Gentrification, Inc.
September 24, 2014 12:13 PM   Subscribe

 
In New York City, parties like Mister Sunday, along with upscale flea markets, artisanal food events like Smorgasburg, and art events have long signaled the coming wave of gentrification to once-crumbling industrial backwaters like Williamsburg, Bushwick, Long Island City, Gowanus, and now, Sunset Park.
"Once-crumbling industrial backwaters"? The fuck? I mean parts of LIC and I guess Gowanus, sure, but W'burg, Bushwick and Sunset Park have been regular ole' communities full of regular ole' people and their families since long before North Brooklyn was a thing.

That being said, I visited a friend of mine in Crown Heights a few weeks ago and holy shit does it look exactly like the south side of Williamsburg when I lived there around 2004. I kept expecting to stumble onto Kellogg's Diner.
posted by griphus at 12:18 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


To attract white people, host a launch party!
posted by Drexen at 12:20 PM on September 24, 2014


Interesting. I've been watching the same thing happen outside of Boston, as East Somerville transitions from run-down and slummy to sky-high rents, with the help of the new development in Assembly Sq. and their Etsy-sponsored craft market hipster draws.
posted by fermezporte at 12:23 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


And, like the "industrial backwater" language is absolutely the party line of developers who are "revitalizing" areas which are poor but not, like, abandoned. Growing up, my mom's boyfriend was a Puerto Rican dude from Sunset Park and I spent plenty of time in that neighborhood and it looked more or less like the non-"industrial backwater" neighborhood I was from, but everyone was Hispanic instead of Italian.

"We rehabilitated this warehouse district to make it safe and fun!" sounds a whole lot better than "we started buying up land and plunking down expensive apartments and then slowly pushed out all the brown people who have had existing communities."
posted by griphus at 12:28 PM on September 24, 2014 [46 favorites]


"Once-crumbling industrial backwaters"? The fuck?

It's coded speech, and I've seen a lot of it lately used in talking about gentrifying parts of DC (here's a recent example and an intelligent rebuttal). It reflects a classist, anti-historical mentality that essentially says: "anything that happened here before I arrived was either filthy, poor, and unfashionable, or there was nothing happening here at all."

It's specifically a rhetorical strategy that helps developers transform urban neighborhoods into blank slates that wealthy white newcomers can project their fantasies onto without contradiction or discomfort.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:30 PM on September 24, 2014 [44 favorites]


"Once-crumbling industrial backwaters"?

Yes, as per season 2 of The Wire.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:35 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


That being said, I visited a friend of mine in Crown Heights a few weeks ago and holy shit does it look exactly like the south side of Williamsburg when I lived there around 2004. I kept expecting to stumble onto Kellogg's Diner.

Enjoy it while it lasts, cause guess where all the hipsters who are getting priced out of Bushwick (or who are just sick of the G) are moving?
posted by Itaxpica at 12:36 PM on September 24, 2014


It reflects a classist, anti-historical mentality that essentially says: "anything that happened here before I arrived was either filthy, poor, and unfashionable, or there was nothing happening here at all."

So colonialism is still going strong in the US, but it's internal, and called development.
posted by fleacircus at 12:43 PM on September 24, 2014 [18 favorites]


Everything about living here just seems ugly and horrible these days. I work at a nonprofit, so I found an apartment I could afford as close to the city as I could manage (still 30-40 minutes away), and it's in a gentrifying neighborhood and I feel like shit about it, and now I'm just like... maybe I should just go home to the South and get away from this place before it gets even worse. Soon the entire godforsaken city will be 100% highrise condos staffed by maids who commute three hours from deepest NJ every day.

Wasn't DiBlaz supposed to magically fix this?
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:44 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


"anything that happened here before I arrived was either filthy, poor, and unfashionable, or there was nothing happening here at all"

Also a common opinion during the westward expansion of the United States. I guess this time it's just playing out in miniature, block by block.
posted by gimonca at 12:46 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wasn't DiBlaz supposed to magically fix this?

How? Genuine question. I don't see how it could be done.
posted by aramaic at 12:53 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Everything about living here just seems ugly and horrible these days.... Soon the entire godforsaken city will be 100% highrise condos staffed by maids who commute three hours from deepest NJ every day.

I've been sort of feeling the same way for the last few years. I've been in Crown Heights/Prospect Heights for the past 5 years, and now am right on the border between the two neighborhoods, in an apartment I could NOT afford if my landlord ever raised the rent. There are seven active condo construction sites on my block alone. I've thought a lot about leaving, only to realize that this is happening in every city - developers everywhere saw Williamsburg happen and now they're recreating it in Boston, Philly, Seattle, etc.
Capital has worked over EVERY city.
posted by 235w103 at 12:54 PM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


How? Genuine question. I don't see how it could be done.

Some form of rent control, maybe. I think actual rent controlled apartments now number in the couple thousands, if that.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:54 PM on September 24, 2014


You know, when brownstones in Bed-Stuy are getting flipped for millions, I think you're a little past the point of no return.
posted by phaedon at 12:58 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Rent controlled apartments in NYC: Over a million (if that).
posted by el io at 1:00 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Note: the place where you now live was once forest. Or inhabited by poor people. Or a forest inhabited by poor people.

I'm a planner and so exposed to various iterations of this 'gentrification' or 'environmentalist' complaint constantly. Some of it is justified, some not.

Most recently, I was sitting in on a public hearing in our municipality for the rezoning of Phase 7 of a 7-phase project, which basically carved a section of hillside for single family development. The Phase 5 people were up in arms at the environmental destruction happening right at their doorsteps. We didn't have any Phase 6 people out because that is yet to be built.

Everyone's a champion of sustainability once they have their corner of the world marked out. While I get squicked by developer-driven hipster dance parties, it's not the worst way of marketing and establishing a neighbourhood. Everything seems corporate at first and then, well, life fills in the cracks. Some of the most celebrated public spaces on earth were made by razing poor neighbourhoods and starting again - Paris, Barcelona etc.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:00 PM on September 24, 2014 [14 favorites]


Rent controlled apartments in NYC: Over a million (if that).

That page suggests it's 38,400, or 1.8% of units (down from 2.8% ten years before). Rent STABILIZATION exists in much greater proportion, but it's also much less helpful in the long term.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:05 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Everything seems corporate at first and then, well, life fills in the cracks. Some of the most celebrated public spaces on earth were made by razing poor neighbourhoods and starting again - Paris, Barcelona etc.

The point is that life was already in those "cracks", just not the kind of life that global capital finds profitable. And you can be damned sure that it won't let any poor or working people find their way back in in any other capacity besides servants, because they'll have paid local governments and private security to insure that their investments are protected.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:06 PM on September 24, 2014 [9 favorites]


The New York Times article, at least, seems to be about one round of gentrifiers (artists taking over a crumbling light-industrial building) being kicked out in place of a new round (internet startups, the "maker community"). Reading that article you'd think the entire issue is basically about if artists can afford to live in areas they originally go to. The Fast Company article offers a lot more context on how those at the top of the gentrification pyramid operate.
posted by cell divide at 1:08 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Legit question, where are all these people coming from? Its bot like Chicago whuch still has empty condo towers for young professionals that never showed up - are all the mid-sized cities just empty now?
posted by The Whelk at 1:08 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


(Back in like 2002 my friends where living ib Bushwick which was still pretty "abaonded warehouses" and a totally slicky, young French bistro/bar opened up in the middle of nowhere and it was always full of young white people in nice shoes who we never saw in the neighborhood or at the subway stop. We wondered if they came with the bar, freeze dried like sea monkeys.)
posted by The Whelk at 1:13 PM on September 24, 2014 [13 favorites]


Why is it that liberals not living in an area that is crappy get into a tizzy when developers come in, make nice housing, get the area much nicer? Those are the people who live in nice spots already but seem to worry that those they would prefer not to be around have a place preserved for them and kept in bad shape.

It is all simple: worldwide, people are moving to cities. They are looking for nice places they can afford. Developers are in the business of making such places available...things change. Diapers, cars, computers...and yes, housing areas too
posted by Postroad at 1:14 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Its bit like Chicago which still has empty condo towers

I dunno, the empty ones I've seen are mainly empty because they're still under construction. Vacancy rates have been nosediving, at least in the central areas. There are definitely still some vacant small developments (mainly due to legal entanglements post-Crash bankruptcy, I think), but the big ones seem to be filling up quickly. Companies like Sterling Bay are pretty much buying any surface parking or old industrial low-rise they can get their hands on in order to replace it with a tower -- and a lot of those (majority, even, at least in places like the West Loop) are now being put in as apartments, not condos.
posted by aramaic at 1:18 PM on September 24, 2014


It is all simple: worldwide, people are moving to cities. They are looking for nice places they can afford. Developers are in the business of making such places available...things change. Diapers, cars, computers...and yes, housing areas too

This is true, but it's the "and therefore, the poor people who were already living there should leave and go, um somewhere else? who cares where" that's the problem.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:19 PM on September 24, 2014 [15 favorites]


The point is that life was already in those "cracks", just not the kind of life that global capital finds profitable.

Sure. So what's your solution? Population is increasing and new housing has to go somewhere. A city that approved this should also have an affordable housing strategy to deal with these things. Many new developments are required to contribute to affordable or non-market housing as part of a deal to redevelop.

I'm not saying it's perfect, but what should be proposed as an alternative?
posted by jimmythefish at 1:21 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Er Not like Chicago. My friends in Chicago who gave sucessful art/middle management carrers can and did buy condos super cheap due to the overstocked market.

Buying a place in NYC is so far beyond imagining for their cohorts here you might as well tell them to find a MAGIC WISHING STONE.
posted by The Whelk at 1:24 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


The worst part of this is that there can't be an right answer to "Is Gentrification Good Or Bad?"

If you're renting an apartment in a neighborhood that's being revitalized and your landlord hikes the rent and kicks you out? Bad.

If you own a restaurant in such a neighborhood and all the people with money start eating there and you can hike your prices and make money? Good.

If you own the restaurant but not the property and your landlord hikes the rent and you can't keep your restaurant? Bad.

If you scraped together enough money to take out a mortgage on a house or a co-op or a condo in a neighborhood being revitalized? Good.

If your neighborhood business has been made irrelevant or otherwise injured by a total change in demographics? Bad.

If your neighborhood infrastructure and safety is being changed for the better because someone with means is paying attention to it? Good.

If it's not "your neighborhood" anymore because of the above? Bad.
posted by griphus at 1:25 PM on September 24, 2014 [24 favorites]


Note: the place where you now live was once forest. Or inhabited by poor people. Or a forest inhabited by poor people.

You speak as if no one is poor, currently inhabiting places where poor people live.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:26 PM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


You speak as if no one is poor, currently inhabiting places where poor people live.

You speak as if there were never any forests.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:30 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why is it that liberals not living in an area that is crappy get into a tizzy when developers come in, make nice housing, get the area much nicer?

Because even going from "not crappy" to "much nicer" totally prices us out of the place we live?
posted by Hoopo at 1:33 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


You speak as if no one is poor, currently inhabiting places where poor people live.

You speak as if there were never any forests.


Are we seriously going to play the finger-pointing game until we reach the big bang's energy and matter development encroaching on eternal nothingness?
posted by griphus at 1:35 PM on September 24, 2014 [17 favorites]


It does sometimes feel like the world is going back to the age of gentry and servants, lords and serfs. I read one statistic that said that if current trends hold, in 25 years 50% of all jobs will be low-wage service jobs.

With the advent of "poor doors" in Manhattan apartment buildings it's not hard to imagine something like "steerage class" dwellings in NY and London where the poor live in large underground warrens, so they don't have to commute for 3 hours and can be on call whenever they're needed by their employer.
posted by cell divide at 1:41 PM on September 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


You speak as if there were never any forests.

I'm not a tree, dude.
The problem that we're having is that there are very real costs to pushing the poorer members of your society out into crumbling suburbs, costs that are almost always shouldered not by society but by the members themselves - see "manageable public transit" versus the cost of owning your own car or relying on underfunded bus services. I'm not bothered by the mere fact that things are changing, I'm bothered by the fact that things are getting shittier for people who already don't have it that great.
posted by 235w103 at 1:43 PM on September 24, 2014 [21 favorites]


Are there any urban planning types or whatever who have thought about how this process ends? (Maybe looking to Europe as a model -- I don't know much but I know it's all about the urban hubs there, and they never had "white flight" which I think of as sort of arresting a natural process)

It seems like rents can't keep going up forever, but where do they stabilize? What happens to the mid-size cities? Because e.g. Austin has the insane rents problem too. And do employers start to shift away from the urban hubs to places where they can afford to pay less, or do they say "fuck you commute 3 hours"?
posted by vogon_poet at 1:45 PM on September 24, 2014


The prevalent attitude in America these days is: if a thing means somebody makes money, it will happen. If that thing hurts people, well, what do you expect anybody to do about THAT?

Nobody wants to hear that this may not be a perfect state of nature that cannot possibly be changed or addressed in any way whatsoever.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:48 PM on September 24, 2014 [20 favorites]


Rent can go up forever because inflation will. The question is whether wages will keep up.
posted by jpe at 1:48 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not a tree, dude.

I'm not speaking to forests, just logic. Saying that I'm acting like there are no poor people is missing the point.

Questions of redevelopment are INSANELY complicated. But hey, let's just skip over all the details and have no facts about any of these projects and not analyze demographic trends or specific programs or offer up a nuanced criticism of one use replacing another use. Let's just get angry. Sure. I understand that.

I'm bothered by the fact that things are getting shittier for people who already don't have it that great.

Capitalism rules, more or less. I don't like this aspect of it anymore than anyone else. But what to do? Saying that you don't want any more development isn't a solution. It's not. Where do we develop? Leapfrog poor neighbourhoods and sprawl out to the horizon? Create more affordable housing mixed in with the new development?
posted by jimmythefish at 1:49 PM on September 24, 2014


metafilter: playing the finger-pointing game until we reach the big bang's energy and matter development encroaching on eternal nothingness.
posted by el io at 1:49 PM on September 24, 2014 [12 favorites]


Create more affordable housing mixed in with the new development?

Well... why not? (The answer, of course, it 'because profits' but, shit, we USED to be able to pass laws that kept this shit to a vaguely manageable level. Maybe one day we will again.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:51 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Reddit is plagued by Eternal September, as Metafilter is patrolled by people who apparently live exclusively in the home they grew up in and have never been party to any kind of economic activity that may have infringed on the lives and livelihoods of others.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:53 PM on September 24, 2014 [12 favorites]


MetaFilter: Let's just get angry.
posted by pwnguin at 1:54 PM on September 24, 2014 [6 favorites]


Maybe one day we will again

Probably not, though.

OK, that was harsh -- maybe you can, in one or two enclaves somewhere. Nationwide, though? Hell no. Half of the country would set fire to the other half in order to prevent that sort of godless communism.
posted by aramaic at 1:54 PM on September 24, 2014


Postroad: "Why is it that liberals not living in an area that is crappy get into a tizzy when developers come in, make nice housing, get the area much nicer?"

Postroad: "They are looking for nice places they can afford. Developers are in the business of making such places available"

Developers are in the business of extracting maximum value from their investment. New apartments in Denver are $1,100-$1,500 month for a 1br/1ba apt with $400-$600 deposit. That doesn't strike me as terribly affordable, and rent calculators seem to suggest that a person would need to make around $45,000 to comfortably afford such a unit.

What upsets me, speaking as a liberal, is that this is the leading edge of displacing people who already live there. Rents in Denver have, according to CPR, increased 20%, while wages have increased 4%. That's not sustainable, I think. As a liberal, I would rather have an average human improve its standard of living than "an area" or a neighborhood. As a liberal, I am personally concerned more with people than keeping real estate markets red hot. That's where I'm coming from when I look at this situation with concern.
posted by boo_radley at 1:57 PM on September 24, 2014 [12 favorites]


Does everybody really think that the political status quo is going to continue unchanged for the rest of time, unlike every previous period of history anywhere?

Because if so I'm just gonna go ahead and join a commune because literally fuck literally everything.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:58 PM on September 24, 2014 [8 favorites]


Get rid of zoning laws that restrict density in desirable areas & allow as much new construction as possible. That way, transit-accessible units can filter down to lower-income people because the high-income people will have somewhere new to move.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 1:58 PM on September 24, 2014 [6 favorites]


The building codes and zoning regs in the USA have been stacked towards lower density housing for generations now. But people WANT those homes in the city. So there is a lot of pent up demand for higher density housing. This creates upward price pressure. If the developers build enough city housing to satisfy the demand, pricing for the older housing in the city will fall to within reach of the poorer people.

The developers built enough lower density housing to make "drive till you qualify" into a thing. If we can slant the regulatory playing field to encourage it, high density housing can catch up.
posted by elizilla at 1:59 PM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


the political status quo is going to continue unchanged

No, of course not. It's going to get much, much, much worse.
posted by aramaic at 2:03 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was reading the Cambridge (MA) Historical Society paper last night, talking about how in the 50's the city was shedding population quickly as the industrial base failed and the middle class wanted to live in the drive-able green suburbs.

At the same time in the 50's, the suburbs of Detroit, where I was raised? They were Booming. Now those suburbs are struggling, and cities like Cambridge and Boston are booming.

Losing or gaining population and having demographics change are hard for any place. We should do everything we can to ensure economic diversity in our neighborhoods, but any of us city dwellers bemoaning gentrification (that weren't born here) are kind of throwing stones out of our glass condos.
posted by ldthomps at 2:08 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Once-crumbling industrial backwaters"?

Step 1) Destroy the industry.

If you want to understand the "gentrification" of NYC you have to start with the deliberate sabotage of the Port of NY and of small-scale industry starting in Manhattan. Read Robert Fitch's Assassination of New York.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:22 PM on September 24, 2014 [10 favorites]


Get rid of zoning laws that restrict density in desirable areas

This. Developers would rather build in rich areas - it costs the same amount to build a marginal unit of housing in a "nice" neighbourhood as in a poor one, and you can sell it for a lot more.

They're being pushed into less attractive neighbourhoods because wealthy homeowners are a huge political force in municipal politics, and they generally don't want their neighbourhoods to change.
posted by ripley_ at 2:26 PM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


It'd be interesting to see a comparison between American cities and European ones (preferably ones that didn't get razed in the war), because it seems a bit like what's going on in the Northeast is mean reversion.

Downtown cores were, for centuries, desirable places to live. We had a few decades when due to a combination of factors, it suddenly became desirable to live way the fuck out in the suburbs. And so the downtown cores of many cities had very sudden population collapses, and became largely downmarket communities for immigrants and the economically disadvantaged. Which is in some ways a good thing, because if you can't afford a car, downtown is basically where you want to live, vs. the traditional place for the poor which is outside the city walls somewhere.

So it seems like what we're getting is mean reversion. Rich people want to live right in the middle of the cities where the best amenities and services are. I think it's ... highly unlikely that they will not get their way; too many people stand to get too rich letting them have it, both inside and outside the political class.

One consequence of this is that we're starting to see something that the US is not familiar with: suburban poverty. We're culturally familiar with rural poverty and urban poverty, but increasingly, low-income people are getting pushed out into once-desirable suburbs. I suspect that in the next few decades that's going to be where a lot of resources need to be targeted.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:38 PM on September 24, 2014 [18 favorites]


Wow, I completely misunderstood that. I was thinking this would be one of those really annoying SF startups (some of which probably have bad dance parties) that try to get developers that "fit" into their culture.

But no, this is real estate development. Little to do with brogramming.
posted by qcubed at 2:43 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think Cell Divide has it right: what's happening to both real estate and capital in general is changing the way real estate has worked for most of the 20th century.

I assume that we will return to a world in which relatively few people will own the whole of a city; everyone else will pay unregulated rents to those people. Working class people will sleep 6 to a room, or take jobs as servants which will allow them to sleep on-site (in the kitchen, or in the parking garage, rolled in blankets). More 'respectable' jobs will allow the luxury of private rooms: we'll see the return of boarding houses for workers like professors, lawyers, software engineers.

Only the very very richest will own an apartment or a house.

In other words, back to the 19th century. It didn't work out to well the first time, of course.
posted by jrochest at 2:43 PM on September 24, 2014 [6 favorites]


Developers would rather build in rich areas - it costs the same amount to build a marginal unit of housing in a "nice" neighbourhood as in a poor one, and you can sell it for a lot more.

Do you really believe that? This would only be true if differential in the cost of land was relatively small... but of course everyone knows that. I can't tell if "Freakonomics" makes people forget things they already knew, or people who try to insert "marginal value" arguments into discussions, as if property development resembles a free market in any way, are just being disingenuous.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:53 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


But hey, let's just skip over all the details and have no facts about any of these projects and not analyze demographic trends

Here's a demographic trend for you: "30% of all apartments between 49th and 70th Streets and between Fifth and Park Avenues are vacant at least 10 months of the year". (Taken from this thread.)

It's one thing to say, hey, people are being displaced by other, wealthier people who want to live in these places. But the root of this problem isn't that: the root of this problem is that people, real people whose quality of life matters, are being displaced by money. Glorified safety-deposit boxes combined with private hotel suites for the ultra-wealthy. The end result of this will not be cities that are gentrified, it will be a gentrified ring around a core that is literally rotting.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:02 PM on September 24, 2014 [23 favorites]


It's one thing to say, hey, people are being displaced by other, wealthier people who want to live in these places. But the root of this problem isn't that: the root of this problem is that people, real people whose quality of life matters, are being displaced by money.

The problem with this kind of story is that property developers are easy to get your hate-on about... I mean look at Donald Trump. But try and find a lovable property developer, they have the personality and personal habits of a race track addict, which is what they are. You don't get to be a big-time developer unless you have family money or you are leveraged out the wazoo (or ideally both.) Trump may be worth billions if you look at the value of the properties that he "owns" but if you factor in his debts and assorted liabilities he is basically bankrupt, and pretty much always has been.

Property developers are scum, but they are a distraction. If you want to understand gentrification you have to look at who is providing the leverage for these projects. It's not the money of the people speculating on apartments/condos/etc, but the flows of capital which makes the development possible in the first place.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:09 PM on September 24, 2014 [8 favorites]


Every developer I've ever met has been greasy, like there was an aura of congealed air around them, complete with the darting eyes and shifty posture of villains in Victorian penny dreadfuls. Like, comically unscrupulous looking.
posted by The Whelk at 3:14 PM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


Reminds me of the days I lived in The Mission in SF in the late 90's/early 2000's. How I miss those days...
posted by Chuffy at 3:24 PM on September 24, 2014


It's coded speech, and I've seen a lot of it lately used in talking about gentrifying parts of DC (here's a recent example and an intelligent rebuttal). It reflects a classist, anti-historical mentality that essentially says: "anything that happened here before I arrived was either filthy, poor, and unfashionable, or there was nothing happening here at all."

While this is very often true, and even often true specifically of parts of Sunset Park which are now being "discovered" by "pioneers", the part of Sunset Park under discussion in this article (west of 3rd Ave) literally is an industrial wasteland. There are no residents or dwelling units, and industrial rents have been rock-bottom and vacancy rates sky-high for decades. The outrage here, while understandable, is misplaced.
posted by boots at 3:36 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


real people whose quality of life matters,

Exactly what I thought when I moved into a gentrifying neighborhood. It was one of the more affordable options, and I'm a real person whose quality of life matters.
posted by jpe at 3:43 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Sure. So what's your solution? Population is increasing and new housing has to go somewhere. A city that approved this should also have an affordable housing strategy to deal with these things. Many new developments are required to contribute to affordable or non-market housing as part of a deal to redevelop.

I'm not saying it's perfect, but what should be proposed as an alternati
ve?

The city of Santa Monica has an aggressive affordable housing program. Santa Monica has many of the same problems as places like NYC and SF such as astronomical prices, highly desirable location, and finite available land; the program could serve as a great template but it seems like other places have zero will or interest to do anything about it.

As far as those developer deals go, the developers face little scrutiny and those units are often abused. Also, when the maximum income limit for a $1500/mo "affordable" studio is $50,000/year you're kind of turning the discussion about affordable housing on its ear. (And those particular units are being marketed to community college students!)
posted by Room 641-A at 4:01 PM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


But try and find a lovable property developer, they have the personality and personal habits of a race track addict, which is what they are.

In my line of work I've met quite a few real estate developers, including a few that were legitimately nice, decent people. (Though it has been my experience the vast majority of real estate developers have all the patience, kindness, and understanding of a two-year old coming down from a sugar high.) But no developer, not even the really awful incredibly sleazy ones (I've met plenty of those, too), builds a place wanting it to look like the pictures in "rotting" link I posted above. The blame for those isn't on the developers - it's on the billionaires to whom that property is primarily just an asset on a balance sheet.

Folks like jpe, moving into the newly gentrifying areas, don't even realize that they themselves are pushed out of or barred from other areas by the distortions of the housing market that causes. It's classic socioeconomic divide and conquer. It's painfully easy for me to imagine a future where the island of Manhattan itself has, at any given time, one of the lowest population densities on earth, exclusively a playground and getaway destination for the jet-setting 1%ers of the world. For miles and miles around it in every direction there will be busy, dense neighborhoods, some older, some newer, some gentrifying and some decaying, and constant squabbles between the residents that were already there, getting pushed ever further out to the fringes or to whichever neighborhoods have fallen into decay, and the incoming gentrifiers, moving in for entirely reasonable reasons. And the residents being pushed out will say, "Where are we supposed to go?" and the gentrifiers will shrug and say, "Well where are we supposed to go?" and meanwhile the island of Manhattan itself will sit glittering in the center, full of gorgeous luxury apartments that sit empty ten months a year.
posted by mstokes650 at 4:19 PM on September 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


Basically, it becomes Vienna, Vampire Capital of the world.
posted by The Whelk at 4:22 PM on September 24, 2014


aramaic: "Half of the country would set fire to the other half in order to prevent that sort of godless communism."

This is basically my response to people I know in Seattle who bitch about Capitol Hill or Ballard or SLU or Eastlake or (now) the CD or even Columbia City becoming "overpriced and gentrified." I ask, "so, how about some rent control or maybe a land value tax?" When their responses are--inevitably--one of horrified shock (coming loudest from the former Bay Area residents), I usually snark that the price changes are, therefore, precisely what they indirectly wanted. The Invisible Hand Of The Market™ is doing exactly what it is engineered to do. People with money buy the things that they want and, subsequently, displace the people without money. Such is the way of things, especially when virtually the entire government at every level is expected to bow down to the people with money. On the upside, at least the people who were redlined into owning leaning shacks in the former slums are getting paid handsomely as they sell off and move to Renton.
posted by fireoyster at 4:32 PM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's painfully easy for me to imagine a future where the island of Manhattan itself has, at any given time, one of the lowest population densities on earth, exclusively a playground and getaway destination for the jet-setting 1%ers of the world.

If that's what the rising sea levels engulf when the time comes I'm suddenly a little more ok with global warming.
posted by griphus at 4:32 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Here's a demographic trend for you: "30% of all apartments between 49th and 70th Streets and between Fifth and Park Avenues are vacant at least 10 months of the year".

Yeah, huge problem. Closer to my neck of the woods, in Vancouver, a candidate for mayor is proposing a tax for people who leave their properties vacant. Coal Harbour in Vancouver is about 25% vacant at any time. Others have suggested a limitation on foreign ownership.

It's a problem that calls into question the very foundation of capitalism, and whether housing should be seen as a commodity. In a sense, places like Vancouver and Manhattan are victims of their own success - they're an excellent place to park money in stable economies.

I'm not an affordable housing expert but I personally think significant percentages of floor space in new developments should be non-market housing, and should be offered to those displaced from rental housing as first refusal. Lots of places have these policies, but they probably aren't enough and do nothing to address growing populations. Once you outgrow your current rent-controlled or subsidized housing, who's to say when you can get a larger one?

Interesting conversation.
posted by jimmythefish at 4:33 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Gentrification: The exact opposite of White Flight. Yet somehow, both are equally bad.
posted by Hatashran at 4:34 PM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


Do you really believe that? This would only be true if differential in the cost of land was relatively small...

The cost of land doesn't really matter because someone already owns it, and they need to decide what to do with the land (like building on it). Also, the land is expensive primarily because a lot of people want to live there. Saying that developers would avoid building somewhere because of high prices is akin to "It's too crowded, nobody goes there anymore".

I said marginal because I meant the cost of building an additional unit on an existing development project. It's kind of rude to suggest that I'm either forgetful or disingenuous.
posted by ripley_ at 4:35 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Industry City and the Gowanus are getting gentrified?

I know I should not be amazed, but somehow I still am.
posted by freakazoid at 4:39 PM on September 24, 2014


Ah, the free market.

Every once in a while, I consider moving back to the US from Japan, at least theoretically. Then I remember that I pay substantially less for cell phone service, healthcare, Internet access (the slowest plan I have access to would be blindingly fast by American standards in 90% of the country) and (bear in mind this is a country the size of Montana with half the US's population) housing, all crucially markets where we've been told, Jesus-is-coming-any-day-now-style, that the Free Market will figure everything out and Drive Down Prices through Unfettered Competition.

It is, to say the least, frustrating. The American system, in general, seems to be built entirely around extracting profits, with any human costs paid by visible minorities considered to be essentially rounding off to zero.

Where's this century's trust-busting? How did America wind up with essentially a distributed for-profit privatized government deciding everything important for so much of so many Americans' lives? I'm sad now.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:46 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


In a sense, places like Vancouver and Manhattan are victims of their own success - they're an excellent place to park money in stable economies.

Um, Vancouver has (and has had for the last 40 years) a boom-and-bust economy where you can make boatloads by flipping real estate -- if you think you can time the market:
Over the past twenty five years there have been three distinct cycles in Vancouver house prices. The first and most dramaticboom began in the first quarter of 1979 and extended through the first quarter of 1981. Over this two-year period, the real price of a representative house in Vancouver increased by 119%. This was followed by a longer, but equally dramatic, bust that saw prices fall to close to theiroriginal pre-boom level, nearly wiping out the gains of 1979-1981.The upswing of the second cycle ran from 1986 through the second quarter of 1990, and saw the real price increase by 69%. Prices then declined abruptly, decreasing by 16% over the next year. In the third cycle, prices rose by 38% to the end of 1994, and then declined by 24% through the third quarter of 2001. The trough-to-trough increase in the real price was 5% over seven years.
posted by junco at 4:48 PM on September 24, 2014


It does sometimes feel like the world is going back to the age of gentry and servants, lords and serfs.

It more than just sometimes feels like it. Income inequality in the USA has genuinely returned to those levels of the past and is creating the Second Gilded Age.
posted by anonymisc at 4:49 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


(I should point out that I pay about $700 a month, including a parking space, for a 45m^2 apartment on the outskirts of Kyoto. The building was built in the early '90s and is in fairly good condition)
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:50 PM on September 24, 2014


In a sense, places like Vancouver and Manhattan are victims of their own success

Vancouver is a victim, but it's self-inflicted. The demand to live in Vancouver has gone up, and what have we done in response?

We've kept our zoning laws that make it straight-up illegal to build apartments on 3/4 of the residentially zoned land. If you're a developer who would like to build in the wealthy west side to avoid displacing lower-income residents, too bad.

The worst part is that nobody even notices. I don't know a single person who's relatively familiar with the Vancouver zoning code.
posted by ripley_ at 4:51 PM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


Are there any urban planning types or whatever who have thought about how this process ends?
It seems like rents can't keep going up forever, but where do they stabilize?


This is not a new process, you can observe that it doesn't "end", it's a big cycle. While one area might be getting new development, a different gentrified luxury-development-area of yesteryear is on its way to becoming the new bad neighbourhood as its once-upmarket buildings age and become less desirable. (These days, that is often suburban areas that were desirable in the 70s or 80s.)

It's more complicated than that of course, the cycle often encompasses areas larger than any one city, and may take generations, but bad neighborhoods don't spring from the earth fully formed ready to be gentrified. Old buildings used to be new buildings. Neighborhoods are built, then get run down, then get gentrified, then get run down, as the great city breathes in and out, as the economy shifts, as the population changes, (and soon to be added: as the climate shifts.)
posted by anonymisc at 5:00 PM on September 24, 2014


Gentrification is not evil. Gentrification -- the revitalization of downtrodden areas -- is great.

What's evil is that there are no infrastructure improvements that go with it.

So, go ahead, refurbish the warehouses and raze the crappy apartments and build Whole Foods and brewpubs and boutiques that sell stuff that people buy with money and pay taxes for.

But for fuck's sake, build some fucking trains that allow poor people, pushed hither and yon by market forces out of their control, to simply get to fucking work.

The antidote to gentrification is transportation.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:01 PM on September 24, 2014 [15 favorites]


DoctorFedora, zoning is hugely different in Japan than in North America - Japan allows significantly more housing to be built, but it's still mostly built by private companies. This is a good overview.

The biggest points are:

1) Zoning is mostly federal in Japan, mostly municipal in NA. The Japanese federal government often forces lower-level governments to allow additional housing against their wishes, most NA jurisdictions don't have anything similar. (There's an excellent book about this but the title escapes me at the moment - I'll try to find it)

2) Multifamily housing is allowed anywhere in Japan - even in low-rise residential zones. You'd be hard-pressed to find a city in NA that doesn't reserve a significant chunk of land for single-family houses.

It's also odd that you bring up Japan as antithetical to privatisation when you consider how most (not all) of its wildly successful transit operators are private companies.
posted by ripley_ at 5:03 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Transit in Japan is kind of a special case compared to the US — few families outside of rural areas own more than a single car, if even that, and volume really does make up for low prices in denser areas (and long-distance travel is decidedly not cheap).

That aside, though, I'm not suggesting that Japan's system is perfect or anything, just that America is running into the issues inherent to a deeply flawed system.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:11 PM on September 24, 2014


Transit in Japan is kind of a special case compared to the US — few families outside of rural areas own more than a single car, if even that, and volume really does make up for low prices in denser areas (and long-distance travel is decidedly not cheap).

But which way does causality run? Do people rely on transit because they don't have cars, or do they not have cars because they can rely on transit?
posted by pwnguin at 5:20 PM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


We've kept our zoning laws that make it straight-up illegal to build apartments on 3/4 of the residentially zoned land.

Well that's just straight up inner city politics in Canadian cities. Every municipal politician in existence is loathe to touch the established, inner city single-family residential properties.

Putting it in terms of it being 'straight up illegal' is not quite how I would put it. The rezoning process can change the zoning on any particular piece of land to multifamily. The opposition you come up against is the community, and Council is loathe to do battle with the people in these communities.

It's ridiculous that there are single family houses so close to the core, and in many ways it's rather disingenuous of the media to keep reporting on 'crack shacks' that are worth $2M in East Van etc. It's land value - eventually those properties will indeed redevelop and those people buying them know that. It's the reason they're vacant.
posted by jimmythefish at 5:24 PM on September 24, 2014


ripley_, is this the book?

The Making of Urban Japan: Cities and Planning from Edo to the Twenty First Century (Nissan Institute Routledge Japanese Studies Series) by André Sorensen
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0415354226
posted by crazy with stars at 5:26 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yup. San Francisco, done! Oakland, in the process. Let's watch it go from one of the most diverse cities in the country to Valencia St. SF. Gross

Gentrification: The exact opposite of White Flight. Yet somehow, both are equally bad.


They're not quite the opposite. White kids are fleeing the disastrous mess their parents made, called suburbs, just like they where fleeing from brown people when they originally left. These Suburbs, or cesspools, have no real cultural outlets or anything of value, besides quiet, boredom, and drugs. Now suburbs are increasingly becoming poorer and browner as white people push PoC out of new hip Urban Areas. It's all about privileged people taking what's best and leaving the worse for PoC. It's been pretty well documented how PoC neighborhoods are systematically attacked with media and other nefarious tactics to lower real estate prices, then in come the developers, now also privileged kids to buy up all the property to turn it into another hipster paradise.
I see it very closely related to cultural appropriation. Young white artists and students, starved for culture and real life, move into culturally rich neighborhoods, like The Mission in SF or West/East Oakland. Other white kids come out because they want to slum-it and rep a cool/"dangerous" neighborhood. Later, when they're making more money and investing it into the neighborhood they attract the less adventurous, but equally starved white person. Eventually Google is bussing their employees in and out of the neighborhood, etc.
As a PoC, it's disgusting to see a neighborhood that is home to many generations of families, ignored by white people and undeserved by the government, feared and called a ghetto, a neighborhood where white people run through huddled together, clutching their valuables, later to tell harrowing stories of dread and regret for ever having stepped foot in the brown part of town, taken over first by a wave of inconsiderate, appropriating, displacing, arrogant, art youth, then bought out by a second wave of wealthy businesspeople with no respect or care for the original inhabitants.
My family lived in the Mission when most were too scared to even visit in daylight. Now, my sister walks into a hipster restaurant on Valencia with her very "ethnic" looking friends (not the hipster-safe kind), only to be looked at strangely by everyone, like they accidentally walked into the wrong place or through the wrong door.
posted by ivandnav at 5:33 PM on September 24, 2014 [10 favorites]


That's the one, crazy with stars. Thanks!
posted by ripley_ at 5:37 PM on September 24, 2014


It's interesting watching this process happen in seattle, because the situation here is sort of unique.

The developers have the city in their pocket, and have gotten insane variances/zoning changes/etc. For example, a lot of the rules are like "you can break this rule if you make these allowances/add these features/etc". The thing is, they can break a rule on one building and apply those changes to ANOTHER building. It doesn't even have to be on the same block or in the same area! These aren't minor variances either. It's like, completely ignore the setback and add two floors more than zoning allows sort of stuff.

What i'm saying, is that this is the lawless libertarian wasteland people seem to want in terms of unrestricted building, and bonkers amounts of construction are going on. They're adding units here at an utterly astonishing rate. I think there's over 20 large(like, more than several >100 unit places) developments currently being built within 5 blocks of my place, and a lot that just finished.

And yet here we are, with the worst rent increases in the entire country. And those rent hikes spread out far. A friend of a friend i recently traveled with lives in a firmly suburb area with not great transit or even highway connections(like, 30~ min commute with no traffic, probably over an hour with) and his rent is like, $50 less than mine. That place used to be CHEAP

It's been blasting along at this pace for several years now, and every year there's people trumpeting "oh, well, supply just hasn't outstripped demand yet!". And yet all of the new buildings are priced above the market, and none of the ones near me are at 100% occupancy or anything(whereas my at/slightly below the market building is, 100% of the time. Like less than a week vacancies ever). Most seem to be like half full.

I have no idea what the solution is here, but whatever it is, just building a bunch of expensive new luxury apartments doesn't seem to do shit.

Another interesting note is that in seattle at least thusfar, all the money and development and "repurposing" has targeted areas that were already white as fuck, and have been white as fuck since the early 20th century. They were just "working class", then full of hipsters, and are now being developed into chic destinations.

Not that gentrification doesn't happen here, but at least thusfar it seems to be mostly avoiding the brown parts of town.

The antidote to gentrification is transportation.

This is one thing that's demonstrably false, at least around here. The light rail got built, i think with this in mind. They ran it intentionally through a bunch of poor areas between the city and the airport to give them real, good transportation. At first it seemed great! But the problem is, now there's all this cheap housing right on a great transit line.

Very little of it is cheap housing anymore, and the developers instantly started buying up land right along the train route and building huge developments on it. It's actually some of the only inroads into developing those areas i've seen major projects take.

Oh, and of course it's really expensive housing. Basically only exists to trap people who just moved to town.
posted by emptythought at 5:39 PM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


This is completely hypothetical but hypothetically what would happen if everyone just started reporting muggings all the time. Like we all just sign up and once a month we report being mugged by a generic thug. Fall down and scrape your knee outside a bar in Hells Kitchen? Tell the cops you got pushed. Everyone would freak out about it, housing prices would plummet, condos would stop getting built...wait this is what the knockout game is really isn't it? Crap I've said too much.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:46 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


You fight gentrification?
posted by The Whelk at 5:50 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


I would really like American high-speed rail already. Other than that, I guess I have no artistic soul, because if they offered to demolish a bunch of San Franciscan housing, while rebuilding and including affordable housing for the people already living there, I'd have no objections.

It'd be interesting if working in a location also let you vote as a community member there, at least as long as cities hold a lot of power over development. I spend about as much time in the suburbs as I do at San Francisco, and also a noticeable fraction of the time in transit.

This is one thing that's demonstrably false, at least around here. The light rail got built, i think with this in mind. They ran it intentionally through a bunch of poor areas between the city and the airport to give them real, good transportation. At first it seemed great! But the problem is, now there's all this cheap housing right on a great transit line.
If the city was covered in rail lines, then that wouldn't be as much of an issue, would it?

Jeez, I feel like a Monopoly maniac now.
posted by halifix at 5:54 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


And yet all of the new buildings are priced above the market

Not all that surprising because new housing is usually more desirable. Even if it was built to exactly the same quality as older housing, it would still be more expensive than average because it's new.

We need to consider the counterfactual. Where would the inhabitants of these new buildings be if the buildings hadn't gone up?

Some people think that they'd give up on Seattle and live elsewhere. Me, I think they'd just bid up the prices on older buildings and renovate them. That's what I'd do if I had money and really wanted to live somewhere without new housing.
posted by ripley_ at 5:56 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


The antidote to gentrification is transportation.

This is one thing that's demonstrably false, at least around here. The light rail got built, i think with this in mind. They ran it intentionally through a bunch of poor areas between the city and the airport to give them real, good transportation.


But we don't really have good transportation. I mean, they keep cutting bus lines. They removed the free ride area, which serviced a lot of the homeless social service areas.

But you're right about the gentrification. Bell town may have been "shady" for scared Bellevue residents locked in their gated communities, but it really wasn't bad.

Now we just have a bunch of expensive ultra lounges, and we've lost community support for the old residents.

Yeah, housing here is a lost cause.
posted by formless at 6:10 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've been subletting some space in the Bush Terminal/Industry City complex for a couple of years now, and it's getting depressing. Those buildings represent some of the best manufacturing space left on the waterfront, and they're basically tearing it apart. Tenants are being priced out and floors are being subdivided into warrens of studios and offices. Freight elevators are being replaced with passenger elevators. It really felt like we were at the start of a small scale manufacturing revival in that area, and they're killing it in the cradle. The sick thing is the aesthetics of it all. They've recently repainted all the doors with enormous "industrial" stencils in retro-hip fonts. They're celebrating the manufacturing history of the complex with banners bearing sepiatone prints of workers on assembly lines.

Except it's not history. We're still fucking here. For now.
</rant>
posted by phooky at 6:35 PM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


These Suburbs, or cesspools, have no real cultural outlets or anything of value, besides quiet, boredom, and drugs.

In my observation, the suburbs built immense cultural outlets of massive value. 'Burb's were explicitly not created for nightlife of the young and restless, they were created as an environment for raising children. Where you might see quiet and boredom, I saw kids sharing role-playing games and reading science fiction, tinkering with everything they could get their hands on, imagining The Future, growing up, and building it.

Come to think about it, one of the most influential cultural outlets of the last 50 years is probably the suburban garage. Punk rock came from garage bands. Apple literally came from a garage. The maker movement. Etc etc. Claiming suburbs have no cultural outlets or value seems to me to involve a question-beggingly narrow idea of culture and value.
posted by anonymisc at 6:37 PM on September 24, 2014 [14 favorites]


The antidote to gentrification is transportation.

I disagree. I think transportation is hugely important but it only addresses the current problems, it's not a solution.

All transportation does is ensure prompt delivery of the service class to and from more desirable areas. Around here we have what some call the "nanny busses" and in the morning you can see the busses crowded with mainly PoC on their way to clean the houses and care for the children in Malibu and the Palisades. But why shouldn't these people be able to afford anywhere remotely close to their work? Why should the service class have to pay a "time tax" just to get to a job where richer people live?

Very little of it is cheap housing anymore, and the developers instantly started buying up land right along the train route and building huge developments on it. It's actually some of the onlyinroads into developing those areas i've seen major projects take.

A few days someone asked a question about moving to the West side of L.A. and I mentioned that the light rail (finally!) coming to town next year was going to change the whole real estate landscape. I wasn't about to try predicting much more than that, though.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:47 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


First, punk does not come from the suburbs. If you want to get into influences, it all pretty much comes from black music anyway. I don't see what Apple has to do with culture, except that it's molding the world in a creepy mono-cultural, corporate way. Have you spent time in Silicon Valley? Ugh. That area is a nightmare.
I've spent about equal amount of time living in suburbs and urban areas, both wealthy and poor. I've never seen more boredom and self-medication, than in the suburbs. Yes, I'm sure great things have come from people living in suburbs and I'm sure there are a few cools towns here and there, but as a whole, I think there's nothing worse than the suburbs. They have a shitty and racist history. Daily life is mundane and filled with the corporate blandness of Starbucks and Walmart. They are designed for isolation and optimal car use. The architecture and quality is horrible. They sprawl out uncontrollably. They are evil and terrible places. I'm sorry, It's rural or urban for me.
posted by ivandnav at 6:53 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


One part of our interesting future will be when the stick-and-frame houses built in the last 20 years, and especially as part of the housing boom of the 2000s, start to decay. The great buildings of the cities are brick, block, steel and concrete, and they survived to be recycled and reused many times. The wood and gypsum houses and sheet steel and tilt-up boxes will not. What happens then, I don't know.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:59 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is one thing that's demonstrably false, at least around here. The light rail got built, i think with this in mind.

Seattle needs 10x the light rail it has. That does not make the larger point false.

Think about what Edmonds would look like with a light rail line running to it. North Bend. West Seattle. Monroe.

All transportation does is ensure prompt delivery of the service class to and from more desirable areas.

Less looking at life through the petty injustice lens. Think bigger. Transportation turns less useful areas into the useful. What does living in the hip neighborhood give you? Access and convenience. Now what if you could go live somewhere cheaper but still keep the access and the convenience?

The only reason Brooklyn has hipsters is that Brooklyn has Manhattan near it and there's good transportation back and forth. There's a reason the phrase "bridge and tunnel" crowd exists. It's because people use said bridges and tunnels. We should all be so lucky to have more Brooklyns ringing major cities, with happy little subways going zoom zoom.

Jesus, the reason most of New Jersey and Connecticut still exist is because Manhattan exists and goddamn trains connect all three.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:24 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


It does sometimes feel like the world is going back to the age of gentry and servants, lords and serfs.

Sometimes? I have been feeling that way every day for over ten years, now. I knew Googling "poor doors" was going to raise my blood pressure, but I did it anyway. Yep. Raised.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:41 PM on September 24, 2014


Less looking at life through the petty injustice lens. Think bigger. Transportation turns less useful areas into the useful. What does living in the hip neighborhood give you? Access and convenience. Now what if you could go live somewhere cheaper but still keep the access and the convenience?

Ignoring the petty injustice lens is what got us here.

However, I'll clarify that I'm looking at it through the Los Angeles lens, were there are very few "less useful" areas left. But I'm not talking about "hip" neighborhoods or access to those places, I am actually thinking of bigger things, like who gets to live near the ocean? Within five miles of the ocean? Who gets to live in safer neighborhoods, or yes, even neighborhoods with cool or trendy bars? Transportation doesn't create affordable housing in areas that are being gentrified.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:55 PM on September 24, 2014


I dislike suburbs for ecological reasons. The Apple referred to is completely different from the Apple today, although I'm not sure if suburbs really have much relation to that. It's just that kids (and college students back then) used to have a lot of free, unsupervised time, so having space in your house/neighborhood was great. We should be supporting the growth of youth centers in cities.

I don't get the focus on boredom and mundanity. Life is what you make of it, as long as we are providing the resources to those that can utilize it. The internet is making this much easier.

And as for transportation... build housing and transportation when they are needed. It's hard to do in certain areas like LA because of the existing area-hogging roads, but better public transportation lowers the cost of living especially far away from service centers, if you can afford to take the time to travel (i.e. aren't high-income). In the same vein, more housing lowers the cost of living, especially for those close to service centers.
posted by halifix at 8:01 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


We need to consider the counterfactual. Where would the inhabitants of these new buildings be if the buildings hadn't gone up?

See, i don't really think this is a good question. The answer is obviously, into existing housing still pushing people out so it's like "duhhh".

the problem is that even these new buildings aren't filling up because the rents are so high.

Supply is being added, but only at the top end. So people with relatively low incomes are competing for the same places as people with medium incomes, and only those with relatively high incomes can actually even make an attempt at moving in to the majority of new construction.

Basically, without mandating some form of affordable housing or rent control all this construction is pointless, because a lot of the inrush of people would still rather(or has no choice but to) rent at market rates, as opposed to just walking in to an open new place for more money.

And i mean, can you blame them? the pricing on a lot of these places is an obvious cash grab if you do any research at all.

It's just really strange, because i constantly get in(what become heated) arguments with "build more housing stock!" truthers who are convinced that at some point, when some magical median of empty apartments is built everything will normalize.

Except that we've been here before, and the answer is that they just stop building and everything sticks in place at the shitty prices. The last big housing spike went up and just stayed there until the market caught back up with it and kept pushing it slowly up. There was no renegotiating of rents downward like there was after the dot com boom in SF, and that's not coming again.

I just don't see a path forward other than housing stock continues to get built, and anyone who can't pay the new normal prices is forced out of town into the crumbling burbs.

After all, without someone forcing their hand, who would want to spend the bux to build a new apartment complex and not charge the absolute maximum rent the market will bear? It's shitty, but i completely get it. And at the same time, i wonder how people can keep saying "construction is the solution to the affordable housing crisis!" with a straight face.
posted by emptythought at 8:01 PM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


And, like the "industrial backwater" language is absolutely the party line of developers who are "revitalizing" areas which are poor but not, like, abandoned. Growing up, my mom's boyfriend was a Puerto Rican dude from Sunset Park and I spent plenty of time in that neighborhood and it looked more or less like the non-"industrial backwater" neighborhood I was from, but everyone was Hispanic instead of Italian.

I think the neighborhood you are talking about is east of the BQE, which runs above 2nd Avenue. That area is largely residential. Industry City is west of the BQE, where there is almost no housing.

I worked in Industry City in one of the buildings discussed in the article, and 5 years ago it was an industrial backwater. And it was crumbling.

We couldn't get cable service in the building, because it was just beyond the zone of residential property where Time Warner was required to provide service if it was requested, and there was not enough commercial demand for service to make it worth their while to extend the line. The power would go off for 18 hours at a time a couple of times a month.
posted by layceepee at 8:22 PM on September 24, 2014


the problem is that even these new buildings aren't filling up because the rents are so high.

That is unlikely. People wouldn't spend a lot of money to build expensive housing just to let them sit empty. Now, there is an issue with investors buying housing units and not inhabiting them, but that problem needs not be exaggerated.

The solution, and you'll not like it, is... build more units.

I know, eyeroll, but hear me out.

The reality is that construction in American cities is very highly constrained, it is hard to build new units because of zoning and community resistance and the planning commissions themselves have limited capacity to process projects. The result is that there are very few units built actually in most cities. (It doesn't help that this process is extremely expensive for developers and so the costs are passed down into unit prices, making affordable housing unprofitable to build)

For instance, NYC, between 2005 and 2008, supposedly "boom" years, added 68 000 units over the three year, this has fallen to about 8 000 per year since. In comparison, Tokyo's 23 wards, roughly the same size, and just as densely built, if not more so, added 100 000 units... PER YEAR. It took 3 years for New York City to build 2/3 of what Tokyo builds each year.

The result of this massive construction in Tokyo is filtering, the opposite of gentrification. Essentially, the value of housing units fall over time, because if you can get a new unit for, let's say, 450 000$, why would you pay a 30-year-old housing unit of the same size anywhere close to that price? So even top-end housing units may filter over time, as long as you keep adding housing, if you don't, you have the opposite, the rich buy middle-class housing and renovate it into luxury housing. The rich have the cash, they'll get their way anyway, if they can't do it by buying new units, they'll just take other people's housing and make it into luxury housing.

Furthermore, as supply is constrained, the market reacts by maximizing profits from each new sale, meaning, going after the top-end exclusively. But there aren't that many rich people around, if they could build much more units, at one point, the market for luxury housing would be saturated and developers would be placed in front of a dilemma:
"Keep building cheaper housing for less profit by targeting the unsaturated middle-class market -or- stop building anything and become unemployed?"

A wage cut is better than no wage at all, so if they could build enough units, they would build them for the middle-class too.

We know this dynamic in the car market. In the 80s, Japanese automakers were compelled to accept "voluntary" import quotas, limiting the number of cars they could import in the US. How did they react? Well, they went around the quotas by building american factories but more than that... they created Acura, Lexus and Infiniti. Luxury brands so that every car they imported in the US would have higher profits associated to it. Constraining supply led Japanese carmakers to go after the luxury segment... housing is the exact same. Constrain supply, and developers will go exclusively after the luxury segment.

It is anti-gentrification limits on developments and density that result in gentrification.
posted by urbankchoze at 8:30 PM on September 24, 2014 [8 favorites]


I just don't see a path forward other than housing stock continues to get built, and anyone who can't pay the new normal prices is forced out of town into the crumbling burbs.

But there is a potential solution, if cities wanted to do something about it.
In the face of skyrocketing rents, Santa Monica has struggled to maintain its commitment to economic diversity among its residents. New construction or market-rate rental units in the city’s 8.3 square miles is not likely to ever be enough to satiate the demand for housing enough to stabilize rents.

[...]

“You need people who work in your city to be able to potentially be able to live in your city,” said Sarah Letts, director of Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM), one of the city’s leading producers of affordable housing.

Over the years, CCSM has bought or built about 1,700 rental units throughout the city, the vast majority of which are affordable to people who otherwise wouldn’t make enough money to live here.

Being able to live near to where you work means shorter commutes and less traffic. Living in Santa Monica also means having access to great public amenities, like excellent schools and an award-winning network of public libraries.

“You really do want the whole range of people and professional interests to be able to live in Santa Monica,” she said.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:51 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


My point was that white flight and gentrification aren't really opposites, as someone commented. It's all the same systematic displacement and disenfranchisement that goes back to killing American Indians and stealing their land, just different mechanisms. I feel that present day gentrification of urban brown neighborhoods is also a kind of white flight, from the suburbs. I don't really want to argue the value of suburbs. In my experience, the gentrifiers are more often people from the suburbs and Middle America. There's a reason people are moving out of the suburbs. I think it's because it sucks living there.
posted by ivandnav at 9:06 PM on September 24, 2014


Supply is being added, but only at the top end.

As urbankchoze noted: if there's a limit on the number of widgets you can sell, you'll probably try to sell expensive widgets with a high profit margin. There are hard limits* on the number of new housing units that are allowed to be built in North American cities, with predictable results.

Also, units that are new today will be older and more affordable in 30 years' time. Building now is the only way to get more of those.

*FAR limits, zoning that allows only single-family homes or duplexes, height limits, parking requirements that make some projects nonviable... the list goes on. They're usually well-meaning but they have the effect of making extremely difficult to build anything but suburban sprawl.
posted by ripley_ at 9:10 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Create more affordable housing mixed in with the new development?

Well... why not? (The answer, of course, it 'because profits' but, shit, we USED to be able to pass laws that kept this shit to a vaguely manageable level. Maybe one day we will again


We have that rule here in London. 25% of all new developments must be dedicated to social housing. Developers flout the law with cash money, though, of course - the fine they pay costs less than the cost of making 25% of their development social housing. It truly sucks.

Man I wish I'd been here in the 70s and got a place in one of the Barbican estate tower blocks for next to nothing. Those are lovely, tall, Brutalist buildings with amazing views, and cheap because who the hell would want to live in the city. Well, who the hell would.
posted by goo at 9:18 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


formless: " But we don't really have good transportation. I mean, they keep cutting bus lines. They removed the free ride area, which serviced a lot of the homeless social service areas."

Yeah, because the suburbs tanked the tax sources used to fund Metro. Ever wonder why Sound Transit is the agency building all of these projects while Metro hangs on for dear life (remember, Seattlites, vote yes in November) and Pierce and Community Transits have cut to and past the bone? It's because Sound Transit still has a stable tax source--the much-hated MVET--and the rest of transit has to rely primarily on sales tax. Cutting bus routes isn't Metro's idea of a good thing; it's the suburbs, who got lumped in with Seattle in the whole "regional transit" debate, deciding that the ladder needs to be removed except for their peak-hour expresses.*

That has nothing to do with gentrification and everything to do with a screwed up tax system that lets the landed gentry** own houses with dirt-cheap payments (and small by-percentage-of-wealth contributions) to society while everybody else picks up the tab.

* I could go on and on and on and on about transit in the Puget Sound region but I feel like I'm veering too far off-topic. As my last comment on transit: thanks, Metro, for taking a whack at the suburban peak commuter routes at the same percentage you had to cut local service.

** For the record, I own a house in Seattle and I think that my property taxes are absurdly low. If someone came to the voters with a proposal to double the property tax and slash the sales tax, I'd be all over that.

posted by fireoyster at 9:24 PM on September 24, 2014


I too own a house in Seattle and I would sign your petition, fireoyster.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:12 AM on September 25, 2014


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