A run-down fence opens onto the backs of several row houses.
A run-down fence opens onto the backs of several row houses. Alex Brandon/AP

To close out National Poetry Month, we rounded up poems that translate gentrification and the housing crisis into personal terms.

Terms like “gentrification” and “housing crisis” get tossed around so much that they’re often stripped of their human context, framed as abstract, hypothetical, and overwhelming concepts. Good poetry can take what is unwieldy and make it specific and human, showing viscerally how policy and development translate to everyday lives. As National Poetry Month comes to a close, here are a few poems that capture the physical and emotional consequences of urban transformation. (Be sure to also check out this collection of favorite poems from The Atlantic and CityLab staff, too.)

Dispatches From The Black Barbershop, Tony’s Chair. 2011,” Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Sidekick Lit

jeff got knocked out on east main by a sucker punch that broke up the 4th of july cookout in front of brenda’s hair shop and when he woke up it was a whole foods see that’s why you sittin up here talkin bout you lonely while my rent goin up every month but I still got my name on the door

There is a Street Named After Martin Luther King Jr. In Every City,” Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Sidekick Lit

after all / are you less / of a ghost / if you die on a street / named for a man who / they will say / could have saved you?

Gentrification,” Sherman Alexie, The New American Poetry Review

Let us write poems

For she who found that wasp nest

While remodeling the wreck.

But let us remember that wreck

Was, for five decades, the nest

For a black man and his father.

Housing for All,” Tyrone Lewis, The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development

Lewis, from the Bay Area, wrote this when he was 12 about his own family’s struggle to find an affordable place to live.

We’ll Work hard

Day by day

‘til everyone has

A place to stay

I shouldn’t see couches

On the sidewalk

I should see a street

Full of U-haul trucks

This Is Home,”Deandre Evans, Will Hartfield, and Donte Clark, Off/Page Project

This poem, produced in conjunction with The Center for Investigative Reporting, touches on the mismanagement of public housing in Richmond, California and the dreams and needs of people who live there.

For more, you can find poems about architecture here; explore the role of coffeehouses, poetry workshops, and open mics as third places; or consider the potential of poetry to reintroduce concepts of proportion and beauty to the architectural mainstream.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Coronavirus

    The Post-Pandemic Urban Future Is Already Here

    The coronavirus crisis stands to dramatically reshape cities around the world. But the biggest revolutions in urban space may have begun before the pandemic.

  2. Perspective

    Coronavirus Reveals Transit’s True Mission

    Now more than ever, public transportation is not just about ridership. Buses, trains, and subways make urban civilization possible.

  3. Coronavirus

    The Coronavirus Class Divide in Cities

    Places like New York, Miami and Las Vegas have a higher share of the workforce in jobs with close proximity to others, putting them at greater Covid-19 risk.

  4. photo: South Korean soldiers attempt to disinfect the sidewalks of Seoul's Gagnam district in response to the spread of COVID-19.
    Coronavirus

    Pandemics Are Also an Urban Planning Problem

    Will COVID-19 change how cities are designed? Michele Acuto of the Connected Cities Lab talks about density, urbanization and pandemic preparation.  

  5. A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask walks past a boarded up building in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Governors from coast to coast Friday told Americans not to leave home except for dire circumstances and ordered nonessential business to shut their doors.
    Equity

    The Geography of Coronavirus

    What do we know so far about the types of places that are more susceptible to the spread of Covid-19? In the U.S., density is just the beginning of the story.

×