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The Mass Media

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Gentrification in Jamaica Plain


Recent local news coverage picked up a story out of the neighborhood of Boston from Jamaica Plain, which shares borders with Mission Hill, Roxbury, West Roxbury and Brookline.

            A supermarket called Hi-Lo Foods is closing and is being replaced by a Whole Foods. Hi-Lo carries a lot of food catered to shoppers of Latino and Caribbean descent.

            Hi-Lo is a very visible, cool part Jamaica Plain’s diversity. It’s huge and noisy. Every aisle has flags of different countries hanging from the ceiling, and you can buy chicken’s feet or hearts by the pound.

            Hi-Lo’s closing is part of the common narrative of Jamaica Plain: it’s being gentrified. The price of living in the neighborhood will spike, the local culture will fade away or become too quaint in favor of traditional middle-class values Soon only rich white people will live there.

            I share in this collective paranoia. An El Salvadorian restaurant I liked has closed and is being replaced with another cheap pizza place. The basketball court across from my grocery store was torn up and replaced with a tennis court.

            Hi-Lo’s closing is a good news story but a bad marker that Jamaica Plain is pushing out its poor and non-white residents.

            Meghan Irons of the Boston Globe did a piece on the Hi-Lo that is a good example of this, “in recent years, the neighborhood has been getting richer and whiter. The percentage of households making more than $75,000 a year has nearly doubled since the 2000 census, as the proportion of Latino and Hispanic residents has declined from almost 28 percent to about 20 percent.”

            What Irons and most observers pass over is the Louis Agassiz Elementary School off of South Street. This school, which has 500-600 students a year and is about 85% Latino is being closed as part of the Boston School Committee Renew and Reinvest plan, which closes eight public schools and merges eight more. The student bodies of  the closing schools all have 80-90% students of color and total about 2,000 students who are being pushed into other Boston public schools, which currently have a teacher-to-student ratio of 1:22. Actual class sizes are bigger than this when you consider this ratio can include teacher aids, administrative staff and special education teachers.

            Education is a  two-tiered educational system in Massachusetts. The students are in the very top tier nationwide in terms of test scores and Boston has some of the world’s finest universities. But, its own public high schools are drop-out factories.

            As Boston superintendent Carol Johnson herself mentioned at a School Committee meeting, in 1974, 52% of Boston public school students were white. Now, 13% are. I don’t hear any question as to why Jamaica Plain has to have a Latin Quarter (as Ms. Irons calls it) at all, as to why when people see lots of young affluent-looking families they associate that with the end of college students and poor people in the area, maybe even why every major city in America has de facto segregated black and white neighborhoods.