’s gentrification paradox

Finn Odum, Contributing Writer

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Somewhere at Macalester, there is a disconnect between what we claim to be and what we actually are.

We claim to value civic engagement and community justice — concepts integral to Macalester’s identity as a liberal arts college. We do this in class by learning about structural inequalities and gentrification. We take this commitment into the world by fighting for what we believe in, standing up against oppression. We protest. We host forums. We take action.

An opportunity for this kind of engagement arose with the construction of Allianz Field and its future plans to redevelop Midway neighborhood. We took advantage of it by hosting a number of events surrounding the ethics of stadium construction. Last spring, for example, we had a youth forum to discuss the impacts of gentrification in urban areas. Months before this in 2018, the urban studies concentration held a panel discussing the positives and negatives of stadium development. Going even further back to the fall of 2017, geography professor Dan Trudeau’s qualitative research class built an in-depth report about how residents in Midway perceived the stadium’s development. While some were hopeful that it would go well, even more listed concerns with being pushed out of business by the new development.

At Macalester, we used the stadium as a teaching tool, an example of how a large development can damage a low-income community. We told the stories of Midway’s residents to paint a portrait of the people who will get hurt by the construction.

So why, then, are we openly promoting discounted student tickets to a Minnesota United game?

Sure, it was the first week back, and we wanted to give the first-years a taste of what the Twin Cities have to offer. Allianz is accessible, just two stops north on the A-Line. And the discount is pretty reasonable, as the cheapest tickets are often $24 or more. From the standpoint of a college trying to help students have a good time, it makes sense.

What frustrates me about this is that Macalester is so willing to go back on its values. This wasn’t the only time we’ve supported sending students to soccer games at Allianz Field, and the first instance even occurred close to the youth forum. How come we’re talking about the dangers of gentrification one minute, and then giving our money to an establishment that’s built to gentrify the next?

Perhaps the more reasonable question is, why aren’t we more aware of this issue? Macalester students are usually vocal about issues of injustice. I believe that this is, in part, based on the perception that gentrification does not affect us. It is not our immediate neighborhood at risk of a negative change, nor are we the ones who are going to be hurt.

This realization came in the late fall of 2018. I participated in a research project on the community engagement with urban stadiums. During that time, I became aware of the negative effects of the stadium. I learned this through firsthand engagement with concerned business owners and youth organizers, who all told me the same thing: Allianz Field and its future development, if it went unregulated, was going to hurt their neighborhood.

When I spoke with other students about my research, many responded with disinterest. “It’s not like anyone shopped at that Rainbow,” I was told time and time again. It might be true that Macalester students didn’t shop there, but then again, Macalester students aren’t the residents of Midway. The businesses being demolished in favor of the stadium’s development weren’t the Whole Foods or Target that Macalester students frequent to meet their needs. When the rest of these businesses are removed in favor of high-rise apartments and retail boutiques, the most we’ll care is if there’s a movie theater that plays more shows than the Grandview.

What won’t affect us will be the rise in rent, pushing some small businesses out of their storefronts. What won’t affect us will be the increase in residential car traffic, forcing community members to park on their front lawns or protect their parking places on game days. What won’t affect us will be the massive loss in jobs that will come when the Midway development is bulldozed.

But what will be affected will be our so-called commitment to community justice. What is the value of giving a voice to the youth of Midway, if we’re just going to give our money to the force they’re trying to fight? What is the value of discussing the negatives of gentrification, when we’re sending our first-years to the stadium, the gentrifying entity, for entertainment? What is the value of even saying we’re committed to supporting the community, if we’re not going to support one that’s just a 10 minute bus ride north of us?

We’re profiting off of Midway’s trauma to appear socially aware. We’re looking the other way when lower income communities are hurt so that we can have a good time. We’re not acting on the values that we claim to care about. And if we continue promoting Allianz Field, then we at Macalester need to reconsider what we really stand for.