Dave Zirin can’t recognize a photo of JRW neighborhood, but he’s quite confident he can diagnose their problems from DC anyway

So yesterday Deadspin was nice enough to republish a (slightly different) version of my Jackie Robinson/gentrification post. Just a few hours later, Dave Zirin, who wrote the original article, which was entitled “Gentrification is the Real Scandal Surrounding Jackie Robinson West,” chimed in to scold me for having the “grotesque” audacity to accuse him of thinking that there was some gentrification around Jackie Robinson West.

I’ll take him at his word that he meant no such thing. That leaves me unclear as to what, exactly, gentrification had to do with JRW, or why it was in his headline, or what he meant when he wrote: “The fact that the adults in charge of JRW felt the need to breach this rule perhaps has something to do with the fact that today’s urban landscape supports baseball about as well as concrete makes proper soil for orchids…. This is because twenty-first-century neoliberal cities have gentrified urban baseball to death.” But life is full of mysteries.

I have a lot of feelings about the rest of his piece, which I mostly found kind of bizarre and flailing. I think it’s probably unproductive to continue this conversation any further, though, so I’ll leave them unblogged.

Except for one thing, because I’m not quite that virtuous. At the bottom of my post, I had included an image of a street a few blocks from Jackie Robinson Park, to illustrate the point that many of the children on the team came from relatively stable, middle-class neighborhoods, and to refer to them as “flowers growing in concrete” (as Zirin did) was to perpetuate the damaging myth that black communities on the South Side are all ravaged and destitute.

Zirin, however, didn’t recognize the photo, calling it a “suburban home,” and calling my contention that we should acknowledge the real diversity of black neighborhoods on the South Side “kind of gross.”

Having had it pointed out to him on Twitter and in the comments that the homes he called suburban were actually in the city neighborhoods he had been confidently pontificating about this entire time, he had Deadspin quietly edit the line. It now reads “suburban-looking.”

I suppose that shouldn’t be shocking, given that when I asked him if he had ever been to the places he was being paid to analyze for a national audience, he told me that he had once “lived on the South Side for a summer.” He didn’t specify when he had done that, or indicate whether his South Side neighborhood was anywhere near the JRW neighborhoods.

I guess now we know.

Edit: Uh, Deadspin‘s Albert Burneko did my job for me and wrote an actual non-snarky explanation of why Zirin’s response was so confusing/unsatisfying. Thanks, Albert.

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10 thoughts on “Dave Zirin can’t recognize a photo of JRW neighborhood, but he’s quite confident he can diagnose their problems from DC anyway

  1. I think the thing that there is the huge disagreement on is whether or not disinvestment on the South Side is really a first stage towards gentrification. It seems Dave Zirin thinks it is, you don’t think so. I don’t think it is either. The areas of the South Side suffering from disinvestment is occurring because of lack of job centers aside from the University of Chicago south of downtown in the city. City and state politicians don’t feel they need to address the needs of poorer constituents on the south side to win and stay elected, so things have not gotten better. Its not a massive plot to rid the south side of black people and then in 20, 30, 40, 50 (?) years when the land is abandoned to gentrify it. Its not “The Plan” like some believe of Washington D.C. It’s just the city not helping black neighborhoods because they don’t feel they have to.

    1. I think, though, that one can reasonably believe that abandonment followed by gentrification is the likely outcome of this disinvestment, without having to believe it is an organized plot. (And I’m less convinced than you that it’s not, at least in the minds of some, like the previous mayor.) None of which is to say that, e.g., Morgan Park is currently gentrifying in any meaningful sense of the word.

      1. Well yeah if abandonment happens, it only has two choices, be empty or get better, which technically would be gentrification. But talking about the gentrification that “could” follow at some undetermined time seems ridiculous when disinvestment is happening right now that’s effecting people’s lives. Whether the land becomes empty or gentrified, people who aren’t getting the schools or services they should be is what the priority should be.

      2. They can, but again, I don’t think there is any evidence to that effect. Gentrification in Chicago has followed extremely predictable patterns, and none of them suggest that the far South Side is in its path for the next generation, at least.

    2. Yeah, no. Like, following something like the rent gap model, disinvestment is, frequently, a necessary prelude to gentrification, since it’s that disinvestment that reduces actual rents, and creates a large enough gap between actual and potential rents to spark reinvestment/gentrification. But it’s not *always* necessary – the gap can be created by a significant rise in potential rents, which is I think more what’s happened in places like Wicker Park, Logan Square, the West Loop, etc. – and it most certainly is not *always* followed by gentrification. I don’t think there are any signs whatsoever of a turn towards gentrification in those neighborhoods, and even a cursory glance at the actual conditions of the city should not leave you with the impression that any of those signs are forthcoming in the near or medium term future.

  2. Can’t really add much to that arguement, as I’m completely unfamiliar with the neighborhoods under discussion. However, your comment “pretty scary, huh?” following that image of a single family detached home street with homes in condition may not follow. Californian (both Bay Area and Los Angeles) bad areas are often mainly houses sometimes with homes appearing to be in good shape.

    1. Fair enough. You’ll have to trust me (or the Census) that these neighborhoods, while experiencing much higher crime than their North Side, whiter analogues, are actually pretty solidly working and middle class.

  3. Way to go, Daniel. I think you rightly called out Dave Zirin for trying to diagnose a problem where none exists.

    The bigger issue here is that “gentrification” is different things in different places, and you simply can’t import what’s happening in one metro into another. DC’s experience with gentrification is one that mirrors the experience in New York, Boston and San Francisco, and maybe a select few other cities. Chicago’s experience is something different, like Atlanta’s, or Los Angeles, or most other Rust Belt cities, for that matter. The case Zirin tries to make simply doesn’t fit.

    I once lived near JRW territory, immediately north and west of it. I don’t know if the JRW squads had to travel to the suburbs to escape violence and practice, but I do know they have a downright palatial little league stadium at 105th/Morgan. The neighborhoods the kids come from can definitely be characterized as working class or middle class; if they are subject to any violence it’s because black neighborhoods overall are in closer proximity to violent areas no matter their economic status. Neighborhood infrastructure that suburban counterparts don’t have to endure? Yes, maybe. But of greater magnitude is the general lack of interest in baseball in black neighborhoods, period.

    I really think Zirin’s assertion that you said the JRW area “cannot gentrify”, when you clearly said “has not gentrified”, is particularly disingenuous. You cite Robert Sampson’s study of the lack of gentrification on the city’s South and West sides, and I think that has practical applications and implications for many cities nationwide. But that’s clearly not the experience of our nation’s gentrification/displacement leaders (NYC, Boston, SF and DC).

    Zirin and others should focus their attention on DC’s gentrification issues, and stop trying to nationalize them.

    1. Thanks, Pete. I think that is what bothered me the most about his piece: not so much that he got some analysis wrong, but that he didn’t take the time to actually understand the places he was writing about. It’s something that East Coast writers (he’s from DC) do to the rest of the country way too often, and it’s lazy and arrogant.

      And right: I think he doesn’t get the role race has played in Chicago’s gentrification, because it hasn’t quite played that role in DC or New York, as you and I have talked about. It’s not to say that black neighborhoods will *never* gentrify, but it is to suggest that they would have to buck a pattern that has held since the early 20th century.

  4. Friend: You’re being way, way too charitable with respect to Dave Zirin’s integrity. In point of fact, watch Zirin’s February 15 guest appearance on MSNBC ( http://tinyurl.com/nao8dhn ). Before accusing everybody of anti-black racism who is still capable of recognizing that the 2014 Jackie Robinson West roster included out-of-area ringers and was therefore subject to disqualification, Zirin presses his “gentrification” fabrication at length — and gets away with it, because the MSNBC host failed to raise a peep in protest. (And if the hyperlink above fails to work, email me, and I’ll send the link back to you via email.)

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