Updated: Oct 9, 2020
2020 has been an interesting year to say the least. With additional time at home due to COVID-19, I have been reflecting on some insights from earlier this year. One such insight came in late January leading up to a workshop I was delivering at One World Everyone Eats, which was being spearheaded by The Taste Project. I have been a frequent visitor of The Taste Project, enjoying the elegant meals prepared by their staff, right in the heart of Fort Worth. The aroma of couscous, prime fillet of beef, or Asian fried rice, swim through the visual ambiance of stained concrete floors and herring bone wood pelleted ceilings. As part of One World Everybody Eats, a growing network of pay what you want community cafes, The Taste Project is bringing a unique spin to serving to the hungry. With over 39 active cafes across the United States and Europe, One World Everyone Eats is helping to address hunger using a customer determined pricing model. The Taste Project provides well prepared meals and allows the customer to determine the price. For those in need it offers them a way to get a gourmet meal without without having to worry about whether or not they can afford the meal. It is a new spin on community kitchens, offering a genuine restaurant experience for any and all.
However, given the locations of many of the cafe's scheduled to attend, a couple of thoughts dawned on me. With rising property values and a big shift in the demographic in many of the neighborhoods they serve, what role do these cafes play in gentrification? In Near Southside, Fort Worth, where the Taste Project resides, the community went from an area with dilapidated property to a now affluent, trendy, and seeming economically successful neighborhood. Spurred by desire to keep key medical facilities from relocating, Fort Worth allocated funding to help initiate Near Southside, resulting multiple development projects and a radical transformation of the community. The impact has yielded a widely praised and visited neighborhood, but has it come at the cost of accessibility to some of Fort Worth's working professions?
As the community has changed, so has the price tag for entry, with the average home price of a home nearing $350,000 and $1,330 for monthly rent for a new 1-bedroom apartment (based on compiling and comparing prices from the Near Southside's Website and monthly rent charges on newly built properties in the area). The minimum wage in Texas has not increased since 2009 and the cost of housing has been increasing at a higher rate than wages. With an influx of bars, boutique ice cream shops, artisan coffee cafes, and other niche and creative business arising to provide services to a quickly changing demographic, the question arises of who is really benefiting. Similar trends can be seen happening in some of the communities where cafes operate.
Digging a little deeper additional questions come to the surface. Are the cafes a good intentional response to serving those displaced by gentrification, are they an unintentional culprit in causing gentrification, and are they themselves vulnerable to gentrification? This curiosity and the invitation to present brought me to the One World Everyone Eats summit to explore these questions more in depth and see what insights could be gained from fellow cafe owners. How might a community cafe be an intentional resource to help address some of the aspects of gentrification? If they are victims, how might we take proactive measures to understand the causes and protect the services they provide to neighborhoods as we work to more substantial solutions?