How would you feel if a gaggle of tourists were walking up your street, gawking and pointing at everything, snapping photos and selfies, basically treating your home like it's just an exhibit in a zoo?
How would you feel if your home was in a predominantly minority, underserved community, and the gaggle of tourists were all well-to-do suburbanites who would soon retreat back to the comforts of their 5-star hotel rooms or their McMansions across the Hudson River?
The situation described above is (sadly) not hypothetical: a new "Ghetto Tour" trend has struck the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, and local residents are not happy about it.
The demographic makeup of Bushwick is 65% hispanic, 20% black and 9% white. It's estimated that 75% of children born in Bushwick are born into poverty.
It's one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city, a neighborhood like many others that has seen an influx of gentrifiers - college students, creative professionals, etc. - moving in en masse over the last two decades.
A new "Free Tours By Foot" walking tour is offering a one square mile trek in the Bushwick neighborhood that is raising a bunch of eyebrows.
With a stated focus on street art, many are interpreting this Bushwick walking tour as a fetishization of "the ghetto," neatly packaged for the consumption of (mostly white) tourists who have no concept or appreciation for the richness and vibrancy of the neighborhood's cultural tapestry.
While it might be informative on a surface level, what does a "ghetto tour" really do to improve the lives of local residents?
“Favela tours in Brazil, though for me still inappropriate, at least put money directly into the pockets of community members that are, essentially, being observed.
On this tour, we make a stop at an indie shopping precinct that sells coffee and organic bread”
Bushwick resident Chris Carr didn't mince any words when he offered his critique of the tours:
“I think the walking tours are weird as fuck... You have this area that people are afraid to come to unless it’s on the tour, and they’re guided by some white person...”
Cities across the globe will have to reckon with the forces of gentrification for decades to come.
As long as underserved communities continue to be met with a relative lack of opportunities, and economic inequality continues to become more and more polarized, middle and lower class urban residents will continue to be pushed out by their richer city-dwelling counterparts.
Is this "ghetto walking tour" phenomenon just an innocent initiative to familiarize people with an unfamiliar outer borough neighborhood?
Or is it something more sinister - one small part of a growing gentrification economy?