By Caitlin Moynihan
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The gentrification of city neighborhoods does not happen by accident, but rather is the consequence of government policy and free market forces, an expert on urban planning said during a speech at Loyola University of Maryland this week.
Dr. Wendell Pritchett also drew parallels between the redevelopment that has been occurring in major American cities and “Clybourne Park,” a two-act play about gentrification that several Loyola students in attendance read this summer as part of their art history class.
“Gentrification did not happen naturally,” said Pritchett, who is a presidential professor of law and education at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “It is all because certain choices were made that lead to things becoming the way they are today.”
“Everything we do as humans has a consequence,” Pritchett added during his speech on Tuesday. “It’s up to us to decide if those consequences are going to be positive or negative for the community we live in.”
Growing up as the only African-American family in a Philadelphia neighborhood, Pritchett said he is no stranger to racism and segregation.
“I had only a few instances of obvious racism in my life, but I can honestly tell you that I remember every single instance to this day,” Pritchett said. “They are ingrained into my memory and have fueled me to create the career that I now have.”
Pritchett urged students to “go out and make an impact,”adding that students should know that their “voice matters” and their actions can make a difference.
“I want everyone to think about their home neighborhoods and high schools,” Pritchett asked the audience. “Think about the current diversity and the major ethnic groups found there. Would your neighborhoods and schools improve if those numbers were different? Imagine what would happen if the major ethnic group was different than your own. There’s a reason why your neighborhoods and schools are the way they are.It was a purposeful action. It did not happen naturally.”
Pritchett invited the audience to break off into groups to discuss their home neighborhoods and schools and implored them to brainstorm specific actions that could be taken to change the diversity levels that are currently there.
While students were in discussion, Pritchett walked around to hear what audience members had to say and to give them his input.
“We had to read Clybourne Park for summer reading,” said Bella Macarthur, a freshman at Loyola. “My professor said that this discussion by Dr. Pritchett would help us see the play in a more real way that would make the topic feel more personable and relatable. I didn’t know what to expect, but this has completely changed the way I view the play now.”
Pritchett continued to build a relationship between the real world and what occurred in the fictional Clybourne Park.
“I want everyone to think about ways that the federal government, Baltimore County, Loyola and you, as students, can bring equity to our city and urban areas,” Pritchett said. “I honestly don’t like to use the word gentrification because of the negative connotation, but that is exactly what is happening. Every choice that is made by contractors, realtors, and those living in the neighborhoods has affected the racial and financial segregations that are currently occurring.”