“Excessive gentrification destroys the biodiversity and ecosystem of a community.” ― Khang Kijarro Nguyen
We are in the process of big renovations to our house: a new roof, drop ceilings, repainting, new electrical wiring…the works. It is long past due, however I wonder what our neighbors think? Are they upset or jealous or angry that we have the money for renovations to our house? Do they resent us because they live beside “rich” foreigners? Will we be less accepted because we may be perceived as flaunting our “wealth”? Are we flaunting, taunting, or demonstrating that we are better people because we are not living in poverty? Do we want to live like Nicas?
The big bad G-word is gentrification. By definition it is the process of renovating and improving a house so that it conforms to middle-class taste, or since we live abroad…to gringo taste. Although gentrification is a term applied to urban areas, I believe extreme gentrification can be used to demonstrate “building our way to hell” all over the urban, rural, underdeveloped and developed world.
I don’t like the words extreme gentrification because it has a bad connotation. Instead, I prefer integration. The difference is that we have integrated into our all-Spanish speaking community. We have simply moved from one place to another. Extreme gentrification on the other hand, is kicking poor people out and replacing them with rich people.
Gentrification is happening, especially in the coastal towns and colonial cities in Nicaragua. And some areas have experienced extreme gentrification. Some cities are suffering with growing tourism and no regulations for short-term rentals. Rent prices are completely unaffordable for the average Nicaraguan. Landlords are evicting people to start touristic businesses everyday, and land speculators are buying land for peanuts that has been in families for generations and then selling outrageously expensive housing compounds to foreigners forcing the local people to move to the outskirts of cities or towns.
Extreme gentrification is happening in cities all over the world. Take a look at some of the major cities throughout the world where the G-word is a bad word. “We are building our way to hell”: tales of gentrification around the world.
On the other hand, gentrification ( without the extreme) can be good, right? It brings amenities and services that not only benefit the newcomers, but local residents too. We have five banks in Moyogalpa, more restaurants, hardware stores, places that cater to the growing number of tourists with motorcycle rentals and guide services, new hotels and hostels, fiber optic internet cables, and a Pali now.
The locals who own homes are now getting paid more money than they have ever seen in their lives for their houses. Although it is difficult to find research studies on the cause and effect of gentrification of foreigners moving abroad, one study found that there was no evidence of a causal relationship between gentrification and displacement.
So, there are pros and cons of gentrification and much depends on how you define it.
Do we want to live like Nicas? Absolutely not! The photo below shows our house in 2004. We did live like Nicas then, although at that time we were the only house with a flush toilet and tile floors in our neighborhood.
It was exhausting! We washed our clothes by hand, cooked on a two burner stove, learned how to use machetes to cut the grass, and lived without satellite TV or internet.
Were we more accepted in 2004 than we are now? No!
Which leads me to believe that because we have been in this community for over a decade, they know us well and accept us. We have integrated into this lovely neighborhood as foreigners. There is no reason to pretend we are Nicaraguans for their acceptance. Diversity is not exclusion in their eyes or our eyes either. They may not understand some of our customs and traditions, but they accept us as people, not “rich” gringos.
Our neighborhood is changing rapidly. Even the poorest families have made improvements throughout the years to their homes. The main difference is that we can make major improvements more rapidly.
My closest neighbor added a new addition to her house and a new cement block wall for her kitchen area. She had to wait several months before she could afford to buy a new door for her addition, but she made do with a curtain until she had money for a door.
Seriously, I don’t feel like we are “building our way to hell” on Ometepe Island. We are integrating, living peacefully, and are culturally immersed in a great little community. On Ometepe we are proud of diversity, not displacement.
Gentrification and integration both require a delicate balance. With the influx of foreigners moving to Nicaragua, my hope is that they understand the effects of extreme gentrification, that they are not blind to what it took to get their beautiful rentals or coastal homes, and they take a deeper look at the process of “building our way to hell”.