Well, it finally happened. I'm about to be priced out of my neighborhood, The Bywater. Welcome to the land of gentrification. My landlord is selling the house were my husband and I live.
I didn't know how soon, but I knew the day would come. Unfortunately, unless I miraculously come into a nice big sum of money somehow, this will probably not be my home any longer.
Things around here have changed pretty drastically during my time in the neighborhood. When I moved to this city, almost seven years ago, there were people (I affectionately dubbed them crack zombies) on the corners selling random items such as obsolete CDs or a curling iron for some change. Now there are tourists wandering around, taking pictures of the quaint shotgun houses and tropical flora and fauna, fascinated as if they were on a different planet.
Everyone has a reason for living here and has a story about why they picked it out. For me, it was a happy accident that it turned out to be the place where I hung my hat, so to speak. I fully admit to knowing next to nothing about Bywater, as I'd left the decision to my then-roommate who had been living in New Orleans. She felt unsafe where she was and wanted to try a place across the tracks. I wasn't worried about it, as I've always had faith in her. At the time, I had just gone through a lay-off (due to the crash of '08) and a break-up (due to a crash of a different sort), so I had other things to think about. I wanted to get out of Ohio for a little while. I wanted to get away from my inert life, do something drastic, get out of my comfort zone, and gain a clearer head. I had no idea that I was about to fall in love and grow so attached to this little portion of the city.
The Bywater was perfection. It was close to Downtown, but not too close. It had corner pubs with friendly bartenders and regulars. It had unpretentious restaurants. I've witnessed parades roll down my street and so many fun and strange sights over the years. I made friends with my neighbors, earned the title of a "regular" at my favorite bar. I've gone to art shows and listened to bands. Jogged up and down every street, memorized all the potholes. I formed roots here after it stole my heart.
The sad thing is, this has happened before. A few years ago, the house we were living in was sold, and by some miracle we found another one just down the same street. I'm not so sure we'll be able to pull that off again, especially with how high rent has become.
When we heard the news, my first reaction was denial, as I suppose this is a grieving process. But nothing snaps you back to reality like having to let people in and out of your home for an open house. Standing there while they talk about what they're going to do to the place, breaking out measuring tapes, opening up my cupboards, scaring my cats. The realtor telling them all about the amazing things they can do with the space that holds so many fond memories, that holds everything you own. I realize that it has to be done and this isn't actually our house, but it still feels like a violation.
It's hard to watch people walk around the rooms while they mentally picture their stuff in the place you call home. A place where you no longer have the right to be, as the price of admission is now a higher income bracket. People with a lot of money now have the right to be here, not us.
But that's cool, as I've seen the changes the neighborhood has gone through since I moved here. The unpretentious restaurants turned into pretentious ones. One of my favorite bartenders quit because regulars stopped showing up. It's all Airbnb people now, she said.
Maybe it is time to find what else is out there.
One of the things that I've always thought was cool about New Orleans neighborhoods, was that they each have their own distinctive flavor. Their own quirks. I've always figured that's why there's usually a "the" in their name – The Bywater, The Marigny, The Treme, etc. It implies authenticity. It implies that there can only be one. Or the only one that matters. There is nothing else like it in the world. But what happens when the authenticity fades away? What happens when the flavor is muddled? When the local color turns to grey? How about when people come to visit, staying in a residential area for the authentic New Orleans experience, but there are no actual New Orleanians?
It means that the neighborhood is no longer unique. It's been sanitized. It doesn't deserve to have a "the" in the title any longer. I'm not sure that scenario will completely and totally happen to Bywater – and I certainly hope not – but it's definitely moving in that direction.