"But here is the rub: He said this in 1969."
August 24, 2018 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Why Do We Continue To Be Surprised By Gentrification? "Part of what many people find so irritating—or dangerous, depending on how much you have at stake—about upwardly mobile young people moving to working-class city neighborhoods is the sense of frivolity, of flightiness, they carry with them." (SL article in Belt Magazine by Daniel Kay Hertz)
posted by crazy with stars (31 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
The article mentions people's faulty belief in a "natural order of things" where white people live in the suburbs and others live in cities.

People seem to intuitively feel that the neighborhoods we have built should be eternal, when history suggests that they are anything but that. I can't name many places in the cities I've lived that hasn't been through many phases of upheaval.

It also seems implicit in discussions of gentrification is the idea that neighborhoods have a stable "natural" order. They didn't exist, then they did, then they get ruined. This assumes a state in which a community can form and consist mostly of the people at a given point and their progeny ad-infinitum. I'd love to see a quantitative analysis of the natural life-cycle of neighborhoods throughout history

I suspect that this is the exception rather than the norm in post-agricultural societies. My own family history is of upheaval (mostly for economic opportunity/necessity, a good amount to escape discrimination, sometimes at gunpoint) for each generation. The periods of time where everyone was in the same place at the same time were relatively short, and an exception to the norm.

Now, it is true that gentrification is about more than the community. IMHO the part that makes it gentrification is the affected people don't own their property, but rather rent it. I love my neighbors and my neighborhood, but as a homeowner I'd be ecstatic if my neighborhood was gentrified by people willing to pay 3x the price I paid for my home. I'd feel bad about losing the community, but I'd be able to have more economic security and could probably find that elsewhere.

Putting it all together, people get upset at the dynamic nature of neighborhoods combined with the economic injustice of gentrification. That economic injustice is mostly rooted in historical discrimination such as redlining.

My personal conclusion is that dynamic neighborhoods are on balance a good thing and that economic discrimination is a bad thing. We *want* to have a dynamic economy. We want people to be able to move fluidly from place to place. We shouldn't want to live in a static world where things stay the same. We should embrace neighborhoods and communities as beautiful ephemeral joys.

I wish there were a way for everyone in a neighborhood to benefit economically, including renters, from changing demographics. We should all accept as humans that nothing lasts forever, nor should it.
posted by sp160n at 9:55 AM on August 24, 2018 [14 favorites]


Because gentrification doesn't exist. It's not an action, it's a description of something happening. No one wakes up in the morning and says "Let's get to gentrifying!". It's like being upset by cold, or blue.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:56 AM on August 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


Sure, humboldt32, but lot's of people are upset by the cold -- entire categories of apparel, huge industries, even otherwise onerous regulations on new construction are predicated around the coming of cold, its negative effects, and predicting when it might arrive and how to mitigate it based on prior experiences with the cold. If you're cold, want to be warm, and can't afford it, many states and non-profits have direct infusion aid and broader subsidies for cold-solutions, like heating oil, so you can stay where you are instead of having to move where the cold isn't. If we didn't do something about the natural cycle of "it was warm, but now its cold" people would die! Or, even if they survived, suffer. For other "non-actions", we've set up pretty robust ways of handling it in the broadest possible public interest, even though some people might argue they quite like the cold or the city looks better in winter.
posted by Chipmazing at 10:11 AM on August 24, 2018 [16 favorites]


In other unusually nuanced Chicago gentrification news of the week: CPS closed Stewart Elementary School in 2013. Now it’s a luxury apartment building.
posted by eotvos at 10:20 AM on August 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


(honestly, even blue doesn't get off scot-free -- too much exposure to HEV blues leads to headaches in much of the population, messes with your sleep cycle, and slowly blurs your vision towards legal blindness. Many optometrists, who study eyes, recommend specific accommodations around people who might be exposed to too much blue such as blue-blocker glasses. Many companies who need to expose their people to a lot of blue for the positive economic effects, but recognize that this will have negative quality-of-life externalities, pay for those accommodations.

Stretching the metaphor very thin here but even aesthetically speaking, outside of Chefchaouen, too much blue is probably really bad for a city and may render it ugly and unrecognizable. Some blue is clearly good, and I can think of a lot of places that would benefit from more splashes of blue to liven them up after decades of neglect. But you wouldn't just throw blue around willy-nilly -- you'd want to strategically plan and distribute the introduction and co-existence of blue within the fabric of the current neighborhood. This isn't controversial, zoning and other street-by-street microregulation already is the predominant method of control in cities for better or worse. In conclusion, a ton of people get up in the morning and think 'let's get to gentrifying' -- its not even a bad word in many corners of the Real Estate industry, and developers have a lot of money in local politics making sure we think of gentrification, unlike blue or cold, as some sort of mysterious force we can't plan for and actively regulate thank you for your time.)
posted by Chipmazing at 10:21 AM on August 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


No one wakes up in the morning and says "Let's get to gentrifying!"

Real estate developers literally do this.
posted by mcmile at 10:29 AM on August 24, 2018 [44 favorites]


My fascination lately is what's happening in my own backyard: the rapidly accelerating diversification of the Chicago suburbs. My fourth grader's teacher just posted a picture of this year's class. 23 kids: only six of them caucasian, four of those being the children of ex-USSR or other Eastern European immigrants. And this is in Schaumburg, IL, folks. If you're looking for the standard punchline town about lily white Chicago 'burbs, Schaumburg used to be your go-to.

There's something happening here, and for my money, it's at least as interesting as whether upwardly mobile white people and their coffee shops and microbrew pubs are driving up the rents on one bedrooms in the city.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:30 AM on August 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


Now, it is true that gentrification is about more than the community. IMHO the part that makes it gentrification is the affected people don't own their property, but rather rent it. I love my neighbors and my neighborhood, but as a homeowner I'd be ecstatic if my neighborhood was gentrified by people willing to pay 3x the price I paid for my home.

It's not just about folks who rent. Gentrification plays out differently depending on how property taxes work in a particular area. In some places property taxes are reassessed on a regular schedule, while in other places they are reassessed upon sale or by request (there is more nuance — frex, property tax is higher in Texas than most states because there is no income tax). Gentrification is more gradual when property tax isn't automatically reassessed periodically, and folks have more time to plan accordingly. When property tax is reassessed annually, and people can't afford their new tax bills, gentrification can happen very quickly and be much more destructive.
posted by thedward at 11:00 AM on August 24, 2018 [9 favorites]


thedward that's an interesting point about tax. So, is it the case that people get pushed out on the leading edge of gentrification, and wind up selling their home at a smaller profit than they would have if they were able to sit on it for a few more years?
posted by sp160n at 11:03 AM on August 24, 2018


Gentrification is more gradual when property tax isn't automatically reassessed periodically, and folks have more time to plan accordingly. When property tax is reassessed annually, and people can't afford their new tax bills, gentrification can happen very quickly and be much more destructive.

When property tax isn't automatically reassessed periodically, then land use ossifies and areas are left with the same land use that may have made sense decades ago but no longer does. Residents of these areas become extremely resistant to neighbourhood improvements, because they feel trapped in place by their artificially low tax rates, and other residents have to pay extra in tax to support services for people with capped tax rates -- often the most established and wealthiest areas. As the metro grows, these development-resistant areas force new development to be built on the edges and fringes; the least sustainable (financially and environmentally) places to do so.

I believe we are in 100% agreement in describing the effects of fixed-at-sale property tax rates, which are one of the primary causes of the clusterfuck California is in, both at the state and local levels.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:31 AM on August 24, 2018 [12 favorites]


We shouldn't want to live in a static world where things stay the same. We should embrace neighborhoods and communities as beautiful ephemeral joys.

Good on you if you like living in a place where nobody sticks around long enough to form real, lasting relationships. I'm not glad that everyone I know in Brooklyn had to move away because settling down there was fiscally impossible. Now I don't see them regularly and my life is poorer for it. Sure, we're meeting new people in our new neighborhood, but living within walking distance of a friend you've had for 40 years is indescribably valuable.

as a homeowner I'd be ecstatic if my neighborhood was gentrified by people willing to pay 3x the price I paid for my home. I'd feel bad about losing the community, but I'd be able to have more economic security and could probably find that elsewhere.

What you're essentially saying there is that your individual financial gain is more valuable than the irreplaceable social bonds that get decimated by rapid gentrification. I'm a homeowner and there are plans to build 23 $1M+ townhomes right around the corner from me. I am not happy about it because the value of owning a home is, to me, not in its market value, but in the stability it brings by removing the whims of a landlord. The people that buy those homes will by definition be very wealthy and likely entitled and un-neighborly (the place is being ludicrously marketed as a "gated community" despite front doors opening to the street.) It also will increase my property taxes significantly, which I can weather for the time being but presumably many people in my neighborhood cannot. Getting to know our neighbors, becoming a part of the community in a meaningful way, watching people grow and change over decades and being a part of their lives - that is the value of housing security, be it through ownership or rent control. And that cannot be purchased, no matter how much your house's price has appreciated.

This whole idea of looking at housing primarily in terms of ROI is toxic and horrible and needs to die in a fire.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:37 AM on August 24, 2018 [35 favorites]


I know in Brooklyn had to move away because settling down there was fiscally impossible.

It's a ROI problem anyways. The reason Brooklyn isn't affordable is because homeowners (like you do in your post -others may do it more publicly to become policy) choose to make it so. They could be new-resident and new-construction positive and then supply would meet demand like it does across most of the US, where the median new home price is like $250k. By limiting supply, the builders will only build for the $1m townhome set. Which then pushes out the next income class.

In short, the decisions you are advocating will only leave the wealthiest if you give them enough time.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:46 AM on August 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Have you ... been to Brooklyn lately? It's not San Francisco, here. People are building everywhere, in fact, so much, that it's tapping the bounds of what unchanged subways can carry.

Literally towers and towers of new people added to the catchment of the L, which now runs every 4 minutes, because that's the most it can run, and it still unbelievable during rush hour. New towers going up where a factory was. Building all the way out at Broadway Junction. I can see construction from my building everywhere I look.

Now, are these are more expensive than the current housing? Yes. Why? Because builders build luxury because there are always enough people to pay for it, so why not get more. And it will be worth it because New York is the greatest city in America and one of the only with truly comprehensive transit and people will always want to be here.

Brooklynites aren't anti-construction. But San Francisco and the Peninsula are available should you really want to condescend to NIMBYs.
posted by dame at 11:54 AM on August 24, 2018 [19 favorites]


I suspect that this is the exception rather than the norm in post-agricultural societies.

I think this is right, and I do always want to ask what the situation was before the starting point of a gentrification story in any neighborhood--the pre-Edenic period. But for people living in the paradigms of gentrification, though, it's not. Harlem was overwhelmingly African-American, and predominantly low-income, from roughly the 1910s through the 2000s. That's a long time to then see a community start turning over in a decade or two.

By limiting supply

Yes, technically zoning limits supply--but that's true just about everywhere, and in fact far, far more true in suburbs zoned for single-family homes only and similar than in cities that allow large residential developments. Please to consider the number of residential units added/projected to be added in NYC over the last few years. 77,000 units from 2016-2018! I'm sure there's play in those numbers, but...

Also, I feel like I've had this argument roughly 500 times in related threads with people applying a very crude model of supply and demand who think that there actually are commercial developers interested in projects where the ROI is significantly lower than it is for "luxury" developments because they don't understand how capital flows in this society, so I'll just nod to that rather than typing it all over again.
posted by praemunire at 12:00 PM on August 24, 2018 [6 favorites]


grumpybear69 I love the community where I live, and I'm in favor of affordable housing policy to keep it affordable.

That being said, I, along with many people in this world, need to balance some desires, like financial security, with things like living in the community of my choice. My ancestors have all had to make that choice at one time or another, sadly.

It's quite a luxury to be able to turn down a boatload of cash in exchange for staying where you are. It's great that some people have that luxury.

Ideally my neighborhood would remain affordable and dynamic. New people could come and go, etc. I'd take that over a modest increase in value.

But if you're asking me if I'd trade my neighborhood for the economic security of a tripling of my home price, that's a much harder question to answer. I'd rather have both, but we live in a capitalist system.

Would I wipe out my entire network of friends for an economic windfall? No. But rarely are we presented with such a stark choice.
posted by sp160n at 12:01 PM on August 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


if I'd trade my neighborhood for the economic security of a tripling of my home price, that's a much harder question to answer

If you're, say, lower-middle-class, then paper gains on your property value (with attendant increases in property tax) may well not make up for the deterioration of your social network--the old lady across the street who lets your kids stay with her for an hour after school til you get home from work, the fellow church-goer who will bring your elderly mom dinner when you have to go out of town, your friend's son who will spend a couple Saturdays repainting your apartment in return for some pizza and beer, etc.

People do, I think, sometimes overlook the fact that a homeowner in an abruptly gentrifying neighborhood can get a good price for a property that they've owned for 25 years. But then...what? Best case, sell your brownstone in Harlem, you have a couple million to go...where? Just leave the city and your entire social network altogether? Shift to a one-bedroom in new construction?

we live in a capitalist system.

This reminds me of some old Mos Def lyrics: "People talk about hip-hop like it's some giant livin' in the hillside/
Comin' down to visit the townspeople./ We are hip-hop."
posted by praemunire at 12:17 PM on August 24, 2018 [9 favorites]


That being said, I, along with many people in this world, need to balance some desires, like financial security, with things like living in the community of my choice. My ancestors have all had to make that choice at one time or another, sadly.

That reminds me of an interesting article I read a few days ago - Fewer Americans Uproot Themselves for a New Job (WSJ paywall warning). American mobility is down overall.
posted by mosst at 12:53 PM on August 24, 2018


Here's the gist of it:
About 3.5 million people relocated for a new job last year, according to U.S. census data, a 10% drop from 3.8 million in 2015. The numbers have fluctuated between 2.8 million and 4.5 million since the government started tracking annual job-related relocations in 1999—but have been trending lower overall, even as the U.S. population grew by nearly 20% over that stretch.

Experts cite a number of factors that in some periods have kept people in one place, including a depressed value for their home or limited job openings. In the current strong economy, real-estate values have rebounded, but that has made housing costs prohibitively high in some regions where jobs are abundant, such as major East and West Coast cities.

And while more positions are available, often at better pay, many people aren’t interested in relocating for family reasons or because they can get a better job nearby without the disruption and expense of moving.
Also, Pew Research: Americans are Moving at Historically Low Rates, Mostly because Millennials are Staying Put
posted by mosst at 12:57 PM on August 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Community networks only get you so much.

I've already been priced out of the city I was born in and moved somewhere cheaper. The neighborhood I grew up in is nothing like its former self, it's now a playground for rich people. And THANK GOD that all happened.

The windfall from rising home prices made up for a family financial catastrophe. We all had to move away to cheaper places, but it would have been a lot worse if we only had our friends and didn't have that giant lump of cash to soften the blow.

Yes, friends are important, but so is being able to afford a roof over your head. Worrying about where your parents are going to live is not fun. Financial security has a lot to do with happiness. Sometimes that means moving your butt halfway across the country.

If you all want to imagine a world where that tradeoff doesn't exist, be my guest, but good luck making that happen. We're not turning the USA into a giant Kibbutz anytime soon.
posted by sp160n at 1:10 PM on August 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


> I wish there were a way for everyone in a neighborhood to benefit economically, including renters, from changing demographics.

The orderly transfer of property away from the people who currently own it and to the people who live in it, as gradually as necessary but as quickly as possible, by whatever means.

> We should all accept as humans that nothing lasts forever, nor should it.

I agree.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:48 PM on August 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


friends are important, but so is being able to afford a roof over your head

I specifically used examples where, I thought, the significant cost of a replacement service was readily obvious so that it would, I hoped, be plain that I was not talking about whether you could enjoy having coffee with your cronies at the park but whether you could avoid the financial difficulties implicit in, say, trying to find reliable commercial after-school care for your kids on a limited income.

If you all want to imagine a world where that tradeoff doesn't exist, be my guest, but good luck making that happen. We're not turning the USA into a giant Kibbutz anytime soon.

You know there's space between demanding Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism now and acting like the operation of capitalism is a natural law about which we can do nothing and which we can only bow our heads humbly before?

I honestly don't know what to say about a person who is glad that their neighbors were pushed out of their homes because it meant they got a random windfall, and so thinks that process was a good thing generally.
posted by praemunire at 1:52 PM on August 24, 2018 [18 favorites]


Please to consider the number of residential units added/projected to be added in NYC over the last few years. 77,000 units from 2016-2018! I'm sure there's play in those numbers, but...

Dallas and Phoenix have both added way more units compared to population and more total population and at lower price points. So have literally dozens of cities internationally. But fine, NYC growth is so very special.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:20 PM on August 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


It seems like often gentrification is bad because we have built bad cities. Because school districts are pseudo-segregated by wealth, because our transit networks are so poor that if you don't live right next to a friend it's an ordeal to visit them, because our communities are so sterile that moving can mean never knowing your neighbours again. Shouldn't we try to fix these problems, rather than resign ourselves to them?
posted by sidek at 2:34 PM on August 24, 2018 [8 favorites]


praemunire: I find it weird that you extrapolated from my comment that my neighbors got shafted and that I was glad that they did. The vast majority of them were owners, and most of them made out well.

If you use an expansive definition of 'neighbors' to include the whole city/state/country you could argue that America as a whole has suffered as a result. I would argue that's besides the point because the main problem is historical discrimination that has distributed homeownership unfairly among racial lines. If that hadn't happened the ills of gentrification wouldn't be as big a deal.

We're spinning our wheels so much on second order stuff (is it bad for property values in area X to go up?), when those issues would be relatively trivial if we didn't have a racist/classist/x-ist division of property ownership in the first place.

We need, instead, to focus on how we can level the ownership playing field, whether that means encouraging and subsidizing more home ownership via massively redistributive taxation, or just trying and move people away from ownership/rent-seeking in the first place (which is would be a staggering change in cultural values).
posted by sp160n at 2:39 PM on August 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Brooklynites aren't anti-construction.

I should upload the "no towers over brownstone Brooklyn!" display I saw near downtown Brooklyn, complaining about a development at 80 Flatbush. (Not that there's not plenty of development in Brooklyn too.)
posted by asterix at 4:14 PM on August 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


The reason Dallas can add more units than coastal cities has more to do with the laws of geometry than zoning. Being in the middle of someplace wide open and flat gives you a lot more room to expand than when you're bounded by water on one or more sides.
posted by Zalzidrax at 5:55 PM on August 24, 2018


There are certainly Brooklynites who are against the volume and quality of development that is happening. But by far and wide, that has done fuck all to hinder construction of luxury units.

The author kind of gets to this point. Gentrification is often considered on the level of individual preference—hipsters who flock toward snooty coffee shops, homeowners who choose to cash out—but large-scale population shifts are usually the result of systemic changes to taxation, zoning, and transportation. I would probably amend that list with lobbying by developers, Wall Street's novel interventions into the real estae market, and the use of luxury properties for the purposes of money laundering (shout-out to my neighbor Paul Manafort!).

The lack of affordable housing in this city has a lot more to do with the above than it does with the widely ignored complaints of middle class and poor folks.

p.s., As someone whose family has never owned property in the place that we are from, I do not have a hard time imagining a world in which there is no trade-off between a windfall and the loss of a community. We lost our neighborhood and got nothing for it.

p.p.s., Dallas and Phoenix might have a slightly easier time adding units given that their populaion densities are in the 3,000-3,500 people/square mile range, rather than 27,000. NYC isn't special; other dense and hemmed-in cities have similar problems. But the problems it faces in terms of increasing housing stock are pretty different from those of Dallas and Phoenix.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:00 PM on August 24, 2018 [6 favorites]


Most of the people I know who own houses in gentrifying neighborhoods are fairly happy about it. Most of the people I know who own houses in gentrifying neighborhoods are not the sort of people who are discussed as victims of gentrification.
posted by atoxyl at 6:17 PM on August 24, 2018 [8 favorites]


Gentrification in my neighborhood is not only going to push out homeowners who are having their charming old Chicago construction razed for luxury houses; but it's driving rent prices so high I fear I will no longer be able to live in my neighborhood as a renter in an apartment I've lived in for 6 years with my husband, and I wanted to buy a house here! Where is the benefit for my family?
posted by agregoli at 8:13 AM on August 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


> Where is the benefit for my family?

Your family does not have access to enough money to buy a house, and therefore under capitalism the living situation of your family does not matter.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:11 AM on August 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yes, I know, thanks. It's interesting to see how some people think it's a net gain that I would be pushed out of a safe neighborhood for an unsafe one, so that rich people can live the dream of only being next to other rich people.
posted by agregoli at 9:24 AM on August 27, 2018


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