There’s been shrill talk about gentrification of NE Alberta Street running from about 7th to 33rd. This strip was a harvest of derelict buildings, hopped up by arts + food entrepreneurs over the past five years to an active and reactive community.

Real estate values have doubled – some tripled – since the city started buying vacant houses. PDC gave gobs of money to new businesses to tidy up. Stalwart colonialists like Hi ih Gallery (fantastic stuff! Drop what you’re doing and buy him out!) drew audiences from all over, even flipping the staid “first Thursdays” crowd with chaotic and devilish weirdness of “last Thursdays” where it’s likely you’ll be harassed by a drunken clown, steered toward dull drawings by art school drop outs, smell patchouli and pot and perhaps find an excellent taco. Fun.

The combination of low cost housing, low cost rehabitable storefronts, disorganized community opposition, mild climate, passive media + passive local government, and stale or stupid Mainstream Arts Practioners (MAPs) is a perfect stew for rapid growth lead by arts + food entrepreneurs.

What’s lost in the turmoil is low cost housing, always an inner city premium, and what was a fragile and calm neighborhood of working class African American families – many of which have lived along Alberta for decades. Malcolm X to these newcomers is a heavy conversation in college, a Spike Lee film, something which happened a generation ago. To those on their way out, Malcolm X is a signal call, a single human being who stood up and refused to back down.

His mural, pictured above, is attached to the House of Umoja, a “troubled youth” program which has been upgraded at SEI. Unclear whether House of Umoja is still operating. Regardless – this mural should get a loving touch up asap.

For interested artists, I think Sean Hartfield holds the keys to Umoja now.