Abdi Warsame needs a history lesson.
He says the new mall, to be built on Lot A in Cedar Riverside, will make the area “like Little Italy or Chinatown in other cities.”
Let’s start with the obvious: the most famous Little Italy, in Lower Manhattan, was not created by city council people or developers (though some skeeze-ball probably made a good chunk of coin building the substandard tenements that Italian immigrants crowded into.) Little Italy was a slum. It was just someplace poor Italian immigrants could afford to live in, and they moved out to better neighborhoods as soon as they could afford it.
The part about Little Italy being a place where you could walk down the street and suddenly feel like you were in another country -- that was created by the immigrants themselves. These days, there is hardly anything left of Little Italy in Lower Manhattan. There are just few Italian restaurants left on Mulberry Street now.
There were many contributing factors to the decline of Little Italy, but the gentrification of SoHo is one of them. In a 2004 article in New York magazine, Bill Tonelli writes:
“More recently, chic struck: A few years ago the northern part of the area, between Kenmare and Houston, was suddenly overrun by boutiques, fancy little restaurants, and other manifestations of hip. Real-estate prices zoomed, making it even tougher for the old-timers—residents and businesspeople alike—to hang on.”
Sound familiar? The Somali residents of Cedar Riverside are right to be concerned that the proposed development will lead to gentrification. The expense of new construction means developers don’t make their money unless it sells for market rate. Neighbors are right to be suspicious of Warsame’s promises that any housing in the development will be “affordable.”
Moreover, the new development is supposed to be an “alternative” to the exploitative Sabri properties. But what is to prevent landlords in the new development from exploiting tenants? The rental market is rife with exploitation. When people cannot afford to buy property, they have no choice but to rent, and are at the mercy of landlords. They have to pay what the landlords demand, or lose their home or business. With the closures of Salsa a la Salsa, First Choice Day Care, Asian Taste and Marla’s, we have seen way too much of the latter.
Rent control and pro-tenant laws would be far better protection for Cedar Riverside’s business owners than this new development.
The most galling aspect of this entire debacle is the fact that this is happening without neighborhood input. The city has argued that it shouldn’t need to listen to neighborhoods because neighborhood associations are too wealthy and too white. But the city isn’t listening to low income people of color either.
This is unacceptable. The very people that helped Frey and Warsame win their seats are being ignored in favor of developers.
If Frey and Warsame don’t start listening to the people in Cedar Riverside, Minneapolis might have to say “farxad” to its Little Somalia, just as New York said “arrivederci” to Little Italy.