The Oxford Dictionary defines gentrification as “the process whereby the character of a poor area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing and attracting new businesses, typically displacing current inhabitants in the process.” This is exactly what is happening in Montclair, and it is being promoted and supported by a supermajority of our Township Council.

It’s not just the development in Lackawanna Plaza, but the mindset. Endless growth, increasing high-income residents and displacing lower-income residents and prioritizing the needs of new residents who commute to Manhattan for work, “weekend” out of town and see Montclair as a place for high-end dining, while dismissing needs for local transit, access to affordable food and maintaining small businesses that serve those needs.  More a food mirage than a food desert, more a destination than a home town.

As someone who has been moved from many towns/cities because of increasing rent or a need to move to find employment, I must say that it is easier to hear those promoting gentrification and displacement being honest about their goals as opposed to a township like Montclair, which is continuously promoting itself as an “inclusive and diverse community.” Honestly, Montclair needs to be called out every time it does that — it just isn’t true. Montclair is striving to be the high-income, liberal, celebrity “destination” hub. A place for film festivals about poverty and injustice while it displaces its own residents; cocktail fundraisers for social causes while it continues to drive out diversity and ignores basic services, and now replicates that internet meme of the store with the sign promoting inclusivity and opposition to prejudice while also saying “bathrooms for paying customers only.”  

I know people will many times say “that was always Montclair,” but many times it’s the same folks who say “Montclair is different than that.”

I’ve lived in this township longer than any I have ever lived in my 56 years. Thirteen years in Montclair with my wife and with my son until he moved to the West Coast before the pandemic. I’ve had great opportunities through Make Music Day, Serendipity Café, mutual aid work during the pandemic, serving on a township advisory committee, community gardens, etc., and generally meeting so many great people. 

I worry that this “Montclair vibe” has changed permanently. I know many folks in town are also concerned, and I hope you all speak up. I know there are so many people in town who actually want to address these issues, but many of us are one rent increase (apartments and storefronts) from having to move. 

It’s tough to try to change things when you know you are not wanted or won’t be able to stay, and sometimes it’s easy to give up when the “writing is on the wall.” A town full of high-end restaurants, velvet rope clubs and a focus on what one Planning Board member recently said was “million dollar houses, two cars with N.Y. license plates, who want to get to the train to work in New York City and spend weekends in Pennsylvania” cannot become the sole demographic. I say the Serenity Prayer every day and still wonder how this should be applied to Montclair.

February 6th marks the 110th anniversary of Hellen Keller’s first public speech, which was right here in Montclair. I, like Helen Keller, am a “card carrying” member of the Socialist Party (most of my life), and socialist ideas are generally not popular in rich liberal neighborhoods. 

I understand that, but have always seen real hope here. She mentioned in her “How I Became a Socialist” describing that a local publication “help us prevent misery provided, always provided, that we do not attack the tyranny which supports it.”  I think that also applies to the general mindset here. I hope it changes.

Greg Pason