I was in Seattle some time ago and engaged in an interesting conversation with the staff of a large church. We were talking about crime, impoverished neighborhoods and the Gospel. They told me about the “ghetto” in Seattle and some of what are considered the “rough” areas. You may notice I placed both those words in quotations; it is indeed to show playful sarcasm, because what I discovered in seeing these areas is if these are the rough areas of Seattle, then Seattle truly has no ghetto.
You see, in truly depressed areas there are things you find and things you don’t. You do not find banks, grocery stores, coffee shops, sushi bars, Target, Barnes & Noble, etc., in the ghetto. Why? Because these businesses generally do not feel they can be profitable in depressed areas of the city. What you do find in depressed areas of metropolitan cities are liquor stores, pawn shops, corner stores (that charge 80 cents for one pack of Kool Aid), burned out or abandoned buildings and masses of people standing on street corners. The “rough” areas of Seattle had all of the former and none of the latter.
Something interesting, though, seems to be taking place in recent years in some major cities. As young professionals and urban in-flighters are moving back into cities and gentrification is occurring in once depressed areas, we are starting to see some light and some severe culture clash. For example, I live in Grant Park, one of Downtown Atlanta’s oldest and most historic neighborhoods. I live near Martin Luther King Boulevard, and everyone I know who doesn’t live here or isn’t familiar with what has taken place here always asks me, “You living in the ‘hood now?” Well technically, yes, but conventionally, no. I live near a row of what was once abandoned warehouses, now turned chic, overpriced loft space with gated parking. More directly, I am living in what I would consider a mostly gentrified neighborhood. And it is diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, culture and class. It is amazing to me to see $40,000 BMWs drive past homeless guys pissing in the street, and yet, I see it every day. Because of this we have what is now a culture clash, and it is starting to spill over in more severe ways.
Take, for example, the shopping center 1.2 miles from my home where we do all of our grocery shopping. There is a Target, Barnes & Noble, Kroger, Caribou Coffee, Best Buy, Lowes, Rue Sans (Sushi), Wells Fargo and a Smoothie King—not to mention several upscale ($200 or more a pair) shoe stores, shops and boutiques. It possesses all of the qualities of the “rough” areas of Seattle, so by my general definition, it is no longer a depressed area. Except, because of gentrification and trend changes, for this situation, my definition of “rough” is blown. But why?
The liquor store three blocks from this shopping center was robbed, and the clerk was shot to death just two months ago. A few Sundays later, a shoot-out between two vehicles occurred in that same shopping center, just a few hours after my family and I finished buying groceries there.
The point to this article is the dividing lines between rich and poor, safe and dangerous, ‘hood and hip, are no longer so clear. This is a changing landscape that, as a pastor to this city, I am going to have to carefully examine in order to fully understand it. It is only then that we can most effectively and faithfully engage and reach this entire area that does not in any way lend itself to homogeneous ministry. How we will reconcile our culture clashes, I do not fully have an answer to yet. But for anyone else seeking to move into and work for the welfare of a major city, seeking to see true Gospel transformation, this is a question that must be asked, examined and wrestled with before they even think to lead a ministry there.