Avondale Park was given a $2.88 million facelift in 2011, followed by a series of new restaurants and other businesses opening. Photo by Ian KeelAvondale Park was given a $2.88 million facelift in 2011, followed by a series of new restaurants and other businesses opening. Photo by Ian KeelDestiny Hosmer - Contributor
drhosmer@uab.edu

Over the past five years, Avondale has experienced an increase of what some call revitalization, but others worry it may be gentrification.

In 2011, Avondale Park was given a $2.88 million facelift, and within that same year, Avondale Brewing Company moved in on 41st Street South. Since then, the area has seen a resurgence in young professionals and entrepreneurs. Avondale was dubbed “Birmingham’s next great neighborhood” by Southern Living in 2013.

With new, local establishments popping up in the area such as Post Office Pies, Wasabi Juan’s, Saturn, Melt and others, Avondale has become an increasingly appealing location for outsiders.

One result of the increasing popularity of Avondale is rising housing and rental prices. According to Zillow.com, the median sale price per square foot in Avondale increased from $116 to $151 between July 2014 and June 2016. Zillow.com also predicts that home values within the 35222 zip code will increase 4.2 percent next year, compared to a 3.5 percent increase for Birmingham as a whole, and home values in that zipcode have increased 6 percent in the past year.

Rent prices have seen an increase as well, as certain monthly rental costs have increased as much as $500 since 2013, according to Zillow.

One resident, who did not wish to be named, experienced what she perceived to be the gentrification of Avondale firsthand when the monthly rent of her apartment one block from Avondale Park became too expensive and she had to relocate to Homewood.

“When I first rented it was $350 per month with no utilities included,” she said.

The renter said she moved into the apartment sometime between 2011-2012 and the rent increased each year that she lived there.

“I understand the economic benefits of the gentrification, but it makes me worry about my neighbors that I know wouldn’t have the slight bit extra to get a place somewhere else and would probably end up some place much worse,” she said. “The people that have already been pushed out by higher rents and destruction of living places still have to go somewhere. Now it’s probably further from any services or support they had.”

Demetric Mitchell, a political science major at UAB, said the changes occurring in Avondale have both positive and negative consequences.

“Coincidentally, one of my church members who lived in Crestwood had to move because of rising housing prices contributed by the re-gentrification of the Avondale area that stretched into the Crestwood area,” Mitchell said. “He and his wife were property owners in the Crestwood community for 13 years.”

In contrast, Mitchell said that the actions of the business owners and entrepreneurs not only caused profitable gains on their behalf, but also raised the property values of the communities surrounding the Avondale area.

“It is important that we realize that these same actions could have been taken by the homeowners and residents of Avondale,” Mitchell said.

Nyesha Black, Ph.D., a visiting assistant professor at UAB’s Department of Sociology, said that gentrification is deeply rooted in history, and the solution is not to push lower-income residents away.

“A lot of this is constructed by government policies at the federal level. There was a certain segment of the population that was able to take advantage of the capital, and now we’re seeing the dividends generations later,” she said. “I think we have to be very conscious of not repeating the same mistakes because what we will see, again, is people who are lower-income being pushed further away from opportunity.”

“I don’t know if it’s about doing it the right way or not doing it the right way, it’s about doing it.” Pamela King, an assistant professor at UAB’s Department of History and an active historic preservationist, said when asked if gentrification in Avondale was happening the “right” way. “The fact that it is quick, though, gives it so much appeal. You’ve got 15 to 20 new eateries suddenly, and it’s just got so much allure because of that, which seems like a positive thing. So I don’t know if it’s doing it right or wrong, it’s just going along for the ride.”

Chris Biga, Ph.D., a teaching associate professor at UAB’s Department of Sociology, said that first thing to realize when going into a community such as Avondale is that there was a community there first.

“Whatever is going on in Avondale, it wasn’t a blank slate. In any type of social change, history was there beforehand. You can’t come in thinking ‘I’m going to save you,’” he said. “Instead, you come in knowing that there was something already there, and when you come in you’re the one joining that community. You can be part of change, but it’s not a blank slate.”

Editor’s Note: To read The Kaleidoscope’s opinions article on the subject from last week’s issue, visit uab.edu/studentmedia/kaleidoscope/opinion/770-greying-line-between-revitalized-gentrified