How can restaurants fight gentrification?

How can restaurants fight gentrification?

  • Foods
  • January 25, 2023
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How did you put the toolkit together? Where do you start with a project like this?

First, we got used to the term “gentrification” and understood what was already written about it. So it was a lot of pre-interview research. We wrote an introduction specifically on the topic of gentrification, partly to ask ourselves, “How do we want to define gentrification? What are the things we really care about?”

From there we set up a few focus groups of people [living and working] in LA and New York. During this process, which lasted a few months, Studio ATAO compiled notes trying to find out not only how business owners and residents are experiencing gentrification and what problems they are facing, but also what they have done about it.

Why are restaurants such a common symbol in discussions about gentrification?

Restaurants are places of community. They are such an important cornerstone of a neighborhood’s vibrancy. Sometimes people act like people in gentrifying areas just don’t want change, and that’s not true. Most people want nicer paved streets and streetlights and infrastructure support, and they want more options too. It’s not like people in those areas are like, “You know what, I’d like to have two places to eat forever.” It’s like, “No, we want a lot of restaurants, we just want that they’re affordable, we want them to feel inviting.”

I think as part of this, people are getting – and rightly so – nervous about a new influx of food options in their neighborhoods because they see it as being connected to this larger trend of change in their neighborhoods. There’s a pretty strong correlation between the gentrification of neighborhoods and the sudden influx of new, healthier, organic produce for a more affluent demographic, which is also in such stark contrast to what currently exists.

Let’s say I’ve been running a restaurant for a few years and I notice that the neighborhood I work in is changing and I worry that I’m part of the problem. What steps can I take immediately to reduce my negative impact?

I think one of the big themes that we found in creating the toolkit is that a lot of people don’t really know the history behind a lot of these gentrifying areas. Really understanding your specific neighborhood, why it evolved the way it evolved, and also why it’s now changing the way it is, is the first step.

From there it depends on your resource level. One of the restaurateurs I interviewed had one day a week where they had feedback sessions with free breakfast for everyone. So people can come in and just give them feedback. Maybe it hosts something like this so you can understand if what you are offering actually matches what the community needs. Maybe it houses a CSA pickup. What the community may need is an after-school place where the kids can get snacks.

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