The upturn’s downside

Mike Thornton


Gentrification is usually defined something like this: renovation of deteriorated neighborhoods to attract more affluent tenants, increasing property values but removing small businesses and low-income families. With the approach of a population rise in the Truckee Meadows as a result of incoming large corporations, a campaign—ACTIONN Against Gentrification—has begun to block gentrification. Mike Thornton, executive director of Acting in Community Together in Organizing Northern Nevada (ACTIONN) is a leader of that campaign.


ACTIONN works with people of faith and other folks in the community to develop grass roots leadership and to campaign for issues of social, economic and racial justice.

What’s gentrification?

Outdated and unjust community development practices and principles and policies.

How would builders define it?

Well, it depends, I guess. You know, I think some builders would define it the way I just defined it, in fact. Many communities across the country are rejecting those old sort of ways of doing community development and understanding that socially equitable development, economic integration, mixed-use development, affordable housing, walkable communities, amenities that everyone can take part in are really the keys to building long term sustainability and sustainable economies. … There might be some who would say, “Well, you know, we’re going to have a lot of fancy, expensive places for fancy, expensive people to live, and that’s a good thing and, you know, people who aren’t fancy and expensive will just need to find somewhere else to live.” We just don’t think that’s a good way to do development, and it’s certainly not morally or ethically or even economically justifiable.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, I think if you look in terms of—you have existing communities. They become desirable for any number of reasons, usually because property values have been depressed over the years, often because of slumlords and just really not maintaining the area, and so they become desirable. And people move in, people with means and political clout and money, and then the people who live in those communities are pushed out because they don’t have money, and they don’t have political clout. I mean, no one is opposed to getting rid of blight or some of the deplorable living conditions that people are living in. But the question is, how do we do that in a way that develops the city for all people, and not just a small group of people. Where do these people go? As you know, there are some 3,200 people living in weekly motels, and they’re deplorable. Why have they been allowed to be this way for so many years? … The conditions in these weekly motels that elderly, disabled, veterans, even children, working families are living in, they’re deplorable. Everybody knows they’re deplorable. They’ve been allowed to be deplorable for a long time. Now that the economy is turning and more people want to live in the downtown core of not just Reno but in cities all around the country, many of these weeklies are being eyed to be demolished. They should be demolished. But where do the people go? What happens to them?