Withintrification: The Deuces

Modern Cities and The Jaxson take a look at a pedestrian friendly historic African American neighborhood commercial district featuring a cluster of locally owned businesses: The Deuces.

Every city has a commercial district that has seen better days. Every city also has an example of a district that has gentrified in recent decades. However, it may be difficult to find good examples of withintrification of minority-led neighborhood commercial revitalization.

In contrast to gentrification, “withintrification” refers to revitalization that’s driven by the people already in the neighborhood. It means identifying assets in the community, bringing them together under common objectives, and raising the value of the place from within at a pace appropriate for revitalizing the existing community, not displacing it. The current residents of the community take the lead in revitalization, rather than newcomers or outside developers telling residents what they need and ultimately pricing them out. The term was coined by University of Pittsburgh professor Pastor John Wallace.

While common thought is that displacement is inevitable as revitalization occurs, The Deuces is an example that suggest otherwise. The Deuces is a historically African-American neighborhood in St. Petersburg, Florida, centered on the commercial strip on 22nd Street South (the name refers to the two “2s”). Located just a mile from Downtown, the Deuces was a bustling hub for the city’s Black community during segregation.

According to Deuces Live executive director Veatrice Ferrell, “It was once said that one could live their whole life on the Deuces (22nd Street South) — born at Mercy Hospital and celebrating your homecoming at Sanchez Funeral Home.

Like many urban African-American communities, the strip declined in the later 20th century as many residents took advantage of the end of segregation to pursue opportunities elsewhere. In the 21st century, the community took the lead in a revitalization effort that has brought considerable reinvestment to the historic corridor. The Deuces Live, Inc. formed to highlight and build upon the neighborhood’s existing assets.

In a rare feat for an African-American district, in 2001, The Deuces was designated part of the Florida Main Street program, which provides technical assistance for traditional commercial corridors and advocates a return to community self-reliance. The Deuces Live uses Florida Main Street’s four-point approach to revitalization:

  • Organizing the community toward the same goals;
  • Promotion of the district’s image;
  • Physical building improvements, window displays and landscaping;
  • Economic revitalization built on strengthening the community’s existing assets.

The Deuces’ successes so far reveal the efficacy of withintrification. With community-led investments enabling entrepreneurship opportunities for residents, once shuttered buildings across the Deuces have reopened for business, in turn increasing the economic power of those who work in and support them. After years of decline, in recent years the neighborhood’s core zip code has seen positive population growth across all racial groups.

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