Gentrification Is Deliberate, Planned, And Political
August 9, 2017 11:49 AM   Subscribe

"What happened? The explanation is simple enough: Freret was designated a “cultural district” by the state in 2012, allowing new businesses—but not existing ones—to operate tax-free. A slew of restaurants opened in quick succession, turning Freret Street into a “dining hot spot” for young, white, subsidized crowds while long-running businesses like the local barber shop were left to fend for themselves. “It’s not sharing the table,” as longtime New Orleanian Ruth Idakula told Moskowitz. “It’s coming here and shoving our shit off the table and then demanding we eat your shit.”" - How To Stop Gentrification - Colin Kinniburgh
posted by The Whelk (88 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
Interestingly, even Richard Florida, whose book The Rise of the Creative Class, made him a guru in the push to bring on gentrification, now views it as a destructive force.
In retrospect, Florida now says the transformation he long championed benefited a relatively small, privileged elite in a handful of what he calls superstar cities such as New York, London, Paris and San Francisco. “I realized I had been overly optimistic to believe that cities and the creative class could, by themselves, bring forth a better and more inclusive kind of urbanism,” he writes. Instead, the cities with the highest levels of wage inequality happened to be those with the most developed creative economies. “But even as I was documenting these new divides,” Florida writes, “I had no idea how fast they would metastasize, or how deeply polarized these cities would become.” He says there are now 3.5 million more poor people in suburbs than in cities. “And the ranks of the suburban poor are growing much faster than they are in cities, by a staggering 66 percent between 2000 and 2013,” he says.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:22 PM on August 9 [12 favorites]


Okay: please note that I say this will full awareness of the impact that gentrification has on long-established communities.

But - am I right to feel like I'm being told that my moving to a neighborhood where I could afford rent for a change was a gentrifying factor, and that this is therefore my fault? Or am I reading too much into this?

I feel like I'm often accused of being an intentional gentrifier when I read such pieces, like I intentionally chose my shitty-ass LES apartment I found after college or my current place because I deliberately wanted to clear other people out and turn it into a Caucasian Hipster enclave. But "can I afford that rent and is the apartment big enough to hold my shit and close enough to a subway and a supermarket? Yes? Sold!" was really the only deciding factor.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:33 PM on August 9 [40 favorites]


A few years ago, I moved to a neighborhood where maybe 20 years ago, white people moving in was gentrifying it. But now, I will soon be pushed out because the schools improved, and now richer white folk than I will be paying much higher rents than I can afford in said neighborhood. It never stops, I think. And yet each wave that gets pushed out hates gentrification.
posted by agregoli at 12:42 PM on August 9 [8 favorites]


Man, to be Richard Florida - spit out a half-baked theory that flatters the liberal elite, collect bank, then revise your half-baked theory in the service of even more speaking fees and look humble and insightful. What a racket!
posted by ryanshepard at 12:44 PM on August 9 [14 favorites]


Man, to be Richard Florida - spit out a half-baked theory that flatters the liberal elite, collect bank, then revise your half-baked theory in the service of even more speaking fees and look humble and insightful. What a racket!

Either that or he's a good enough social scientist and a decent enough human being to admit he has been proven wrong.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:47 PM on August 9 [26 favorites]


I've been meaning to read How to Kill a City, and was planning to do so once it came out in paperback, but this just put it higher up on my list.

I honestly think Florida is pivoting because he's an opportunist whose previous bit is starting to stale and he knows he needs a new one.

EmpressCallipygos: On the individual level it's complicated. I'm in the same boat; I just moved (as in, this past weekend) into the absolute best place I could afford, which just so happens to be in Koreatown. I've been entirely priced out of my old neighbourhood, and I don't want to commute for hours and hours every day. But what I'm not doing is buying property or displacing existing businesses with my own idea of what this neighbourhood should look like (in fact, tonight my plan is to eat at one of my favourite local restaurants, which has been a neighbourhood institution for something like 30 years). Whether that matters in the long run is debatable; I'm still a white dude in Koreatown, and I'm going to want different things than many of the people who built the neighbourhood before I got here, and I'm not going to want to travel across the city to get them--that I don't have the money or the desire to create those things myself doesn't mean someone with capital isn't going to see that I and others like me have moved here and then displace local businesses by coming to us.

It's a super hard problem, and I don't know what the solution is. Rents have doubled in the last ten years here, and even though I'm not poor anymore, that still means the only place I can afford to live is areas that have been traditionally thought of as poor neighbourhoods. I *like* many of these areas, and I don't want my coming here to screw them up, but it probably will regardless of what I want.
Either that or he's a good enough social scientist and a decent enough human being to admit he has been proven wrong.
Nope.
posted by Fish Sauce at 12:47 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: my takeaway was the opposite, especially from the final paragraph:

And it is important not to lose sight of the ways that personal attitudes and actions daily aggravate the crisis of gentrification. But it is telling that even Harris—despite being black and, for most of his time in Bed-Stuy, poor—contributes in his own way to the “great social experiment” making the neighborhood unlivable for people like himself. If the forces of private profit are so irrepressible that even he cannot escape their grinding contradictions, clearly they need to be attacked at the root. Housing rights activists across the country have long been acting accordingly. Join them.

I read the article as calling out the forces and beneficiaries of gentrification; mainly public policy and real estate developers, respectively.
posted by Emmy Rae at 12:50 PM on August 9 [17 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: the tl;dr from the piece seems to be "Landlords, developers, financiers, and the arms of the state that they twist to their advantage: These are the real gentrifiers."
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:51 PM on August 9 [15 favorites]


I don't think the takeaway of the article is "if you're a middle class person who moved to a low-rent urban neighborhood, you should feel bad, gentrifier" so much as that if you are such a person (I, for one, fit the description) you should have an understanding of your role in the phenomenon of gentrification (which is not as integral as the role developers, politicians, etc. play), and should understand that you also have a role and a responsibility in fighting it. Because it affects the whole community, including you.

Emmy Rae nailed it.
posted by zchyrs at 12:51 PM on August 9 [8 favorites]


I think that's an important point, EmpressCallipygos, that gentrifiers aren't necessarily all that much better off than the people they are pushing out.

For example. I live in Olympia, Washington. It's the state capital, but it's a smallish city, about two hours drive South of Seattle on I-5. Well, since rents in Tacoma have exploded due to all the tech workers who can't afford to live in Seattle, well, now the same thing is happening here. Rents are exploding and people who work in Seattle are moving here to actually be able to afford to live off the money they get from their job in Seattle proper, because the rents in Seattle are so crazy, a lot of people working there still can't reasonably afford to actually live in the city.

So now I'm in the position of rushing to save money in hopes of buying a piece of property here (unlikely) or I'll be pushed out by the tech bros who are now infesting my city.

I think the problem of gentrification has a lot to do with the state of our economic system and the fact that the vast majority of the people in this country are struggling. I'm constantly reading stuff about how over half the country can't come up with $400 without borrowing in an emergency. It's just one more thing where we are all blaming each other, people who are generally dealing with a similar shit-show to anyone else, instead of blaming the housing companies that swooped in to buy up all those empty homes during the housing crash, and are now bleeding the nation fucking dry on rental fees. For example, a family member of mine makes over $100K a year, but she is broke and desperate, too, and the cost of living in the city she lives in is insanity. I make less than $30k a year, and I'm technically currently financially better off than she is. Her and the other "liberal yuppie white people" aren't the fucking problem. She's just one more person who needs an affordable home near wherever she was able to get a damn job.

With a homelessness problem exploding in our faces (seriously, it's an explosion of people without homes in every city I've been to in the last few years), shouldn't we be looking for more serious, long-term answers and solutions than just bitterly complaining that someone who is just barely above us on the socio-economic scale needs a place to live so they aren't broke all the time, while the people who own the actual properties are doing nothing but making a killing?

I mean, it's just a thousands times over to me why the "housing market", treating having a place for shelter as a capitalist market, is just a fucking bad idea to begin with. Because this is where we are, with millions of homes owned by giant companies while the majority of us are struggling just to find a place to fucking live that won't put us under.
posted by deadaluspark at 12:53 PM on August 9 [31 favorites]


But - am I right to feel like I'm being told that my moving to a neighborhood where I could afford rent for a change was a gentrifying factor, and that this is therefore my fault? Or am I reading too much into this?

Yes, and yes.

You are part of gentrification, because that's how gentrification works, pretty much every time: generally white, generally young, generally poor people move into a mostly minority, mostly older, mostly poor neighborhood where the rents are low because people didn't want to live there. And then those white/young/poor people's less-poor but still white and young friends move in, and businesses follow, and the rents start to go up, and so on and so forth.

That doesn't mean that it's your fault, it means you're acting in a system where this sort of thing is going to keep happening unless people realize that it's happening and work to prevent it. That doesn't mean that white/young/poor people can't be allowed to move into a neighborhood if it's X% nonwhite or whatever -- it means that everyone involved needs to understand what might happen if care isn't taken to respect the community that already exists there and ensure that they're not squeezed out by the waves of slightly-less-poor mostly white people.
posted by Etrigan at 12:54 PM on August 9 [31 favorites]


We have had protests in Austin against individual gentrifiers, but not against the landlords and real estate agencies that are the actual problem. The hipster store that moves into a neighborhood is easy to protest against--you know their name and where they are located! You get lots of news if you march around their building with signs! The same can't be said of the landlords. It becomes framed as an individual choice or problem--much like climate change--instead of the result of larger forces.
posted by tofu_crouton at 12:55 PM on August 9 [38 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos, having not read this particular set of books in question but having read a number of recent articles, I would put it down to both individual and institutional choices.

As an individual, moving to an area that's accessible but affordable is hard to find fault with. It's the most human of impulses, because the idea we can live somewhere that's affordable but convenient (or has amenities, or a number of other factors) is what everyone wants, and even deserves, to have. Ideally, you move somewhere, and then take advantage of everything the neighborhood has to offer by being a good neighbor, going to local businesses, and helping your neighborhood where you can.

Institutionally, the response is different. Cities, especially those with diminishing populations or crumbling centers, want redevelopment and the ability to boost their tax income. The value proposition is this: developers and stores see areas in transition as investment opportunities. Programs exist to provide rent-controlled or subsidized housing for an initial period (five or ten years) at which point property owners are allowed to flip the building into condos. Because the subsidizing is well-intentioned but lacks follow-through. The cities want the tax revenue of condo owners, the building owners want condos, but the federal programs have time limits. So even if people get to stay, or are able to move in at a lower rate, they're pushed out. And local businesses get the short end of the stick in ways like that stated in the OP.

As an individual, the steps I've seen others take is to communicate to city leaders that development has a cost and any new project that could displace subsidized or low income housing needs a balanced response. And frankly, the time-boxing strategy of tax abatement and subsidizing rent isn't working but good alternatives are slow to be adopted.
posted by mikeh at 12:57 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]


But - am I right to feel like I'm being told that my moving to a neighborhood where I could afford rent for a change was a gentrifying factor, and that this is therefore my fault? Or am I reading too much into this?

Some people conflate who's really to blame here, but generally speaking - people applying for empty apartments in their price range are not gentrifiers. The people who kicked the last people out so they could raise the rent are.
posted by notorious medium at 1:02 PM on August 9 [27 favorites]


The ideal situation would be that any area with a significant population base gets continual maintenance and improvement, but due to boom-bust economic cycles and chasing of the almighty investment payoff and property tax revenue, cities and companies have a difficult time prioritizing affordable housing and business spaces. And monetary incentives are the number one factor in nearly every case, so the people who are without money, or are seen as a monetary sink when it comes to real estate -- the elderly, the disabled, and the low wage earners -- lose every time.
posted by mikeh at 1:04 PM on August 9


I'm on the uncomfortable side of this -- I live and own rental property in a neighborhood that seems to constantly be staving off more decline. And I know full well that to some people that just means "too many POC", or whatever their jam is that way, but I also know that our 40/60 ratio of owners to renters is close to a tipping point, and I also know that the 60% of properties that are owned by landlords are largely seen by their owners -- a few of them are notorious slumlords -- as a resource to exhaust, like a strip mine. It's always been a working class neighborhood, but near the downtown there are some nicer homes, and it is an historic district. I'd like to be able to keep the historic value, keep the owner-occupied ratio from falling off the cliff, and provide good, well-maintained housing for the renters. Yet to some I would be a gentrifier, I suppose.

I'm really concerned about the Missing Middle problem -- the zoning practices that eliminate "in between" housing classes such as larger multi-family units in favor of standalone homes or fully commercial urban development (e.g. apartment buildings that attract people with money). I can see the opposition to "multi-family" here among the ownership class. And that's largely because of how the slumlords have run their properties, allowing gang and drug activity to flourish. (I have been a victim of violent crime myself twice; once I almost died. It's safer now, at least.)

I also look at places like Prairie Avenue. These are homes that were once a Millionaire's Row, but have spent nearly a century on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. A huge number of these beautiful 19th century homes, many architect designed, have already been lost; most of the remainder are multi-family now, though a few have been restored to owner-occupied status. I don't want to see that civic and urban beauty lost, so I'd like some way to accomodate the different social axes of historic preservation and working class, affordable housing. And I know for the "precariat" keeping up with the costs of an historic home are potentially impossible.

I just remember walking neighborhoods in New York and Chicago and seeing the cataclysmic results of disinvestment in them -- the loss of block after block of ordinary, comfortable homes, and ordinary, bustling commercial areas -- and wishing that money coming back into these often desolate areas wasn't seen as simply predatory. Because if that money doesn't come, I don't see a great outcome for these neighborhoods, either.

I can't find the quote now, but Madison (Wis.) is or was considering tearing down an ugly 1960s apartment building to create a park, and the owner -- fighting expropriation -- literally said the city should tear down the homes on the street instead (now pretty much 6-12 UW students per building) because they're "almost used up". That's how this group of people see that sort of neighborhood. That's very depressing if you believe in humane and pedestrian- and flexible-income-friendly communities.
posted by dhartung at 1:06 PM on August 9 [20 favorites]


> We have had protests in Austin against individual gentrifiers, but not against the landlords and real estate agencies that are the actual problem.

Both are the actual problem, though, because it takes both the money supply and the entrepreneurs to make gentrification happen. The entrepreneurs get hit harder because they're the ones physically present in the neighborhoods, but they participate in the system, so it makes sense that they should receive some pushback to those that are harmed by the system.

Protesters have no duty to attack only the root cause of a problem. When anti-war protests block an interstate, it's not the people commuting home who've directly wronged them, but sometimes you have to take your message to whatever venue you have in the hopes that it will resonate. In this case, the business owners are only one degree of separation from the problem (two if you count capitalism itself as the root cause instead of the landlords) so I don't see it as unfair that they feel some of the heat.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:09 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]


A question for the many of you that have rushed to tell me that I should not personally feel like I am being accused by these articles, since it's the fault of the bankers and the system:

If that's the case, then why don't articles such as this simply skip straight to pointing the finger at the bankers and the system and leave out the regular yutzes entirely?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:16 PM on August 9 [5 favorites]


Obligatory in these threads: I Wish This Neighborhood Stayed Exactly As Gentrified As It Was When I First Moved Here

> You are part of gentrification, because that's how gentrification works, pretty much every time: generally white, generally young, generally poor people move into a mostly minority, mostly older, mostly poor neighborhood where the rents are low because people didn't want to live there. And then those white/young/poor people's less-poor but still white and young friends move in, and businesses follow, and the rents start to go up, and so on and so forth.

That's me, although I was never poor, just post-student broke. In sixteen years my wife and I have watched our neighbourhood in Toronto (which we moved to because, yes, the rent was affordable) go from what a co-worker at the time described as "a dump" that we wouldn't want to move to (which it never was, but that I guess was the impression some people had) to the sort of place where the dive-y strip club is developed into this. Now we can only afford to live here because the landlord has barely raised our rent since we moved in and we're paying what appears to be just over half of what the going rate is for an apartment here. If and when he sells the place or otherwise wants us to leave, we'll probably have to move about ten thousand blocks away.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:20 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


EC: I don't see much or any language about individual renters in the main linked piece. It's very much aimed at entities with capital and pliant policymaking bodies.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 1:22 PM on August 9 [5 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with feeling, or even being, accused. The problems are mostly institutional, those reaping the largest benefit are largely at a higher income level or are institutions, but we as individuals are the ones living in these communities and reaping their benefits. Or if we're unlucky, we're the ones being displaced.

But, as individuals, we're voters, taxpayers, shoppers, and patrons of local business. And the knowledge that, even if our intentions are good, there are consequences, give us the knowledge that looking out the window and thinking "wow, the neighborhood looks nice now!" might have consequences we haven't considered. And that we might want to take those into effect when we vote, shop, etc.
posted by mikeh at 1:23 PM on August 9 [9 favorites]


Listen. I know that I am the problem. I am the problem.

My little shit town in PA where I was born was more than 50% employed by manufacturing plants in town. Everyone worked at the plants and the mills. Well, until all (read:all) those jobs left in the late 80s. So pretty much everyone my age left and didn't go back. I moved to DC, then NYC and now LA. I have continuously lived in communities where I was not born for 25 years, surely displacing someone (directly or indirectly) every time that I've moved. There are many thousands of people like me: grew up somewhere shitty where there was no work and no joy that dreamt of going to the city and worked their asses off to make it there (or not, in many cases) -- I guess what never factored in when I was 22 was that someone had to pay for my dream with their home and that person was less privileged than me.

There wasn't a place for me staying at home, though, either. That town is dead. I see my privilege in being able to move and break out but I don't know what other choices I had.
posted by n9 at 1:28 PM on August 9 [14 favorites]


Perspective, people. In large cities, generally up until the 70s or so, people were born, went to school worked and died in the same neighborhood. There were local factories, shops, stores, schools etc that all operated as small towns. Sure there was usually a big downtown, but that was for certain big department stores, theaters, entertainment, restaurants, the train station, bus station, etc. I'm 46, but both my parents grew up in a neighborhood-culture like this, so it's not ancient history.

This whole notion of "what cool neighborhood should I check out or move to?" is relatively new. People 60 years ago certainly didn't travel across a city to a different neighborhood to check out some hip new bar or restaurant.

I'm generalizing here. I was gonna lead off this comment by saying "cities and things change, get over it" but I mean change in a far more fundamental way than just neighborhoods changing ethnic makeups. HOW cities are used and occupied, WHERE people work, HOW people travel and communicate via technology, all of these things have changed. Hell, the idea of the "suburbs" is from the mid 20th century, which is not very long ago at all.

What we are seeing is more and more cities (like mine, Chicago) turn into Millionaire theme parks like Manhattan has. This is troubling and a bigger issue than mustache-waxed gastropubs opening up in a "traditionally" Indian neighborhood, for example.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:32 PM on August 9 [7 favorites]


I think it's perfectly valid, even necessary and resaponsible to wonder how culpable you are/aren't in gentrification.

But I do also recall POC telling us over and over that when issues come up that involve race, we maybe should take a broader view than just figuring out whether or not we as white folks should feel bad about it and to what degree.

(I really mean that as the gentlest possible encouragement of the folks talking about what might be done about this and not at all to be even the slightest bit as an admonishment of the thoughtful people taking stock in this thread.)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:33 PM on August 9 [28 favorites]


I'm not phrasing myself well. Let me try again.

I feel like there should be more of an emphasis on the class distinctions and how they are affected here. I say this with full understanding that certain racial divisions often correspond with class divisions; but I feel like a lot of us fall into the shorthand that the Venn diagrams completely overlap. This is an issue that affects race, yes, but the cause is class.

I am all-in on the class war. But people think I'm not becuase of my race. This isn't about "figuring out whether or not white folks should feel bad", this is about "I actually want to be an ally but I'm getting shut out".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:47 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


There's definitely some of that to process yeah, Empress. It's also hard to get your bearings when white folks can be simultaneously pilloried as unwilling alongside people of color when they stay in mostly white neighborhoods (seen as acceding to de facto segregation) and dismissed as interlopers when they move into more diverse neighborhoods. There are a lot of conflicting things going on.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:50 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


....Eh. I'm probably taking this way more perosnally than I should, though - I'll take this as a sign to myself that I should peace out of this thread. Sorry, all; Mods, feel free to delete what you see fit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:50 PM on August 9


People by definition can't move into apartments they can't afford, so faulting anyone for doing so is both wrong and nonsensical. The culpability of the individual renter re: gentrification lies in their economic and social choices - which businesses they frequent, which neighbors they interact with, etc. Integrating.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:50 PM on August 9


> A question for the many of you that have rushed to tell me that I should not personally feel like I am being accused by these articles, since it's the fault of the bankers and the system:

If that's the case, then why don't articles such as this simply skip straight to pointing the finger at the bankers and the system and leave out the regular yutzes entirely?


Because we still contribute to the gentrification, even if we aren't the causal factor, even if we don't intend to, even if we are broke when we move to the cheap(er) neighborhood. I'm part of it too, having moved to a now-rapidly-gentrifying San Francisco neighborhood, even though when I moved here it was just in the slo-mo stage. I patronize some of the businesses that have opened because of the rapid gentrification. I am part of the cycle, even though I didn't cause it and I can't stop it as an individual. I can be aware of the role I play in it. I can be an ally even if sometimes people are mad at me/what I seem to represent.
posted by rtha at 1:52 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]


Honestly, I've been trying to reconcile the problems of large city gentrification with the disparities in available housing in my own, smaller midwestern city. Things seem affordable to me, in that middle income homes and apartments are available, but according to national statistics, the availability of low income housing is at the lowest levels seen in the country. There's a tipping point of development where tax subsidies are going to new development or downtown redevelopment while the number of low income rental properties in poor condition is growing, and some are disappearing.

I don't know what the solution is, but I've started to wonder if funneling some of that money to people maintaining the low income housing could help.
posted by mikeh at 1:53 PM on August 9


Gentrification has a mixed impact on residents and communities. Rebecca Solnit wrote that "Gentrification is just the fin above the water. Below is the rest of the shark.. " and I think that some of the attention to gentrification is because it makes underlying inequality more visible. I'm usually anti-anti-gentrification in practice because it tackles consequences rather than causes and often shades into xenophobia. Anyway, here are some things that research about gentrification suggests happens in gentrifying neighborhoods.

1. Gentrification is comparatively rare, with downward mobility and stagnation of urban neighborhoods more common than gentrification (Wei and Knox 2014, Cortright and Mahmoudi 2014)
2. Gentrification accelerated in large American cities, with more areas gentrifying 2000-2010 than 1990-2000 (Maciag 2015). 

3. Gentrifiers are primarily younger, educated, childless whites and middle class people of color (frequently living w/ children or elderly relatives) (McKinnish, Walsh & White, 2010)

4. Gentrification can cause direct displacement (an increase in involuntary moves) resulting mainly from cost considerations such as higher rents. (Freeman 2009, Freeman and Barconi 2004, Newman and Wyly 2006; Martin and Beck, 2016)
5. Low-education, minority, low-income, long-term resident and renter householders do not exit gentrifying neighborhoods at greater rates than they move from non-gentrifying neighborhoods (McKinnish, Walsh & White, 2010, Freeman 2005, Ellen & O’Regan 2010)
6. Lower income residents who leave gentrifying neighborhoods relocate to neighborhood that are equivalent or slightly worse in terms of economic and quality of life indicators; other out-moving residents relocate to ‘better’ destinations (Ding, Hwang and Divringi 2015)


7. Rents and rent burdens rise in gentrifying neighborhoods (Ellen & O’Regan 2010, Freeman and Braconi 2004, Hartley 2013)


8. Existing residents of gentrifying neighborhoods show larger income gains than residents of non- gentrifying neighborhoods, with black high school graduates receiving the biggest share of gains followed by younger college educated whites (Ellen & O’Regan 2010, McKinnish, Walsh & White 2010, Hartley 2013)
9. The credit scores of residents of gentrifying neighborhoods rise (Ding, Hwang and Divringi 2015; Hartley 2013). 

10. Public housing, affordable housing, rent control and building new market rate housing help lower-income residents stay in gentrifying neighborhoods (Freeman and Barconi 2004, Ellen & O’Regan 2010; Taylor 2016)

11. Renters who stayed in gentrifying neighborhoods show larger increases in satisfaction with their neighborhoods than renters in non-gentrifying neighborhoods (Ellen & O’Regan 2010).

12. Gentrifying neighborhoods tend to become more rather than less economically and racially diverse (Freeman 2009; Bader and Warkentien 2016)

13. Gentrification tends to happen more in areas that are already racially diverse. (Hwang and Sampson 2014)
14. Research findings on gentrification impacts are not conclusive due to challenges with definitions, time scales, geographies, and other methodological challenges. (Zuk et al 2015).
posted by markvalli at 2:13 PM on August 9 [56 favorites]


The thing I struggle with are the different types of gentrification. In cities like San Francisco that are well above their 20th Century peak population, are awash with money, and which don't build enough housing to meet demand, of course it's going to become enormously gentrified.

But like, why is Chicago gentrifying? I'm honestly asking--it's got a million fewer residents than it did at its peak population. Where are they living, and why are they choosing to live there?
posted by Automocar at 2:14 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Gentrification is a byproduct of capitalism being the core conceit of our society. Fancier restaurants, high property value, large profits for landlords and business owners - these are the bellwethers of a "successful" neighborhood. Cities don't like poors because poor != success, so they re-zone to start the transformation process. Everything else falls into place because people very rationally seek out the best value for their dollar.

Missing from that formula is any concern at all for the people who will inevitably be displaced. That is because American capitalism doesn't value human capital in any form other than workforce, politics, entertainment and wealth-holding. Merely existing as a member of society is not sufficient to garner value. This is why public schools are funded through property taxes, why we don't have single-payer healthcare, why the minimum wage is so low. The resting value of a penniless, unemployed American is roughly zero, and our society punishes those who need help while helping those who don't.

The rise of telecommuting has also allowed people to decouple where they live from where they work, which promotes the clustering of wealth in urban areas with their high levels of convenience and surplus of cultural amenities. Gbb and I are totally part of that - we both work remotely. Because of that decoupling, prices can rise well beyond what the local and regional job markets can support, driving out lower-income residents faster than what was previously possible. At least, that is my back-of-the-napkin take on what is happening in cities that are not New York or San Francisco. The meteoric rise of WeWork appears to support that thesis.

If cities really cared about people they would invest heavily in quality affordable housing. They would properly fund public education. They would eliminate food deserts. But they generally do not do these things, because they don't care about people. They care about money, because that is what our society values above all else.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:28 PM on August 9 [9 favorites]


When considering the history of urbanization in America it's also important to recall the extent to which

a) homeownership as broad-based investment vehicle was a deliberate iirc post-Depression fuelled then by post-war investment in suburbs via direct and indirect subsidies (i.e. highways) and

b) how Black people were systematically denied access to this, whether via redlining, being denied access to loans and by having their communities destroyed so highways could be built, etc, etc.

If your family has been in America for more than a couple generations, you've directly been affected by this deliberate policy choice. So, it's tricky to discuss despite there being very little direct personal liability for any given person.

wrt to gentrification, it's a little overwrought. you're indirectly displacing people from the neighbourhood; that apartment was cleared and renovated to make room for you.

Automocar: as to why Chicago is gentrifying, one aspect I think is very much underplayed in urbanist circles and that is the role of historically low interest rates. The past ten years have been incredible opportunities - if you already had access to capital - and my understanding is that a lot of the real-estate boom surrounding "sufficiently important" cities stems from local investors rolling their home equity over into more real estate speculation.
posted by pmv at 2:38 PM on August 9 [11 favorites]


One thing that occurs to me is that income inequality is often presented as a negative thing. And I'd agree that it is on a national scale. But on a local scale, it seems to me that places with low levels of income inequality are going to be uniformly poor, struggling places, or uniformly wealthy places that have, by design, excluded anyone of low income. In that sense, a city of high income inequality is probably doing something right...

"I mean, it's just a thousands times over to me why the "housing market", treating having a place for shelter as a capitalist market, is just a fucking bad idea to begin with."

The biggest reason this happens is not any particular conspiracy of developers or landlords. It's that we've created a society which treats homeownership as the best route to financial success. As a result, we have a majority of the American population which has a deeply vested personal interest in seeing housing prices rise as much as possible, and all our public policy flows from that.

And you can see this in San Francisco: everyone seems to agree that we need more affordable housing, but all the anger is directed at developers. Now, it's true that developers are looking to make money from the situation, with varying levels of success. Every time it seems that they're getting significant payoffs, people demand increased concessions, and usually get them. But very little anger is directed at individual homeowners, who are the ones reaping windfall benefits for no work at all, and none of the proposed solutions affect them in the slightest.

The other factor is that we have very shabby national-level approaches to dealing with problems of poverty, healthcare (including mental healthcare), and crime. It's basically left to municipalities to figure out what to do about it. And the easiest, cheapest approach is to drive any "problematic" people out, and make them someone else's problem. And so cities end up competing to be the most hostile to poor people.
posted by alexei at 2:49 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]


if care isn't taken to respect the community that already exists there

It's not like prices won't rise if you respect the community. What drives gentrification is increased demand and nothing else. I'm sure it'd be nice to fob blame off onto the evil developers and landlords, though.
posted by jpe at 2:52 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I think that some of the problem is that the economic recovery since the Great Recession has been limited to a few cities. People, especially college-educated skilled people, are crowding into the places that have jobs. Dedaluspark described what is going on in Seattle, where there are plenty of jobs but housing is scarce. N9 described the emptying out of their hometown, where there are no jobs. I believe that a lot of people who are "crowding" and gentrifying cities would have stayed home or gone to a nearby small city and got a job there a generation ago - back when there were jobs and opportunities in small towns and regional cities for the educated and ambitious.

And the post-World-War-II "white flight" to suburbs was white flight for a reason - African Americans and other POC were locked out of opportunities that the GI bill gave to white veterans, and redlining and racially restrictive covenants limited African-Americans access to suburbia even when they could afford it.

Now that many cities are much cleaner and safer than they were 20 years ago, and most good jobs are there, and there is a backlash against the suburbs as places where only Ugly Americans (tm) should want to live and the city is where it's cool - oops, now there's no room and it's expensive. Gentrification is something that's many years in the making, and it's a societal problem, not something that well-meaning and principled individuals can solve.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:59 PM on August 9 [9 favorites]


The biggest reason this happens is not any particular conspiracy of developers or landlords. It's that we've created a society which treats homeownership as the best route to financial success. As a result, we have a majority of the American population which has a deeply vested personal interest in seeing housing prices rise as much as possible, and all our public policy flows from that.


Very much this. And it isn't limited to housing - everything vital for survival is becoming primarily a vehicle for profits. See also: healthcare & education.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:03 PM on August 9 [11 favorites]


You moving to an area in a city where you can afford to live is fine. In the beginning of the gentrification process - only you are there. But, when more of people like you move to that area of the city - the demographics start to change.

Businesses notice this. I can get weekly sales data across a whole bunch of categories for your specific census block. I can basically tell how much money you spend on things and where. And I can tell how far you travel from your census block to where you buy that service - meaning, I can put a national chalupa stand across the street from your house... because enough people in your neighborhood have what I consider 'disposable' income that they spend on chalupa stand-like businesses, and I can build your neighborhood into a more civilized version of yourself.

For those that own, the property taxes go up as where this spot that you moved to now has more amenities. Taxes go up, rents go up (though usually in the reverse order), and those businesses that existed as part of the community are now subject to the exterior forces that have largely invaded their area. Now, there are benefits, generally gentrification improves certain services - removal of food deserts, increased number of clinics, improved safety as crime hot-spotting basically allows a brief initial flare to be spotted much quicker.

So yes, you moving to an area in the city is fine. Just realize that you moving there as an unknowing vanguard of culture brings with it the plastic facade of marketing and pintrest lives - and that gentrification that follows behind - that in and of itself you are actively fleeing - that gentrification following you eats everything.

Edit: For a good view of what this looks like: Here
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:18 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]




The extremely poor and crime ridden neighborhoods in Chicago are (mostly) the ones losing people. Go check out downtown and any affluent areas... construction cranes, luxury condo and renatal towers getting built everywhere. A huge vacant area downtown on the river (The notorious Rezcso land) is being developed: 6000 brand new (expensive) condos are planned over the next 10 years. McDonald's Boeing and Kraft HQ's are moving or have moved downtown from the burbs.

Chicago is booming for the affluent.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 3:31 PM on August 9


a city of high income inequality is probably doing something right...

Aristocrats and the immiserated, though?

If mixing the classes leads to higher social mobility, then that might be less intergenerationally unjust, which I think is where our instincts come after the Great Compresssion. But I don't know that we know social mixing (and even that isn't required by high inequality) is more helpful than services to the low-income, because we so rarely do the latter well.

I find Rawls abstractly useful here:
The difference principle is the second part of the second principle of John Rawls’s theory of justice. The first principle requires that citizens enjoy equal basic liberties. The first part of the second principle requires fair equality of opportunity. These rules have priority over the difference principle; the difference principle cannot justify policies or institutions that abrogate them. The difference principle governs the distribution of income and wealth, positions of responsibility and power, and the social bases of self-respect. It holds that inequalities in the distribution of these goods are permissible only if they benefit the least well-off positions of society.
posted by clew at 4:17 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


That Philadelphia bike guy sounds like he wants to be the next Ori Feibusch. There are tons of houses for sale in Philadelphia for less than $300k and they are listed on all of the realty websites. Going around knocking on doors and publishing your woes in an article that speaks ill of people who don't want to sell their homes says to me that you are a predatory realtor in broke youngster's clothes. Brewerytown is gentrifying like crazy and he just wants a piece of the pie.
posted by grumpybear69 at 4:59 PM on August 9 [10 favorites]


Automocar: as to why Chicago is gentrifying, one aspect I think is very much underplayed in urbanist circles and that is the role of historically low interest rates. The past ten years have been incredible opportunities - if you already had access to capital - and my understanding is that a lot of the real-estate boom surrounding "sufficiently important" cities stems from local investors rolling their home equity over into more real estate speculation.

My point is being lost or I'm not being clear, so let me try again. Chicago once had 3.6 million people living in it. Now it has 2.7 million people living in it, which implies that Chicago somehow lost a tremendous amount of housing stock. Or was Chicago in 1960 super expensive? Somehow I doubt that, but perhaps it was.
posted by Automocar at 6:05 PM on August 9


I don't agree with the premise.

Round here artists went to the cheap spaces and it became a thing for tourists and then a guy with a national following set up shop here and started painting live with musicians and people started opening restaurants and the parking on the narrow streets made it impossible for the big trucks to get in and out of the steel mill so they moved and the property was sold and converted and rents went up and everybody is looking for the next new spot where they will be the unwilling pioneers and have to move on, again.

There is a bit of subsidized housing in the middle of this gentrified district. Walking distance decent jobs were lost and they are stuck somewhere where nothing within walking distance is affordable so they beg. They can't Uber because they don't have credit cards or smartphones and the cabbies don't want to go there anyway. They can't even get to the food banks anymore.

So they stand out there forever. Took my son to see this. Whole families shopping at night.

We'll take cash but it's not about that.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:06 PM on August 9


I love how many people are willing to absolve EmpressCallipygos of any guilt. Surely, it's the fault of real estate developers and landlords, not any of us, able and willing to pay more than the previous occupants, bringing new commercial demands into the area, injecting life into stagnant old neighborhoods. It's a conspiracy. A conspiracy to match demand with supply. I have nothing to do with this conspiracy! It the fault of the landlord whom I have to force to take my money, and the developer, who builds the nice businesses I like to patronize.

EmpressCallipygos, and anyone else in a similar boat, indulge that guilt at your leisure. Frankly, I think it's counterproductive, and futile regardless. Your responsibility is to yourselves most of all, and in tending that responsibility, you are also gentrifiers. This is what happens when you are an asset overall, care about yourself and community and make the world around you a better place.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:55 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


I love how many people are willing to absolve EmpressCallipygos of any guilt. Surely, it's the fault of real estate developers and landlords, not any of us,

As a general rule, recasting the operation of powerful economic systems into a matter of individual moral choice, especially amongst the less well-off, is a neoliberal trick designed to stifle change altogether. Who is going to refuse to live somewhere that they like and can afford? No one, really. Ha! Hence gentrification is a concern only raised by hypocrites!

I don't play that game.
posted by praemunire at 8:09 PM on August 9 [7 favorites]


My point is being lost or I'm not being clear, so let me try again. Chicago once had 3.6 million people living in it. Now it has 2.7 million people living in it, which implies that Chicago somehow lost a tremendous amount of housing stock. Or was Chicago in 1960 super expensive?

No, it's that the population loss has not been spread evenly across the city or across the socioeconomic groups within it. There are neighborhoods on the south and west sides like Englewood and Austin that have been devastated by violence, poverty, and neglect by the city government in the years since 1960, while neighborhoods on the north side have mostly seen the opposite. For example, since 1980, Chicago has lost more than a quarter of its black population. But as a city with a long history of segregation, those losses are not visible in every neighborhood.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 8:13 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


I find this interesting because my mom was a victim of not gentrification but "urban renewal." The government leveled her whole inner-city neighborhood with the thoroughness of a nuclear bomb (a couple of square miles, including several important historic buildings) and sold it to the local hospital for a criminally low sum.

Most of the photos here were taken while they were tearing it down, therefore the buildings are empty - but you can get a sense of what the neighborhood looked like. If you go to this site and click on the "History" menu you can read a variety of articles about the process.

My mom is deeply psychologically scarred from this experience as are many of her former neighbors, all of whom were forced to move out of a tight knit neighborhood at once and find housing wherever they could.

You'd think because of this she'd be livid at gentrification, but in fact it's quite the opposite. I think it's because gentrification creeps in slowly; in her eyes it gives the people who live there time to transition, to plan their next move, to say goodbye.

I live in what is arguably one of the most gentrifying neighborhoods in the country, and it is strangely the opposite of what my mom went through when she was growing up. Over the course of a year, maybe two, my mom's entire neighborhood was leveled to the ground. In my case, we moved to a building that was surrounded by a sea of parking lots (not brand-new parking lots; I've dug into the historical record and some of these were carriage parking lots in the 1890s) with the occasional abandoned or semi-abandoned building for local color. In the past four years I can count eight apartment buildings that have gone up in a one-block radius; a ninth is going up in what was once our parking lot. One abandoned building was torn down to make way for them; the brick was recycled into the walls of the new building. I don't think we could afford to live in any of them.

The semi-abandoned half-block five-story building catercorner from us got renovated; there was once one artist there and now there's a couple hundred people in a "creative office." The electric supply store up the block closed down and the mannequin store moved about a block away but the strip club is still hanging on. The nightclubs are still there, a hookah lounge opened across the street from them and the rarely-open divey burger joint has now gotten a new lease on life. There's a number of apartment buildings just south of here that were very low-rent; the empty lots that surrounded them are now luxury apartments, and I wonder if the low rent buildings will remain untouched or be renovated. There's plenty of abandoned buildings and empty lots still ready to be used. Except I'm pretty sure some of those buildings weren't totally abandoned; I'm pretty sure a number of them had homeless people squatting in them, and that's a reason that homelessness in this city is rapidly increasing. But no one's thinking of renovating those twelve-story abandoned office buildings into homeless housing; everyone's renovating them into hipster hotels.

And they just opened a third Starbucks in a one-block radius, across from an indie coffee store that just had another indie coffee store open catercorner from it.
posted by rednikki at 8:15 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Spitalfields Life is written in the midst of a dense neighborhood being gentrified, but it's mostly about the people still there.
posted by clew at 8:27 PM on August 9


markvalli's comment is excellent and he clearly knows more about this subject than I do. I've always felt like the focus on gentrification was, indeed, focusing on visible consequences rather than causes.

Actually maybe even more than that; gentrification seems to me to be an emergent property of our current socioeconomic system. So long as there is a growing population, more willingness to physically up and move than in decades past, and increasing income inequality it would take government intervention on a massive scale to prevent what we call gentrification. Focusing on the real estate developers is higher level than focusing on the individual renters and entrepreneurs but it's still a band-aid.

As a general rule, recasting the operation of powerful economic systems into a matter of individual moral choice, especially amongst the less well-off, is a neoliberal trick designed to stifle change altogether.

I mean, I'm making sort of the same argument as you are but... neoliberal, really? i guess neoliberals really are the true enemy
posted by Justinian at 8:52 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


neoliberal, really?

It's the same kind of bullshit distraction as "want to effect political change? clearly, the only thing you can do is buy/not buy a product!" Whereas the conservative would say no change was called for at all.
posted by praemunire at 8:55 PM on August 9


"Freret was designated a “cultural district” by the state in 2012, allowing new businesses—but not existing ones—to operate tax-free."

This is appalling.

"But - am I right to feel like I'm being told that my moving to a neighborhood where I could afford rent for a change was a gentrifying factor, and that this is therefore my fault? Or am I reading too much into this? … If that's the case, then why don't articles such as this simply skip straight to pointing the finger at the bankers and the system and leave out the regular yutzes entirely?"

When you live in an unjust society, it's almost impossible to avoid making unjust choices, and you should feel bad about them, because you're hurting others with them. You are participating in an injustice. IMO you should recognize that your culpability for those injustices is (often) relatively limited, because you live within an unjust system that presents you with only unjust choices (and a small injustice is being done to you in forcing you to choose only unjust things!), but you absolutely should be aware of the injustice of the choices you make, how they harm others, and how you can work to mitigate the harm you're doing. So I wouldn't be all, "Oh no, I'm being blamed for this thing I have no part of!" or all, "Yes I am officially the worst person in America," but I'd would definitely be like, "I am participating in an unjust system and reaping the benefits of it, and I have a responsibility to try to ameliorate the damage I'm doing." A lot of people want to say, "But I'd prefer NOT to be doing the damage, so I'm off the hook," but, yeah, we'd all prefer not to be doing the damage, but we're still doing it, we're still on the hook.

"that if you are such a person (I, for one, fit the description) you should have an understanding of your role in the phenomenon of gentrification (which is not as integral as the role developers, politicians, etc. play), and should understand that you also have a role and a responsibility in fighting it. "

Yeah that.

"But like, why is Chicago gentrifying? I'm honestly asking--it's got a million fewer residents than it did at its peak population. Where are they living, and why are they choosing to live there? ... My point is being lost or I'm not being clear, so let me try again. Chicago once had 3.6 million people living in it. Now it has 2.7 million people living in it, which implies that Chicago somehow lost a tremendous amount of housing stock. Or was Chicago in 1960 super expensive? Somehow I doubt that, but perhaps it was. "

In addition to what people already said about neighborhoods booming and busting, I did some work on Peoria housing stock in 1960 vs. 2010, which largely grew out of wealthier families in Peoria bitching incessantly that their kids had to be bussed to elementary school, while when they where kids in Peoria, they could walk to school! (And therefore the schools were wasting money and didn't deserve taxes and also America was falling apart because buses.)

Looking at census records, I found that in 1960, 2/3 of households had children enrolled in K-12; the average household was 3.33 persons, and there were 1707 housing units per square mile (which included some pretty substantial parks, and almost all single-family homes, just small and close together), for a total of just under 4,000 people per square mile. You needed about 350 households to make a K-5 elementary school of 500 students (using various formulae schools use to forecast attendance), so you could build schools within about half a mile of each other.

In 2015, only 29% of city households had children in the K-12 age range, and households had dropped to 2.54 people per house; in wealthier parts of the city, the average household size was a flat 2. There were only 1154 housing units per square mile in the newer parts of the city (including apartments, and with almost no parks); in the parts most popular among families ("good for kids" i.e. big yards and spendy houses), houses sat on quarter-acre lots (older neighborhoods have TWENTY single-family houses per acre, not FOUR). There were just over 2200 people per square mile, a little more than half the density of the booming city neighborhoods in 1960. You need a little over 1800 households to get the necessary 500 students.

So the density has just dropped drastically between the vastly increased size of a single-family dwelling (or a single-family apartment) and the rapidly shrinking family size. In 1960, 350 households could return you an elementary school. In 2015, you need 1800 households, and those households take up a shitload more space than they did in 1960. Like literally five times as much space ... and each house has fewer people in it. So in 1960 you could have 20 homes with 3.3 people each on an acre, or 66 people; in 2015, 4 homes with 2.5 people each, or 10 people. That's definitely part of where those million people went.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:41 PM on August 9 [25 favorites]


So, making lots of rough assumptions,

old housing stock and new family style
---------------------------------------------------
1707 h/sqm * 0.54 kids/h = 922 kids per square mile

new housing stock and old family style
---------------------------------------------------
1154 h/sqm * 1.33 kids/h = 1500 kids per square mile

The drop in fecundity has been worse for walkable schools than sprawl? (It is a jawdropping change in fecundity.)
posted by clew at 10:04 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]


(I have made similar calculations about how much smaller average household size can be explained by longer adult lives and fewer child deaths. Can't find them now, but it was most of the observed change, and neither of those are bad, right? Right? ...This is a nice ice floe, I'd love to see the polar bears, dear, but...)
posted by clew at 10:07 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Hi, I'm a certified gentrifier.

You are participating in an injustice.

No, I bought my house voluntarily from a long-term city resident who made ~$150K on the transaction. That person purchased a home built on a lot that was voluntarily purchased from the descendants of a longer-term city resident who in turn made ~$300K on the transaction.

That's not an injustice. Claiming so is an absurdity. There are legitimate claims about people being forced out of communities by increasing property tax or increasing rent. Those claims should be addressed (preferably, in my opinion, by eliminating property tax and subsidizing moving expenses). That does not, however, indicate that gentrification is an injustice.
posted by saeculorum at 10:16 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]


"The drop in fecundity has been worse for walkable schools than sprawl? (It is a jawdropping change in fecundity.)"

In terms of households, 1960 was the height of the Baby Boom and nationwide 2/3 of all American households had K-12 children. Today, nationwide, about 1/3 of households do. This is why it so much fucking harder to pass school taxes than in the past.

Some of it is, you know, less Baby Boom. Some of it is smaller families (even if 2/3 of families had kids, if most of them had 1 instead of 5, they're just going to be in schools many fewer years); some of it is longer lives so you've got people living way past their kids leaving home; and some of it is in 1960, you had a lot more multi-generational families where grandparents (or great aunts, or maiden aunts, or bachelor uncles, or whomever) lived with a family with children. Today they're a lot more likely to live alone. Some of it is divorce, so you have child-having adults whose kids don't live with them.

What I saw was that it varied quite a bit based on neighborhood, housing stock, local schools, etc., but, yeah, one piece is density of housing, one piece is size of housing, one piece is size of household, and one piece is 1/3 of households having K-12 kids vs. 2/3 of households having K-12 kids. All of those have been trending towards fewer people in vastly more space, and even when we're looking at just "married couples with children" and the housing stock they favor, they just have far fewer kids these days.

It's totally possible Chicago has more residential square footage than at its height (I have no idea), and a million fewer people nonetheless, due to these trends of smaller families and more space per person (both in the house and on the lot).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:18 PM on August 9 [5 favorites]


I'm surprised that "good schools" are the market-moving factor people say they are, if they don't currently matter to 2/3 of households. (Worried about resale value, signal of and code for lots of other things, but still.)
posted by clew at 10:25 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


My takeaway: if you're white and can't afford to live on either coast or overhyped Austin then move to boise.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:46 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


allowing new businesses—but not existing ones—to operate tax-free

There's been some reaction to this upthread, so I wondered what the reality was. It's partially true, because a Louisiana Cultural District is a mash-up of other types of district specifically aimed at art sales:
What is a Cultural Products District?
The primary goal of the Cultural Products District (CPD) is to revitalize the communities and contribute to the lives and livelihoods of the citizens by creating locally driven hubs of cultural activity. The program provides two incentives for communities to create or rebuild cultural destinations:

Renovations to historic structures (the building must be over 50 years of age from current year) within the district may be eligible for state historic tax credits.

Sales of original, one-of-a-kind works of visual art are exempt from local and state sales tax.
In other words, if you're a gallery of some kind, you can operate in a sales-tax-exempt environment, boosting your competitiveness if you open in the district. This doesn't seem to apply, however, to yoga studios or restaurants, both of which the article cited. If there's a mechanism not cited where they are receiving specific tax exemptions, enlighten me, but they (and landlords) seem to be taking advantage of the area's art sales as a foot traffic effect rather than a specific economic advantage over existing businesses. That is, the landlord may well raise the rent for the barbershop for a more lucrative tenant like a hip restaurant, but none of the parties in the transaction is actually tax-exempt as that brief aside seemed to imply.
posted by dhartung at 11:04 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


If we parse it as "[some] new businesses -- but not existing ones[, none of which sold original visual art]", it's true. Heavy lift though.
posted by clew at 12:21 AM on August 10


So typing to you from central Beijing, which is a metro area of 20+ million with a population that has increased by 44% in the last decade and tripled in the last 50 years. Those numbers, plus the steady stream of stories about outright demolition of people's homes, should make clear that "gentrification" is a pale understatement for what has happened around me in the past decade, if you haven't been here.

I'm the most lay of laypeople when it comes to urban planning, but I think gentrification is a problem that will, depending on your perspective, accelerate or go away, because as we move away from cars, concentrate in cities, migrate because of climate change, and build more technologically advanced buildings, neighborhoods and entire city districts will be torn up, paved over, abandoned, and rebuilt in the next few decades. The building boom that swept China is coming to a town near you and probably staying, and it's probably coming in the guise of disaster capitalism. Get ready.
posted by saysthis at 4:16 AM on August 10 [4 favorites]


this is really tough. when the american economy catered to suburbanization, well off whites fled city cores and took all their property taxes (a totally fucked up system of city funding) with them, leaving behind the hollowed out urban areas of the 80s that poor people had to live in. now that the economy has shifted back toward favoring urban cores, the well off have returned and gentrified the prior residents out of there. either way, the poorer cohort got screwed.
but as many have commented, you cant "blame" individual gentrifiers (with the exception of explicit racists and slumlords) any more than you would blame a middle class family in the 80s who were moving to a metro area and chose to live in a suburb with good schools versus one in the center with bad schools. as the original article rightly emphasized, the real solution is governmental-- real universal healthcare, real wage growth-- to take the sting out of this shitty effect of capitalism.
posted by wibari at 4:23 AM on August 10 [2 favorites]


Surely, it's the fault of real estate developers and landlords, not any of us, able and willing to pay more than the previous occupants, bringing new commercial demands into the area, injecting life into stagnant old neighborhoods. It's a conspiracy. A conspiracy to match demand with supply. I have nothing to do with this conspiracy! It the fault of the landlord whom I have to force to take my money, and the developer, who builds the nice businesses I like to patronize.

If there were affordable apartments in Manhattan and you were choosing the UES that would be a problem. But that isn't the case - for the last three decades, real estate prices (particularly rentals) have vastly outstripped income growth and more and more people have fewer choices on where they can live. Your choices at this point really are - move into a vacant apartment in an older neighborhood or become part of urban sprawl. There are no new apartments being built in Manhattan that are affordable for the vast majority of the people who live in New York. What's the actual option you're proposing in NYC for someone like EC who's limited in what she can spend? Keeping in mind all policy proposals don't actually help a soul looking for a roof over their head this year.
posted by notorious medium at 4:44 AM on August 10 [4 favorites]


Here's an example of how it can be the fault of the landlord, which is one of the two most common gentrification trends I see in Austin (the second just being people moving individually due to cool factor). Landlord forced out residents or businesses who have been in spot for years. In one case, they literally bulldozed a business after the owners had gone home for the day. Usually though they just refuse to lease a place for another year or temporarily raise the rent to something unsustainable. Then once the original occupants are gone, they turn around and redevelop the lot or just offer it at a mildly higher rent to newcomers.

The individual newcomers don't necessarily realize that the original owners were forced out unless it's very dramatic, as in the case of the bulldozing. They are only guilty insofar as they realize they are white people accepting a deal on a traditionally PoC neighborhood and, even then, if they continue to spend their money at local PoC businesses are probably not gentrifying too much. Then one day there are not really any older businesses to support, so they spend their money at the newer ones.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:54 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


You are participating in an injustice.

No, I bought my house voluntarily from a long-term city resident who made ~$150K on the transaction. That person purchased a home built on a lot that was voluntarily purchased from the descendants of a longer-term city resident who in turn made ~$300K on the transaction.


Unless you are Robert Nozick, a transaction can be voluntary and still represent an instance of unjustice because of the larger system--and power dynamic--within which it is embedded. In 1952, for example, plenty of women in the US would have 'voluntarily' accepted much lower wages than men for doing the same work. Plenty of black people would have 'voluntarily' agreed to rent substandard and unsafe housing. These were systemic injustices that needed to be addressed, even if each individual negotiation and transaction within the system was formally voluntary. Of course I'm not saying your particular purchase of your house was or wasn't definitely part of such systemic injustice, only that 'but the transaction was voluntary' doesn't fully answer the question one way or another. There's more to justice, and injustice, than direct coercion.
posted by Aravis76 at 5:59 AM on August 10 [8 favorites]


When you live in an unjust society, it's almost impossible to avoid making unjust choices, and you should feel bad about them, because you're hurting others with them. You are participating in an injustice. IMO you should recognize that your culpability for those injustices is (often) relatively limited, because you live within an unjust system that presents you with only unjust choices (and a small injustice is being done to you in forcing you to choose only unjust things!), but you absolutely should be aware of the injustice of the choices you make, how they harm others, and how you can work to mitigate the harm you're doing. So I wouldn't be all, "Oh no, I'm being blamed for this thing I have no part of!" or all, "Yes I am officially the worst person in America," but I'd would definitely be like, "I am participating in an unjust system and reaping the benefits of it, and I have a responsibility to try to ameliorate the damage I'm doing." A lot of people want to say, "But I'd prefer NOT to be doing the damage, so I'm off the hook," but, yeah, we'd all prefer not to be doing the damage, but we're still doing it, we're still on the hook.
I'm a big fan of this outlook, especially the "I have a responsibility to try to ameliorate the damage I'm doing" bit. There are a lot of people who declare that it's effectively impossible to make completely ethical choices under capitalism (in terms of what retailers you buy from, what service providers you use, where your clothes are made, etc.) and then follow it up with "so it's not even worth the effort to try," which I have a big problem with. It takes you from culpable due to systemic circumstances beyond your direct control to being a deliberate bad actor. There are several ways in which I've made a choice to be a deliberate bad actor in circumstance X, but not in circumstance Y. The lines I draw tend to be chosen based on factors of convenience and personal relationships; I won't be a deliberate bad actor if *convenience* is the only reason I'm using terrible service A or shopping at horrible retailer B, nor will I be one if I know people whose lives are negatively affected by those businesses, etc. I will be a deliberate bad actor if not being one puts my ability to hold down a job or keep a decent roof over my head or whatever. I'm not saying that my spending choices within this system will change anything, because they won't. But it means my eyes are open and I'm owning my bad acts, which is important to me from a moral standpoint.
No, I bought my house voluntarily from a long-term city resident who made ~$150K on the transaction. That person purchased a home built on a lot that was voluntarily purchased from the descendants of a longer-term city resident who in turn made ~$300K on the transaction.

That's not an injustice. Claiming so is an absurdity. There are legitimate claims about people being forced out of communities by increasing property tax or increasing rent. Those claims should be addressed (preferably, in my opinion, by eliminating property tax and subsidizing moving expenses). That does not, however, indicate that gentrification is an injustice.
The litmus test of "voluntary" isn't always a good one. My father "voluntarily" sold his house (and even made a small profit) because he was facing a set of circumstances the buyer didn't know about that meant staying in his home was untenable (and they were none of the buyer's business, because they had nothing to do with the house itself). He's still in a shitty situation and is currently worried about homelessness, but if he hadn't "voluntarily" sold his house he'd actually be worse off. Tons of people upthread have explained the mechanisms, and while there is certainly deliberate discrimination and *batteries not included-style forcing out of tenants, mostly it's just people making voluntary choices that work for them, or might even work for everybody as individual choices, but that as a pattern, or cumulatively, wind up fucking shit up for a bunch of other people.

There is some tax weirdness here right now that is threatening a downtown cultural institution, and that I'd be interested in seeing how it happened in the first place. Toronto's property taxes are actually pretty low, despite all the griping, but this "highest and best use" nonsense has got to be part of the reason our housing stock has gone all to hell.
posted by Fish Sauce at 6:00 AM on August 10 [7 favorites]


Also, while everyone in this thread makes choices based on affordability and not hipness, it's disingenuous to say that affordability is the leading cause behind gentrification. I move apartments every few years and look primarily at pricing, and I can see that the trends do not fall primarily along affordability lines.

I say this as someone who has probably been a gentrifier.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:26 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I listened to a podcast w/Ijeoma Oluo as a guest the other day, and one of her biggest points was that “not intending harm” does not actually absolve you of the harm that your privilege often causes, nor of the need to ameliorate that harm when possible and advocate on behalf of those who do not have access to your levels of privilege.

She was talking to two white dudes who said they were shocked at how much whiter Seattle is now compared to twenty years ago, and she asked them if they were attending school board meetings to ask for accountability to prevent PoC kids from being routed into the school to prison pipeline. They seemed kind of surprised— they don’t have kids, and that isn’t “their” issue, but she kindly but firmly pointed out that this is part of the work of minimizing harm. Her mother is white, and she said that her mother has spent decades using her white privilege to be a thorn in the side of people and organizations that don’t want to talk about or think about or organize for these types of issues. When your privilege means you get a seat at a table where your less privileged neighbors are not present (zoning boards, invited to the right parties, running into the “right” people at the Whole Foods), THAT is your chance to fight some of these structural forces.

People will move into places they can afford, of course. But if you move in with structural privilege on your side (that your new neighbors lack), I do think there is an imperative to use that privilege to support the people who have lived in those neighborhoods for decades (or longer).

You know, be a real neighbor.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:38 AM on August 10 [20 favorites]


Also, while everyone in this thread makes choices based on affordability and not hipness, it's disingenuous to say that affordability is the leading cause behind gentrification.

Middle-class white people are not suddenly moving into Harlem after its being overwhelmingly black for nigh-on a century because the concept of hipness was just invented.

Ditto Detroit proper, viewed as a completely undesirable place to live for over two decades. I feel like you don't have a visceral appreciation of the contempt for majority-POC areas as places to live that the residents of nearby white-majority areas have generally held since at least the 1960s.

Everyone wants to live in a neighborhood they perceive to be safe and which offers services they like or need to use, so the more of that a neighborhood can offer, the more people it will pull in, but that's not really hipness per se. Whole Foods is not hip, Starbucks is not hip, Trader Joe's is not hip, drugstores are not hip.
posted by praemunire at 9:41 AM on August 10 [5 favorites]


It's totally possible Chicago has more residential square footage than at its height (I have no idea), and a million fewer people nonetheless, due to these trends of smaller families and more space per person (both in the house and on the lot).

Likewise I do not know the numbers on this but from the street-level view, this seems EXTREMELY true. I've lived in a handful of neighborhoods across the north side for 10 years and have watched as every. single. block. I have lived on lost between 50 and 80% of its rental stock. Some of this has been lost to smaller condo developments, but much has been lost to enormous -- I'm talking 4000+ sq ft -- single family homes. And their garages. And their spare lots next door for their giant yards.

Like we talk about how gentrifying consumers are often making decisions in constrained circumstances, where all options are unjust. But a not-insignificant number of gentrifiers, at least here, are actually ultra wealthy people making revolting, irresponsible, unjust choices very much on purpose.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:25 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I mean you buy *an entire fucking lot* on either side of the 3 flat you take all for yourself, and raze the neighboring buildings and grass em over so you don't accidentally touch a person of color? Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck you, neighbor.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:27 AM on August 10 [2 favorites]


“Tackling the affordable-housing crisis in a gentrifying Southern city,” Victoria Livingstone, Facing South, 10 August 2017
posted by ob1quixote at 10:39 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


The gentrification debate feels frustrating and often pointless because IMHO people bring a lot of unspoken assumption to the it. EG
- white people are naturally mobile and ambitious, while POC naturally aren't;
- white suburban enclaves and minority urban enclaves are the norm;
- POC are never the young, middle class ambitious people who move into improving urban neighborhoods;
- apartment dwellers should never have to move; and
- long-time residents of improving neighborhoods never own property.

It seems to me that the current situation is a historical anomaly resulting from a number of government policy decisions, many of which were openly racist (redlining and exclusion of African Americans from FHA loans, unequal schools, white flight, urban renewal targeting minority areas), and some of which were anti-city/pro-car (freeway subsidies, defunding of mass transit).

If you define gentrification as rising property values in previously underinvested urban minority neighborhoods, I'm not sure what the alternative is. Taken to its logical extreme, the anti-gentrification argument would prefer continued segregation and low property values for urban minority residents, while property development and rising housing values stay in white only areas. Does anyone really think that's good?
posted by msalt at 11:34 AM on August 10 [5 favorites]


If you define gentrification as rising property values in previously underinvested urban minority neighborhoods, I'm not sure what the alternative is. Taken to its logical extreme, the anti-gentrification argument would prefer continued segregation and low property values for urban minority residents, while property development and rising housing values stay in white only areas. Does anyone really think that's good?

This is not a particularly useful definition of gentrification, nor it is an accurate representation of the anti-gentrification argument. So no, no one believes this perspective, because it is basically a strawman.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:47 AM on August 10 [6 favorites]


The hell? Nobody assumes apartment dwellers (I assume by this you mean renters, not condo owners) should never have to move. In fact, the expectation is that they WILL move, either to larger or smaller spaces depending on need, to other areas for jobs, or to a property they own.

The argument is that with the way gentrification plays out in many US cities right now, they have nowhere left to move to, and no shot in hell of ever buying property.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:16 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]


But - am I right to feel like I'm being told that my moving to a neighborhood where I could afford rent for a change was a gentrifying factor, and that this is therefore my fault? Or am I reading too much into this?

MeFi has had this discussion a dozen times and I've always been one of the people saying "we have to be able to look at this from the top down and as a systemic issue" and I'd say this article (and apparently the book reviewed) are pretty solidly on the side of doing exactly that.
posted by atoxyl at 1:27 PM on August 10 [4 favorites]


How is it possible for something to be a systemic issue but no single person responsible?

Be intellectually honest - if it's wrong in general, it's wrong for a single person.

If you aren't willing to say something's wrong for a single person... perhaps it's not wrong in general.
posted by saeculorum at 2:52 PM on August 10


How is it possible for something to be a systemic issue but no single person responsible?
Individual people's actions can add up into systemic issues, with some people contributing more than others, without having to say "Anybody who contributes is fully wrong, and if someone's contributions aren't fully wrong than the whole system is fine"

Think overfishing. It's a problem. It's a huge problem. If I go out with a kayak and fish a couple trout, I'm contributing to that, but not to a sufficient degree that I'd go "This action is sufficiently wrong, we shouldn't do any of this".

A commercial fisher who stays within limits? Also contributing, and to a greater degree, but they're also staying within social bounds that we figure would be sustainable if we got full buy-in.

A commercial fisher who's illegally drift-netting, bottom-trawling, ghost-fishing, etc? They're hugely contributing.

We can say "Overfishing as a systemic effect needs to be fixed" and say "This is contributing to a greater or lesser degree", without saying "Unless the guy on his kayak with a couple trout is wrong, everybody is in the clear"
posted by CrystalDave at 3:12 PM on August 10 [8 favorites]


This is not a particularly useful definition of gentrification, nor it is an accurate representation of the anti-gentrification argument.

Do you have a useful definition of your own? That would be a more helpful response. My point is that we need to have a common idea of what the precise problem is, before we can address solutions. Frankly, a lot of complaints about gentrification that I see are by early (and white) gentrifiers upset that the great bargains they found are no longer available.

The OP article agrees that a key part of the crisis is the "segregation that resulted from a combination of suburbanization and urban renewal programs around the midcentury" -- do you? That would make it a historical anomaly, something that the current market movements are at least partially correcting. cf markvalli's notes about how at least some of the original residednts of these neighborhoods are benefitting from the changes.

It's an important point, because if the pre-gentrification status quo is based on segregation, maintained until recently by problems like crime and bad schools, then proposals like rent control that preserve that status quo aren't really a good idea, are they?
posted by msalt at 5:15 PM on August 10


The argument is that with the way gentrification plays out in many US cities right now, they have nowhere left to move to, and no shot in hell of ever buying property.

I'm not sure what you mean when you say "there's nowhere left to move to," but I wholeheartedly agree that giving lower income residents the ability to buy property -- ideally before a neighborhood starts improving -- is a key to solving this problem.

For example, urban homesteading of abandoned, code-deficient properties -- reserved for longtime neighborhood residents, and coupled with aggressive enforcement of code violations and overdue taxses by absentee landlords, and programs to help (and fund) homesteaders rehabbing their units or houses. Likewise, helping business owners purchase buildings.

In the not-rare cases where banks and mortgage companies are caught discriminating or engaging in predatory practices, use the fines to fund these efforts. Support for community lenders and credit unions, and first-time homeowner programs like Seattle's (with guaranteed, low-cost loans.)
posted by msalt at 5:24 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised that "good schools" are the market-moving factor people say they are, if they don't currently matter to 2/3 of households.

But with the permanence of housing, they kind of have to be.

So I have one kid, who is in high school. Ideally, I'd like to have three kids, if the stars aligned and I could afford them, but I am getting older and it's less and less likely. Still, I'm trying to buy a house, and I look at the elementary schools every time: because I haven't yet given up hope, and because I also think about "what happens when I die and my existing kid who will hopefully be an adult with a family of her own by then moves into my house".

Which means I rule out areas with bad schools, just in case, even though I personally could live comfortably there.
posted by corb at 9:15 PM on August 10 [4 favorites]


Private school costs $10,000 to $20,000 per kid per year, and there's no guarantee you'll get into a good one. Solid public schools are worth a lot.

Besides, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy on getting a good price for your house when you sell.
posted by msalt at 11:10 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


How is it possible for something to be a systemic issue but no single person responsible?

Be intellectually honest - if it's wrong in general, it's wrong for a single person.

If you aren't willing to say something's wrong for a single person... perhaps it's not wrong in general.


Lots of people have identified a responsible party - real estate investors and lessors who do the gentrifying work. I think across the board people agree that forcing people out of their home so you can make a profit is a systemic issue and the people responsible for it are easy to identify.
posted by notorious medium at 5:54 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


For anyone interested, this New Yorker piece by Kelefa Sanneh contains counteragruements by PoC.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:04 AM on August 11 [4 favorites]


Forcing people out of their homes and predatory loans are clearly brute force, evil actions. As is the use of eminent domain and "urban renewal" (which Trump tried to use to clear a parking lot for limos. I wish I was exaggerating. These should all be illegal, and/or prosecuted.

Are they the bulk of what goes on though? I doubt people would be discussing individual Mefites responsibility if that were the case. Most gentrifiers seem to be following rational economic incentives, which implies that the solution would be fixing those incentives.

The other problem is the disconnect from absentee landlords vs. poorer renters, which needs a different set of solutions.
posted by msalt at 5:37 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]



3. Gentrifiers are primarily younger, educated, childless whites and middle class people of color (frequently living w/ children or elderly relatives) (McKinnish, Walsh & White, 2010)


? I Don t know what the word "gentrification" means anymore. Let s talk about race, class, housing, displacement, economic planning, neighborhood groups, and building beloved community, because I feel like this word is a brain worm that destroys conversation. It s a word that assumes that nothing can be done about the situation.

When we could be talking about the people that established the exploitation, the people who are displaced, the people who benefit from a system and go along, and the people who benefit from the system but fight it
posted by eustatic at 5:34 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Asking "am I a gentrifier" and "is gentrification ..good?" Is completely missing the point. Very few things any one individual does has any power over the system as a whole. Ask yourself

Why do developers onkybwant to build one kind of property?
Why were cities and later suburbs restricted around expensive to own and maintain automobiles.
Why was redlining allowed to go on and continue to go on?
Why is it allowed that a handful of companies control the bulk of rental real estate?
Why are tax breaks only given to "new" business or new types of business?
Why isn't there a robust public housing system to counter real estate speculation bubbles
Why is real estate, a thing people need to live, allowed to enter bubble economics anyway?
Why do "emgening" neighborhoods get tax breaks and funds but "declining" ones allowed to and even encouraged to get worse?
Why are quality of life laws and drug laws strictly enforced in one neighborhood but not another one?

Society isn't weather. It doesn't just happen and is inevitable. Things happen because people want them to happen or can't stop them from happening.
posted by The Whelk at 5:53 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


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