The Changing Face of the Inner City
August 2, 2008 8:43 PM   Subscribe

Are you a young middle-class creative type (probably white) who has chosen to live in an urban neighborhood that your parents would have shunned? Have the families that formerly lived in your neighborhood (probably not white) been pushed out by soaring rents and real-estate prices to the city fringes or suburbs? The New Republic on demographic inversion.
posted by digaman (64 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
The article namechecks Vancouver on the first page, but the phenomenon has also been prevalent enough in Toronto that I've read (somewhat alarmist, to be fair) articles about the possibility of downtown turning into a bedroom community for rich folks. Certainly the trend of immigrant communities now settling largely outside the city has been around for years, if not decades, though I guess that's not exactly demographic inversion—there are still plenty of low-income areas around that have not been claimed by young professional workers, and I think a substantial portion of people living in the suburbs are new transplants rather than people moving out of the city. But I do wonder if the author's assertion that demographic inversion is only an emerging phenomenon in the States also holds true for Canada, or if perhaps we're ahead of the curve for various reasons.
posted by chrominance at 8:55 PM on August 2, 2008


I was just in Toronto for my first visit, staying downtown. Two blocks away, an enormous Trump tower was taking shape, and the tony shops, trendy restaurants, and luxury condos around me clearly favored the new affluent inner-city dwellers that Ehrenhalt talks about. It wasn't until I ventured out to the edges of the city (in several directions) that I said to myself, "Oh, here's where the poor people live."
posted by digaman at 9:02 PM on August 2, 2008


How far out did you go, digaman?

The 'poor' neighborhoods you saw probably weren't, unless you rode right out to the end of the subways in all directions -- beyond the last stops. The shabby-looking brick Victorians which form most of the city are no more 'cheap' that Brooklyn brownstones.

It's just really easy to look at Queen Street West and think "shabby old funky shops; dirty sidewalks; trash" and assume that it's a poor neighborhood, but ironically it's much more expensive to buy a house in anywhere in Toronto than it is to buy a condo.
posted by jrochest at 9:10 PM on August 2, 2008


> It's just really easy to look at Queen Street West and think "shabby old funky shops; dirty sidewalks; trash" and assume that it's a poor neighborhood

No, I could see those were trend-zones. On Saturday night, those neighborhoods looked like Soho in New York. I'm talking about way out there, taking back roads to the airport.
posted by digaman at 9:13 PM on August 2, 2008


Gotcha, you're right then. The 'inner suburbs are the poorer neighborhoods.

Although the worst places are at the other end of the city, in the eastern suburb of Scarborough.
posted by jrochest at 9:15 PM on August 2, 2008


"Demographic inversion"? Is that what they're calling gentrification now?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:21 PM on August 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Eh, things are a little too mixed up in Philly to exactly follow this pattern he lays out but I definitely think he nails it for up and coming cities. There has been an influx of wealthy empty nesters and some young professionals are staying in Center City Philly rather than moving to Montgomery County but overall we're still extremely poor and losing population every year. It's not about people getting pushed out by soaring rents or real estate values, it's still about shitty schools and wage taxes and crime.

The character of a number of townships on the southwestern and western edge of the city have changed dramatically for the worse; Upper Darby, Darby, Yeadon, those towns have all seen an increase in violent crime as poor families have moved over the county line from Southwest and West Philly. But those aren't really towns you would consider suburban, if I drove you around there you probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference between Darby and Southwest Philly. I mean, these townships were pretty burly when they were all white and still thriving, so while the change is pronounced it's not super dramatic like OH NOES THERE GOES THE SUBURBS or anything.
posted by The Straightener at 9:22 PM on August 2, 2008


I don't think this is a particularly "new" phenomenon and anyhow, an economic downturn of any significance will likely send the kids raised on Seinfeld and Sex & the City, back to the gated communities of their suburban childhood, stat.
posted by shoepal at 9:25 PM on August 2, 2008


I live in Victoria, and work in Vancouver. We're a single income family, and we live in social housing.

That said, I think it's important to provide affordable, quality housing to people from lower income levels (who, once displaced) typically must commute in to clean the office towers and staff the restaurants etc., but there is another way to guarantee greater access to affordable housing: better jobs and higher wages. There doesn't have to be poverty. It doesn't always have to be part our society, and therefore, we don't always have to cater to an underclass. We have to focus on wealth creation, whether it be through increased access to education or cheaper education, as well as providing solutions for single parents to retrain and get off welfare.

But we need affluent folks living in a downtown core. This is a good thing, because it contributes to the vibrancy of a city, the city's own competitiveness and ability to create wealth. Although I wish I could live in Yaletown, I do not find anything romantic about the DTES.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:30 PM on August 2, 2008


Hell's Kitchen is now Hell's Kitchenette.

It was once mostly deep white, poor, dangerous and Cistin i Ifreann. Now it's partly नरक अन्दर नरक, a bit of الجحيم المطبخ, a soupçon of La Cuisine d'Enfer, a pinch of Кухня Ада, a sprinkle of Mutfak içeriye Aşırı, a spoon of La Cocina del Infierno and a slice of Cucina di Inferno.

Is that a re-inversion?
posted by nickyskye at 9:35 PM on August 2, 2008 [24 favorites]


Hi, nicky! Welcome back!
posted by jason's_planet at 9:38 PM on August 2, 2008


I don't think this is a particularly "new" phenomenon

Regardless of how "new" it is, it's most definitely a reversal from the general trend toward suburban flight. Not every major metropolitan area experienced suburban flight to the same degree, and neither will a new urban population affect every city in the same way -- lots of places just don't have the space available anymore -- but the move back to city centers is pretty pronounced in lots of places. In the city where I live, there have been tens of thousands of new residential units built downtown in the last few years.

The article's concentration on Chicago is particularly telling, I think -- the move to the suburbs in Chicago had a huge effect on racial tensions in the 1960s, so to see a change there is pretty significant.

and anyhow, an economic downturn of any significance will likely send the kids raised on Seinfeld and Sex & the City, back to the gated communities of their suburban childhood, stat.

On the contrary, the current economic downturn is one of the major drivers behind the move back to urban centers -- no one's going to want to move back to the suburbs if gas prices keep going up, and even if they do they probably won't be able to afford it.

It may be true, though, that in a few years, as more of the new urbanites start having kids, that this could turn into a big issue. It sure would be a cruel historical joke if the problems of the 1960s were revived by a bunch of young white professionals trying to push that scary "criminal element" out of the city centers rather than trying to keep them in.
posted by spiderwire at 9:39 PM on August 2, 2008


*waves at jason's_planet :)
posted by nickyskye at 9:40 PM on August 2, 2008


Well, it's not gentrification, as it isn't just that the inner-city neighborhoods are attracting more affluent populations. It's that the poorer people are being forced to the suburbs and outskirts of the city, the very places that once attracted the more affluent. That's where the inversion comes from, I think.
posted by Bahro at 9:41 PM on August 2, 2008


nickyskye!
posted by shoepal at 9:43 PM on August 2, 2008


Yes, yes I have.

Do I get a prize, or is this a shaming thing?
posted by Navelgazer at 9:46 PM on August 2, 2008


oh, excellent. welcome back, nickyskye. you make metafilter a better place.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:48 PM on August 2, 2008


On the contrary, the current economic downturn is one of the major drivers behind the move back to urban centers

spiderwire, the move downtown pre-dates the current economic situation and high dollar gas by at least a decade. Giant condo buildings and fancy pseudo re-hab lofts don't spring up over night and they are not going up faster because gas is expensive these days.

To be more direct, if the economy tanks, the hip and edgy part of town next to the dodgy part of town will likely be re-claimed by the dodgy, regardless of the price of gas.
posted by shoepal at 9:55 PM on August 2, 2008


I work in Vancouver and live in a suburb of Vancouver - and this suburb luckily has a great mix of cultures in it. I love it.

I really hope other cities don't go the way Vancouver did, at least not to the same extent. Kiss neighbourhood pubs goodbye, as the noise will be complained about. Forget about bars downtown! It seems that the "affluent" types that move downtown could just as likely be the ones driving their cars out to the business parks in the suburbs around the city or working from home. As a result, it seems like the downtown core of Vancouver has created urban suburbs, if you will. Areas with no nightlife, no character, but blocks of highrise condo towers served by trendy clothing stores as upper-end supermarkets.

Office towers are converting into condos and workplaces are spread all over, meaning that to get to work by transit actually gets tougher (try getting from one suburban area to another on transit, it takes forever). This is the bit that always gets missed when planners look at our city. I suppose that might actually make it easier for the poorer folks to work where there live, but it really limits their job options to where they are. For example there are job opportunities for me in Richmond, but there is no way I could get to them without having a car, as transit is still focusing on the downtown core that is growing less relevant as a place of employment. That seems to be what's really happening.

More and more very little of what I would consider "city" activities take place outside downtown. It'll be interesting to see if that continues. I suspect 90% of the people who bought condos here would like nothing more than a yard for their kids (or dogs they treat like kids) to play in. So we'll see how long this continues.
posted by Salmonberry at 9:57 PM on August 2, 2008


an economic downturn of any significance will likely send the kids raised on Seinfeld and Sex & the City, back to the gated communities of their suburban childhood, stat.

This strikes me as incorrect. Even just personally, no matter now broke I get, I will never move back to the white suburbs of my youth -- in part because they are now lower-middle-class Indian.
posted by digaman at 10:00 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


aww shucks shoepal and Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese *blushes and smiles in a mushy, warm, heartfelt kind of way.

But srsly, some years ago I was reading my aunt's sociology thesis she wrote at Vassar in 1940. In it she documented that it was an openly stated agenda of the Fifth Avenue Merchant's Association, formed by white WASPs out of fear of competition, "to keep the Jews south of 30th Street". It shocked me to see real estate and business developers so baldly state their bigoted conspiracy.

The rents in Hell's Kitchen these days are mind-boggling, even 6 thou a month for a 2 bedroom on formerly funky Tenth Avenue. Only the Indian IT professionals can afford that. ;-)
posted by nickyskye at 10:01 PM on August 2, 2008


Fair enough, digamon. It's all very cyclic and generational, anyhow. You may doggedly stay in the inner city, but others will likely forge a new ring or edge city. We shall see.
posted by shoepal at 10:12 PM on August 2, 2008


I am the subject of this article, and it's eerie to see myself so accurately described. I currently live in Atlanta, and am preparing to move from my inside-the-perimeter apartment to a small house even closer to the city core (and within the city limits). When I was searching for my next abode, everyone told me that the neighborhoods I was investigating were "transitional". That's the new local euphamism for "white people moving in, but there are still black people around", and it's an interesting one.

No one here much likes to talk about the white flight in the 70s (I'm from out-of-town, so I bring it up without remorse), and the idea that young, affluent professionals like me are actively choosing to live in areas which are predominately-black, near mass transit rail lines, and next door to gay enclaves makes the natives horribly uncomfortable. Everyone wants to have the loft and the urban experience, just like the article describes, but no one wants to live in the "undesirable" parts of town. It's bizarre, and hard for me to convey just how the conversation shuts down when I bring up how unique the experience is of living halfway between $600k homes and boarded-up project quadroplexes.

Even more interesting to me (as an outsider to this particular experience), are the weird apoplexies that affluent suburbanites undergo when they realize that latinos are moving into their neighborhoods. Lower real estate costs attract hard-working, blue-collar immigrants and this absolutely shatters their perception of what it means to live in the 'burbs. It's been the subject of a few article in the local paper, and I watch it unfold with a morbid curiosity. Variety is the spice of life, and brown people bring spices from far and wide...

...and I like it!
posted by TheNewWazoo at 10:15 PM on August 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think my Toronto street might be classified as one of those slightly crummy back roads towards the airport. There's a broad income mix in our immediate neighbourhood but younger, more affluent families have been moving in over the last 10 years and are slowly changing the character of it by converting old rental properties to single family homes. Also, I've seen a few examples of the kids of immigrants migrating back into the downtown(ish) homes of their retired parents.

I don't have hard figures to go on but seems like buying any crappy little shack in Toronto costs at least $400k and when I see American movies set in gritty, rundown rust belt neighbourhoods, I think "these people live in nice homes, what's their freaking problem?"
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:27 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Iain Sinclair's London Orbital explores the neighborhoods outside of the city (and M25) and the fact that a lot of them are a sort of a suburban version of the inner city neighborhoods of the '70s and '80s. I can't find the direct quote but I remember him saying something to the effect that X suburb smelled like Notting Hill in the '70s. Pushed out of "their part of town" the denizens simply recreated Notting Hill in a suburban village outside the city.

Despite what I've written above, I'm not opposed to more folks moving into the city. Though, as has been mentioned the gentrification is often a suburbification of the city which removes a lot of the charm of city life.

Also, as has been mentioned, a lot of the inner city dwelling hipsters have to commute to work outside of the city (San Francisco - Silicon Valley is a good example of this sort of reverse commute and the sort of "bedroom city" it creates, which is still very much oil dependent).

TheNewWazoo, are you in east hotlanta or are we talking inman?
posted by shoepal at 10:32 PM on August 2, 2008


Reynoldstown, baby! East Atlanta doesn't have a MARTA station, and I demand access to public transit (makes my decision to buy a car kinda weird, but whatever).
posted by TheNewWazoo at 10:37 PM on August 2, 2008


nickyskye! Nice to see you here again!
posted by homunculus at 10:49 PM on August 2, 2008


Yeah, gentrification is certainly nothing new. The best example of "inversion" around Toronto is probably Scarborough which is rapidly becoming a pretty poor suburb like something you might have seen around Cabbagetown a few decades ago. The article seem pretty accurate but I have to concur that even if "inversion" is something different than gentrification, it's still been going on for at least a decade.
posted by GuyZero at 10:50 PM on August 2, 2008


It is funny when the substitution is so direct - my brother and sister, as they respectively reached adulthood, moved to precisely the same Boston neighborhood that my parents grew up in and were proud to have gotten out of.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:54 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I realize now how snarky my earlier comment was, and that's just not right for nickyskye's homecoming (YAY!)

For the last five or six years, I've been on the front waves of gentrification in New York, and now in D.C. I'm just now moving out of it, but I'll say in my defense that (1) I didn't/don't have much money to spend on rent, and that I didn't mean any harm by bringing my white ass into an otherwise blac/latino neighborhood; (2) that generally the apartments I got were from landlords desperately renovating to try to bring in enough people with more money to make their investments stop losing money for their families; and (3) that I just liked those neighborhoods more.

I know, in a sense, that I might have been parasitic in these communities, but I don't have any family where I live, and these neighborhoods are actually, you know... communities. Everybody knows everyone and hangs out outside with their neighbors, something you don't see in transient white neighborhoods very much anymore.

In one Latino neighborhood I moved into a few years back, two 11-year-old kids immediately helped me move all of my things in. They didn't want money or anything like that. This was on September 1st, and the kid who was clearly the leader said that he was skipping the first day of school because nothing important ever comes up on the first day anyway. This shocked me. I assumed this was a kid who was cool with throwing away his future. A few months later, my laptop finally died, and the kid asked if he could have it. I gave it to him, and a couple weeks later he showed me how he had gotten it up and running again. Now he was the kid on the block with a computer, because he'd taught himself how to make them work.

He also told me never to worry about getting robbed, because on this block, everyone would know who did it, and they wouldn't get away with it. The block just didn't stand for that kind of shit.

I'm moving to Alexandria, VA at the end of the month, and while it's a vibrant neighborhood, I have my worries about moving to someplace so white and temporary. It'll be an adjustment. I guess I'll just have to see how well I can live with people who don't get to know their neighbors because they can never know if they'll see them again.

nickyskye, it's fantastic to have you back.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:03 PM on August 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


This is interesting, because large swathes of downtown Toronto were built on the back of poor immigrant communities. Jews and Chinese, mostly, both of whom made a series of movements to the burbs. Chinese went from Spadina to (with few stops) Markham and Richmond Hill as they began to make more money, while the Jewish exodus (sorry) went from downtown through Forest Hill, up Bathurst, and into Thornhill mostly.

It seems that cities are an interesting cycle of: poor so move downtown to the poor areas, make money, next gen moves somewhere more affluent, move out out out.. then lose money and move back downtown to the still historically poor areas.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:04 PM on August 2, 2008


Oh, Italians too made a large movement into Toronto. The first big wave of settlement was College Street (mostly west of Bathurst). Then when the kids grew up and had made some money owning small businesses, it was St Clair West. Their kids had a lot more money and moved out into the burbs of Woodbridge and Thornhill.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:16 PM on August 2, 2008


it seems like the downtown core of Vancouver has created urban suburbs, if you will. Areas with no nightlife, no character, but blocks of highrise condo towers served by trendy clothing stores as upper-end supermarkets.

Absolutely. Some towns kill their core. Others infuse it with life. I tend to think that Toronto and Montreal have done a decent job of it, while Winnipeg and Vancouver not so much.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:15 AM on August 3, 2008



Good article.

It's not just television sitcoms. The city has a cultural allure that for centuries has been coupled with a fearsome and exciting licentiousness. Families fled to the surburbs as much to escape environmental hazards as moral ones. Now that both hazards are for the most part obsolete, the cultural allure remains. There is a long tradition of the romanticization of city life which even as a child in Texas I grew up on, unconsciously absorbed in everything from Sesame Street to Batman. And people still have not let go of the idealized notion of a small town with shops and walkable streets, the America of their fathers and grandfathers. Even the Springfield, USA of The Simpsons inexplicably retains this walkable town quality despite being a suburb where one drives a car. I think many people, perhaps unconsciously, retain a nostalgia for this way of life - not necessarily for the social constriction of a small town, but for the sensual splendor of the urban environment, the feeling that there are people around you, that something is happening. The desirability of such environments, and the shortage of them, is why they are priced at such a premium- supply and demand.

So - imagine, as is likely, that high energy prices don't go away. $5 a gallon gas makes long commutes unaffordable. The suburbs, like the inner cities of yore, become places of crime and social decay. There is going to be real market pressure, and then real political pressure, to encourage the re-urbanization of America in the same way that government policies in the 40s and 50s initiated and encouraged the development of the suburbs. It would be a massive undertaking, but any undertaking that can turn a profit proves to be never too hard. You set about creating a national network of high-speed passenger rail, connected to regional networks of trains - DFW to Austin, Austin to Houston, Houston to Shreveport, Shreveport to New Orleans. Or SF to LA. You "fill-in" suburban strips with apartment buildings and shops near new transit hubs. A lot of the infrastructure still exists of old, and much of the new stuff could be converted. Dying towns would be revitalized, jobs would be created, speculators would reap windfall profits, we'd have another boom and bust, but what the hell - we might pull ourselves out of the impending depression, and save the environment to boot. It would revitalize civic life, bringing people closer together. It could also be the kind of nationwide project of epic scope that might unify us in the same way landing on the moon did; a project for the Obama era, a project of last-chance why-not Hope.

It's an idealistic vision, but certainly not impossible. After all, we created millions upon millions of square miles of wasteful sprawl in 50 years - this is more modest by comparison. It may never happen, but it's nice to imagine.
posted by bukharin at 12:20 AM on August 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


I can answer all the questions in this FPP with "yes" and I have actually lived in chicago as well as in new york city in such inner-city 'gentrified' areas.

I do not think the author is correct though. take the El out to Kedzie or those other far-away suburbs and you'll find out that they're actually quite expensive. middle-class families live there, not working-class minorities. those live in south chicago and fairly close to united center (what's the area called between united center and north ave? my google maps page suddenly refuses to scroll).

it seems to me that the rings around city centers nowadays seem to be more like this:

zone 1. center - very affluent, very expensive, very young. penthouse stockbroker crowd.
zone 2. immediately around that - low-rent latino businesses, run-down laundromats and dive bars. the just-off-the-boat immigrant families live here.
zone 3. still close to downtown but not exactly there - hipster crowds. bars, urban outfitters, that kind of 'getting expensive' vibe. lincoln park is a good example. they're almost like zone 2 but with starbucks and hairdressers on the block.
zone 4. suburbia - longish commutes but still with direct mass transit lines connecting to downtown - middle-class families, parents at least 35 years old. two cars, young kid(s). large supermarkets are plentiful in this area.
zone 5. the rest - people who live between the increasingly further apart situated mass transit stations - working class, "legacy minorities" (aka. third, fifth generation... not recent immigrants), poor people. the ones who aren't homeless and crashing on the streets downtown but who aren't making enough either to afford suburban rents - think night-shift security guards and cleaning crews. they used to live in zone 3 but got displaced by the college kids.
posted by krautland at 1:45 AM on August 3, 2008


salmonBerry:

I don't think you can comment on life downtown Vancouver when you live in the suburbs.
I have a local pub across the street, 2 grocery stores within a block or 2, and parks, shopping, beaches, an indoor and a beachfromt pool, the symphony, 4 live theatres, 2 sports/concert stadiums, 30 movie screens and some of the best restaurants on the continent within a 15 minute WALK of my home.

You have a 7-eleven a 10 minute drive away.
posted by SSinVan at 1:55 AM on August 3, 2008


Great thread!
Welcome back, Nicky!

Nation's Gentrified Neighborhoods Threatened By Aristocratization
posted by lukemeister at 3:00 AM on August 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I have a friend heavily involved with the Tibetean community in Toronto. He told me that when they were in the planning stages of building a community centre it caused a lengthy delay as they debated whether to locate it in the (previously lower-class/highly immigrant, now hipster) neighbourhood of Parkdale where most Tibeteans seem to live in Toronto, or build it out in one of the suburbs that was starting to see Tibetans moving out to as they started to feel more stability in their careers. When I lived in downtown Toronto (Parkdale and Annex) a decade ago I was always conscious that it was a lot more white than a lot of the suburbs (Brampton/Markham) surrounding it, despite the media representation of "multi-cultural Toronto".
posted by saucysault at 3:36 AM on August 3, 2008


Are you a young middle-class creative type (probably white) who has chosen to live in an urban neighborhood that your parents would have shunned? Have the families that formerly lived in your neighborhood (probably not white) been pushed out by soaring rents and real-estate prices to the city fringes or suburbs?
Well, keep in mind that the grandparents of those young middle-class types may well have lived in those same neighborhoods that they're now moving back to, pushed out by rising crime.
posted by deanc at 7:27 AM on August 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


As a result, it seems like the downtown core of Vancouver has created urban suburbs, if you will. Areas with no nightlife, no character, but blocks of highrise condo towers served by trendy clothing stores as upper-end supermarkets.

From the article:

Before September 11, 2001, the number of people living in Manhattan south of the World Trade Center was estimated at about 25,000. Today, it is approaching 50,000. Close to one-quarter of these people are couples (nearly always wealthy couples) with children. The average household size is actually larger in lower Manhattan than in the city as a whole.

The article neglects to mention that a lot of the residential stuff on the southern tip of Manhattan is basically, yeah, weird high-rise versions of "Copper Creek Crossings" soulless cul-de-sac McMansion land. For example, Battery Park City.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:29 AM on August 3, 2008


TheOnlyCoolTim writes "For example, Battery Park City."

WTF! Slow loading, flash based web site that auto plays audio and generates pop ups. Did they try to fail at the web.
posted by Mitheral at 7:50 AM on August 3, 2008


I live in Vancouver; not downtown, but in another walkable neighborhood, just off Main. (Commercial and Kitsilano also have the same kind of dense-neighborhood feel, which city planners have actively encouraged.)

KokoRyu: ... I think it's important to provide affordable, quality housing to people from lower income levels (who, once displaced) typically must commute in to clean the office towers and staff the restaurants etc....

To me, this is a huge concern. Jane Jacobs emphasizes the value of neighborhoods which have a mix of housing at different levels of affordability; it lets people stay close to where they work, and it also means that people don't have to move too far as they get married, have children, get older and retire, etc.

Real estate prices in Greater Vancouver have gone up a lot in just the last three years (although they're levelling off now), which I think is dangerous for the long-term health of the neighborhoods. That said, in the older neighborhoods, there's still affordable housing available in the form of rentals, basement suites in houses, etc. That's not going to be the case in the new developments going up downtown, unless the planners mandate some amount of non-market housing or very small/dense units.
posted by russilwvong at 7:59 AM on August 3, 2008


Here's a recent article about the coming "gentrification" of my neighbourhood in Toronto: the Hipsters are Coming. Actually I'm at the far west end of the area they're describing - Bloordale, rather than Bloorcourt.

I must say I tend to find discussions of "gentrification" pretty heavy on the liberal guilt and pretty low on substance. I think that using terms like "forced out" to describe demographic changes is overly dramatic and not a very accurate depiction of the way these changes happen. I also think that the mostly undiscussed flip side of "gentrification" seems to be preventing 'poor' neighbourhoods from having nice things, as if the people in these neighbourhoods enjoy being surrounded by urban decay and street crime.

My neighbourhood is full of empty storefronts, crack dealers and prostitution. Why are the storefronts empty? Many of the owners charge too much for rent, and for some reason the city cuts landlords a deal on property tax if their property isn't rented. There are few decent bars, restaurants and retail businesses here, so money flows out of the neighbourhood. This overall shabby and vaguely threatening environment doesn't serve 'poor' people any better than it does the rest of us who live here.

"Gentrification" here could mean new job opportunities, and places for locals to meet and build community together. A more active street life in the evenings might push away the drug dealers and the street prostitution.

Will this push out "poor" people? Perhaps eventually, but frankly rents around here aren't that cheap to begin with, and the landlord-tenant act restricts how quickly rents can rise. And realistically speaking, it's not as if every neighbourhood in Toronto is going to end up like Queen St. West or Yorkville. I would point to the Annex as a thriving, stable neighbourhood with a vibrant and diverse community as a desirable, and (I would argue) likely end point to most of the 'gentrification' we're seeing in my area - but I bet it will take 20+ years to get there.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 9:04 AM on August 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I live in Leslieville, an area of Toronto that pretty much defines gentrification, although there's a lot of subsidized housing in the area, so I don't think it'll ever be completely gentrified. We moved out here seven years ago, just before the process really sped up (and would be in great shape if we'd been able to afford a house when we moved, but alas we're still renting and now we're probably priced out of the area if and when we decide to buy a house), and we've seen a lot of changes over that time. But it's still a pretty schizophrenic part of town; lots of tony restaurants, antique stores and wine bars right next to dodgy pawn shops, dive bars and greasy spoons. Ethnically, it's a mix, too...it's not far from "Little Chinatown," and our street is about one-third Asian, one-third white and one-third everybody else (mainly people of Caribbean descent).

There are a lot of drugs - and sketchy characters - in the area, but not much violent crime, and my wife says she never feels unsafe coming home alone at night. All in all, we really like living here; the neighbourhood's still got a bit of a small-town feel to it, and it's very walkable...we've got grocery, beer/liquor, video, hardware and department stores, parks, movie theatres, lots of good places to eat and The Beaches all within walking (or a short bike ride) distance.

We're just hoping the Wal-Mart that they're probably going to put in at the south end of our street doesn't fuck it all up.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:11 AM on August 3, 2008


sevenyearlurk -- the problem with the Eye magazine article is that it traces "Step One: Skid Row Neighbourhood is Bad Yet Cheap and Appealing and Step Three: Young, Cool Careerists Buy Homes, Demand Bespoke Coffee Grinds and Baby Toys" without getting to "Step four: bespoke Coffee grinds and Baby toys displaced by Gap, Club Monaco and Seven-11"

I agree with you about the money, and the better services, and the fact that the rents don't skyrocket, really. This is good.

But the inevitable transformation of everyplace into a mall -- aka Queen West -- is really sad. Businesses get pushed out even if residential tenants don't, and this really changes things. Eventually the chain store and restaurants are the only ones who can afford the rents.
posted by jrochest at 10:28 AM on August 3, 2008


Toronto has always had a series of circles - you have rich downtown, with a few patches of poverty (eg Rosedale, next to St Jamestown), then the old nineteenth/early twentieth century industrial zone (like Keele and St Clair - pretty dire), some of which is still industrial but the rest working class, then the posh inner suburbs (think Bloor West village, the Kingsway or up near Glencairn station), then swathes of poor but still within reach of the TTC (public transit) suburbs (like most of Scarborough, North York, northern Etobicoke like Rexdale), then the middle-class and working class suburbs of the 905.

We're not ahead of the American trend, we have our own trend. We've always had rich people downtown, and poor people in the suburbs, but it's a bit more like a patchy set of circles, affected by where the nice transit is and green areas are (posh inner-suburbs follow the subways and/or ravines and golf-courses), and the historic settlement patterns of the city. Some areas do shift (Cabbagetown from historic working class, though not slum, into very posh, Mimico from posh into working-class, and now working its way back again), but we never had our centre gutted of rich & middle class, and still our cheapest housing (including our biggest subsidized housing projects) are in the suburbs.
posted by jb at 10:41 AM on August 3, 2008


When did the "yuppies" become the "hipsters"?

Is a M&A lawyer for a financial firm a "creative type"?

When did "creative type" become a perjorative?

kids raised on Seinfeld and Sex & the City

Feeling old now... I think SATC debuted around 1999? These 22-year-olds must have some serious purchasing power.

(1) I didn't/don't have much money to spend on rent, and that I didn't mean any harm by bringing my white ass into an otherwise blac/latino neighborhood;

That's one of the conundrums of "gentrification." Those doing the gentrifying are the sorts of people who are worried about the effects of gentrification ...

I don't have a good answer for the "problem," however. I don't think anyone does. (Aside from, of course, the inevitable fall of capitalism and rise of communism.)
posted by mrgrimm at 12:58 PM on August 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Aside from, of course, the inevitable fall of capitalism and rise of communism.)

...and you lost me.
posted by jonmc at 1:34 PM on August 3, 2008


When did "creative type" become a perjorative?

I dunno -- when you turned your mental projector on the wording of my post?
I was describing most of my friends.
posted by digaman at 2:49 PM on August 3, 2008


*not that there is a phrase for Hell's Kitchen in Hindi but I accidentally wrote kitchen in kitchen, नरक अन्दर नरक, when I mean to write "kitchen in hell", नरक अन्दर पाताल. I can only imagine languagehat will scold me for my mistranslation of the Russian version, lol

digaman, been mulling over this article you linked since I read it last night. Was thinking it would be a cool project along the lines of information aesthetics, to do animations of urban development and social changes in a number of cities around the planet. Maybe using software like SoNIA? I like the Manhattan Timeformations visual and wish there were ethnographic/social timeline visuals like that. I was wondering if there are common online or offline patterns to human social group formations?
posted by nickyskye at 3:21 PM on August 3, 2008


spiderwire, the move downtown pre-dates the current economic situation and high dollar gas by at least a decade. Giant condo buildings and fancy pseudo re-hab lofts don't spring up over night and they are not going up faster because gas is expensive these days.

That's what happened in Austin, too. But what I said was that the economic situation was one of the current drivers of the move to urban centers, not the cause, which I think is pretty self-evidently true.

That said, I think it's perfectly arguable that many of the new downtown residential developments incuded transportation as part of their rationale -- they were just being forward-looking. It's been pretty obvious where things were going for a long time now.
posted by spiderwire at 3:40 PM on August 3, 2008


What's also interesting about this phenomenon is the "reverse commute" that happens in Seattle every day. Young, hip folks drive to the Eastside for software jobs at Microsoft and such in Redmond and Bellevue, and return to the city in the evening. So, from the Eastside, it's easier to get into the city in the morning than in the evening.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:15 PM on August 3, 2008


Interesting that the author concedes but doesn't actually refute the point that the inversion might be a blip. Consider that the youthful repopulation of the inner-cities has only been occurring for about the past 10 years, while the migration of affluence to the suburbs is a far older, far more prevalent trend. Until we start seeing young people laying down roots in the cities by starting families there (really the only thing that seems to anchor anyone in place, both physically and psychically), rather than just patronizing the farmer's markets and jazz bars for a few years in their 20's and 30's before decamping for the suburbs, I'll be skeptical that the trend has really reversed.

The fact remains that if you aren't incredibly rich, the suburbs are just an easier, calmer place to raise kids. The small pleasures of being able to swing by the corner bodega or grab a latenight Thai meal a block away don't compare well with the massive, routine headaches that attend simple things like finding parking for your kid's soccer game on a Saturday afternoon at a smallish, overcrowded, semi-seedy urban park.
posted by decoherence at 5:50 PM on August 3, 2008


finding parking for your kid's soccer game on a Saturday afternoon at a smallish, overcrowded, semi-seedy urban park

You're making the assumption that people will still drive as much in the future.
posted by oaf at 6:45 PM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I live in Vancouver; not downtown, but in another walkable neighborhood, just off Main. (Commercial and Kitsilano also have the same kind of dense-neighborhood feel, which city planners have actively encouraged.)

Vancouver is a city that grew through streetcar neighbourhoods like the ones you have described. In the old days, developers used to pay to have the streetcar extended to their new developments.

Somehow, taxpayers have been sattled with paying for almost all transportation now.
posted by SSinVan at 7:32 PM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


...and you lost me.

bit of a joke. .. but just a *bit*!
posted by mrgrimm at 7:32 PM on August 3, 2008


You're making the assumption that people will still drive as much in the future.

That's the way things are now, though, and I don't see a major change coming within the next 10 years, which is when the young people currently moving into the cities will be establishing families and deciding whether to stick around. Most cities would have to be completely redesigned to make them as liveable a place for families as suburbs are today. New York City might be there already, but you also have to be very well off to attempt to raise a family there.

I live close to 14th and U in DC, and while it's become a great place for young, unattached people with lots of spending money and no need for public services, I don't think it'd be high on anyone's list for a place to raise a family. When you've got kids and suddenly realize they'll be playing out in front of the homeless shelter that you've been happy ignoring up till now, and the public school you've never bothered to look into turns out to have test scores in the bottom decile, the "vibrancy" of your neighborhood stops mattering so much.
posted by decoherence at 7:47 PM on August 3, 2008


decoherence: I grew up in that neighborhood. My parents bought their apartment at 1725 17th Street in 1984, and sold it in 2007. They raised three kids! Don't tell me you can't raise a family there.

14th Street still isn't as nice of a community as it was in 1968, before it was all burning, and I don't think it will ever be as nice as it was. All of the massive fake-loft condo buildings, chain stores, and boutiques pretty much ensure that it'll just be yuppies. The elementary school I went to (Ross, at 17th & R) now has dozens of uppity white women meddling in the PTA, where at one point there was just my mother.

A couple years ago I saw two white-bread dorks on segways a few blocks apart from each other on 14th, at dusk! 15 years ago there would have only been a few corner boys, and at least a dozen prostitutes soliciting guys in the back of Lincoln Towncars. Now it's all strollers.
posted by blasdelf at 2:49 AM on August 4, 2008


Most cities would have to be completely redesigned to make them as liveable a place for families as suburbs are today.

Again, you're assuming that the price of gas in real dollars drops off and stays there. Which, in all likelihood, it won't. Most suburbs will need to be redesigned to make them as livable as they are today. The urban centers will need relatively little change.
posted by oaf at 4:43 AM on August 4, 2008


Although the worst places are at the other end of the city, in the eastern suburb of Scarborough.

Have you actually been to Scarborough? Or you getting this all from City TV?
posted by chunking express at 7:26 AM on August 4, 2008


I think the picture in Chicago is more complex than either this article or krautland, above, makes it out to be. Here is a very interesting animated gif showing the breakdown by race in different neighborhoods over time, from 1900 to 2000.

The main trends in my view are:

1. Many African-Americans are moving farther out to the suburbs, either to the south or west of the city, but there are still many predominantly black neighborhoods within the city.

2. Latino population continues to grow in many areas, but especially on the southwest side.

3. In the areas near downtown and on the northeast side of the city (altough extending farther west all the time), there is a lot of condo development that is attracting white people to move in. Many (most?) of these neighborhoods were already white, some of them were already expensive. Some of them (south loop) were pretty run down postindustrial stuff.

4. The city is still on the whole very segregated by neighborhood. There are sharp dividing lines between black and latino areas in many places, for example.

5. Everyone loves Barack Obama.
posted by mai at 9:52 AM on August 4, 2008


I live in a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood in Baltimore, where the (upper middle class, mostly white and young) people of the neighbourhood association are actively trying to drive out the poor people. Except they don't call it that. They say they are improving life for everyone. What they mean is for everyone who shares their values, beliefs, shopping habits and etiquette.

This means that littering in the park is a huge deal, worthy of comparisons to My Lai and meetings with the police, yet yuppies drinking wine in the park or refusing to leash their dogs (thus terrifying many of the poor kids, some of which I've seen get bit) is genteel urban living at its best. The drunken upper middle class guy who tried to stumble home from the bar alone one night and got beaten to death is a huge deal, with fundraisers for his widow, calls for the city State's Attorney to be recalled and much other drama, yet the Latino homeless guy who got beat to death in the park...eh, who cares? He was probably illegal.

I'm really starting to hate the class of my birth. These people are going to turn me into a leftist.
posted by QIbHom at 9:27 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, QlbHom . . . Is it Canton or Federal Hill? ;-)
posted by CommonSense at 6:50 PM on August 5, 2008


Nope, CommonSense. Those are already gentrified. That's what they are aiming for, though.
posted by QIbHom at 7:58 AM on August 6, 2008


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