A good friend of mine owns the most fantastic coffee roastery and cafe in all of Omaha with her husband. Muglife, a short walk from my home, is the type of place with locally sourced treats, single origin coffee and a cast of the most interesting regulars I’ve ever experienced. She posted the following comment on facebook after reading this article about our neighborhood. I’ve included my response below because I think it very clearly highlights how I feel about owning a home in this area and how I feel about being part of a community full of rich personality, thriving business and, all the while, major work to be done:
This article is being shared and discussed multiple times in my fb feed, and because I own and run a business in this exact area, I would like to share my experience getting to know Park East the last two years.
Park East has been severely neglected over the years, and while I was familiar with this area via late night stops at the Smoke Pit and greasy breakfasts at 11worth, I was hesitant for a multitude of reasons when my husband and I were approached about opening a coffee shop there. Park Easts’ one way commuter arteries into and out of downtown are lined with dilapidated buildings and boarded up storefronts. We’ve all seen them as we drive up and down Farnam, Harney, Saint Mary’s, and Leavenworth. I did not see how this area could support a trio of small businesses but I was also concerned about the G word: gentrification.
The area is indeed facing certain gentrification, and with many people having lived here for decades, this is a serious concern.
No matter how charming or novel some may perceive this area to be, this part of town has some serious problems that need addressing. I have built relationships and interact daily with people here who have become customers; who have become friends. The landlords and property owners they rent from have let these properties run into disrepair. Ceilings caving in from water damage goes unattended for weeks and months. Sinks back up and water flows through 2 stories until it reaches the ground floor. Heating breaks for days in the winter. Cockroaches come up through the carpet. So on and so forth.
Drive through Park East and it is obvious this neighborhood houses a large population of low income and marginalized individuals. I know several people getting by on minimum wage, disability, and social security in this neighborhood, and still struggling (and I am so grateful that they choose to spend a few of their spare dollars at my business when they stop in.) No, they are not all “drug addicts and derelicts”, but there is a fair share of that in Park East. The thing is though, they are not the problem. Quite frankly, developers and hotels are not the problem. The problem? The problem is we live in a corporatist society, a gross misrepresentation of capitalism. The problem is class warfare. The problem is the lack of integrity in the way we take care of those with mental health and substance abuse problems. The problem is the way we villianize those on welfare and food stamps while turning a blind eye to corporate crooks and entrusting positive change to an equally crooked government. This neighborhood had problems long before gentrification was one of them. WE keep letting this happen. You want to see areas not get gentrified? Spend time in them. Spend money in them. Vote with your dollar. Support small business. Support each other. All the things that have not happened in this neighborhood in the last 30 years.
I don’t want to see people pushed out of their homes or OUR neighborhood either. But I also don’t want to pull up to see the front of my business has been vandalized, or to be called a fat nasty bitch in my own cafe for asking a man who was harassing two women to leave, or to have to call 911 because someone is so fucked up they collapsed in front of the building, etc, etc. It’s daily in this neighborhood and the people who live here don’t like it either.
So how do we preserve what is great about Park East while expanding and growing it to support a more diverse, relevant, safe, and resource rich community? I don’t know, but there are still vacant properties. Let’s open that grocery store. Let’s build that community garden. Let’s invest in that independent deli or clothing store. There’s also some great organizations in the area already helping those who need it, like YES, Completely Kids, and Together Inc. Volunteer with one of those and see just how much better we can make Park East for those who call it home. Safer sidewalks and streetscapes are coming, let’s make sure there are residents, small businesses, and pedestrians to occupy them. VOTE WITH YOUR DOLLAR. Stop paying corporations to do what your friends and neighbors are already doing. Then, they won’t have as many opportunities and incentives to go after tax credits and prey on economically poor areas.
I know this is lengthy and honestly I probably wouldn’t read it either. But Park East is very near and dear to my heart, and this is all extremely personal for me. It was cathartic to write this but I am open to critical feedback and dialogue if you wish to engage. I will happily buy you a coffee if you want to stop by MUGLIFE and discuss in person sometime. Violent or instigative comments will be deleted but hey I love all of you guys so be good to each other, okay?
I fully agree with your passion and (nearly) fully disagree with your analysis. The thing you are desperately hoping for is indeed gentrification. As are all the people commenting above. You own an artisinal coffee shop connected to a bike shop where the most inexpensive transportation machine is like $300 for a child. The trio is completed by a shop for people with so much bloody money that they need to burn it on a $9 bag of waffle shaped treats for an ANIMAL. To rephrase: people are spending money in your building to buy extra, unnecessary inedible (to humans) food to elicit positive affirmation from a being incapable of critical thought. Those same people use a miniature computer in their pocket to call the police when a living, breathing, human being is laying on the sidewalk sometimes literally screaming for attention, frankly a reasonable and understandable way to express desperation in a totally loveless environment.
There is only 1 thing that will rescue the Park Place community: money. The best case scenario is that shiny new hotel rides landlords like a fucking cowboy to fix their properties, as you should be. Fight with city council to protect the price of rental if you must, but only money will fix the problems you are describing. The only way that money comes in is gentrification, that’s the definition. So yes, lets build the best deli in Omaha across the street and lets get an amazing grocery store pulling from a community garden. Let’s build a beautiful artists’ co-op and embrace the local flavor of our part of town. But let’s not bullshit ourselves. The loans, grants, tax breaks and lobbying that are needed will require affluent individuals and companies with the resources to fight for Park East moving in and moving up. Let’s stop blaming our community’s problems on the government until we have 10 PE residents at a city council meeting asking “What the fuck is going on here?” No gentrification you say?When was the last time one of us paid a homeless man to clean up the trash and cigarette butts on Harney? Boom, employment. Boom, investment in the community. Instead of calling the police why don’t we say “Hey mister, do you want to shower at my place and sleep on my couch and use my resources to get back on your feet?” No? Too scary and dangerous? I agree. But it’s one or the other. We will be real community or we will make a new one. This is not a corporate or government problem, you said it yourself, this is a personal problem for us. We either accept the sheltered existence of outside wealth or grab Park East by the balls and bring it to the level where we want it.