Tedesco kids Paul, Mike, and Kristin circa 1982

What is Gentrification?

I was born in West Central, on Broadway – the heart and soul of Felony Flats – in half a shanty with three older brothers and not much more than a black and white TV to entertain us. About my only memories of the neighborhood are walking with my Dad – a true-blue Sicilian – so he could buy smokes at the nearest corner store.

When I was five, we moved to 9th and Sherman, right across the street from the old Martin Luther King Center. By this time, my Italian Stallion father now had five kids but only two bedrooms to put them in. By the grace of God, my Mother’s charm, and Monsignor Ribble, Our Lady of Lourdes provided scholarships for all five little Tedesco hellions into Cataldo Catholic School.

The traditional Catholic school uniform saved our poverty stricken souls from ridicule and humiliation because we didn’t have much when it came to fashionable attire. Free dress days were particularly embarrassing because more than once I would have to wear those dreaded Catholic uniform corduroys since they were the only pants I owned. “I forgot it was free dress day,” was my go-to line in an effort to save some face in front of my friends.

Without question, the Tedescos were the token poor family at Cataldo and all the other rich parents knew it and some judged accordingly.

To stay in good graces with the Cathedral my mother handed out baloney sandwiches from the rectory downtown to homeless folks and volunteered her services to the church where she could. She also would hawk our possessions from time to time in order to pay the bills. Not to mention, more often than not, I was the lucky kid that got to stand in the food stamp lines with her.

Good thing spaghetti is a cheap meal. Good thing my Dad’s Spaghetti Sauce recipe is worth a damn.

What is now Wisconsin Burger was once a little east Asian market called R & R. I was a regular. At all of 11 years old, I could walk in with a forged note “from my parents” and buy a pack of Camels for a buck-eighty-nine. My older brothers and I would take the cigarettes to “The Hill” and smoke them. The Hill was the wooded back-side of the old Cataldo Primary School (you old time locals know what I’m talking about).

When I hardly had two nickels to rub together, I would ride my banana-seated piece of junk bike down to Altamont Pharmacy, what is now Casper Fry, to buy some penny candy. On that same piece of junk bike, from time to time, I’d venture downtown to cruise around and see the sites. A habit I stopped after being accosted by a couple of drunken bums that stole my banana-seated piece of junk bike when I was seven. Boy-oh-boy, that was a troubled walk home. Granted, a seven-year-old probably shouldn’t be riding his bike downtown alone. My parents never knew.

And so it comes with considerable personal experience within the realm of poverty that I can’t disagree more with someone who says Perry and West Central are being gentrified.

To say, “I’m against gentrification,” is easy but the burden is on you to define what gentrification is, how it starts, and how to fix it. For those that judge Perry and West Central as victims of gentrification I am unconvinced by your arguments.

Both Perry and West Central are my old hoods – I’ve smoked a lot of smokes and eaten a lot of food stamp spaghetti in those places. Do I have reason to be distraught because investment has come to them and there is now significant market activity? Why is there cause for anger that Wisconsin Burger replaced R & R? It strikes me the argument that somehow there are helpless victims due to market interest in Spokane’s low-income neighborhoods is a peculiar point of view. If this is the definition of gentrification, what’s the alternative, no market interest and we’re stuck with crappy neighborhoods?

My point is this: define gentrification and provide solutions for it before you start making proclamations about what, exactly, gentrification is. The best place to begin is with the guy who started it all: Herbert Gans. In 1962 he wrote The Urban Villagers, a story about a low-income neighborhood in Boston that was about to be cleared for urban renewal. Gans argued that it’s unfair to measure neighborhood health by income. The West End of Boston has long since been cleared, but Gans’ legacy remains by laying the groundwork for providing the real definition of gentrification.

I read The Urban Villagers while I studied cities in graduate school, alongside many other published works that concentrated on gentrification. For better or worse (or we can just call it survival), as a poor kid coming out of Spokane’s Felony Flats and Perry neighborhoods, I found myself, my wife, and my young daughter back on food stamps, once again, while I attended graduate school. Some things never change, including my Dad’s kick-ass spaghetti sauce recipe.

When you take a poor kid from Spokane, give him an education and career in economic development, what that poor kid will argue is the revitalization of West Central and Perry are cause for celebration, not criticism.

For those who have no idea what gentrification is but feel compelled to protect Spokane from it, here’s $200k worth of student loan advice: find something real to complain about because gentrification is a phantom of your imaginations.

We may disagree about how to define gentrification, but here’s something that no one can assail: whether you’re on food stamps or not, the Tedesco family’s spaghetti sauce recipe is still delicious, straight from Sicily. Enjoy.

Tedesco’s Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

  • One 6 oz. can of tomato paste
  • One 14.5 oz. can of tomato puree
  • One 14.5 oz. can of tomato sauce
  • About a third to a half pound of ground beef
  • One chopped medium sized onion
  • A lot of garlic
  • Half cup of red wine
  • Italian spices (basil, red pepper, sage, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, oregano) to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a pot, break apart and lightly brown the ground beef and throw in the onion, garlic, and red pepper while browning the meat. If the meat is lean, you may need to add some olive oil. Avoid overcooking the meat; it should be mostly pink. Next, add the tomato products, the spices, the wine, and about 12 ounces of water depending on how thick you want the sauce. Bring everything to a moderate boil, cover the pot leaving a small opening for venting, and let things simmer over low heat for at least a couple of hours. You’ll need to stir the sauce about every ten or fifteen minutes to prevent stuff from sticking to the bottom and side of the pot. If the sauce isn’t sweet enough, you can add a teaspoon of sugar.