With NYC on its way to becoming one long Trader Joe's line, the "g" word has become something of a curse, like "bedbugs" or "gluten-free." But not everyone's afraid of Big Bad Gentrification. In fact, according to an article in The Economist today, we should be drowning more neighborhoods in artisanal mayonnaise, because gentrification isn't pushing anyone out, apparently.
This isn't the first time we've heard the "gentrification is good" argument, and from an economist's perspective, it makes sense. According to the paper—which suggests welcoming "a bearded intruder on a fixed-gear bike in your neighbourhood," for this is the official gentrifier uniform—when people flood into a crumbling neighborhood, they open new establishments, create jobs, and bring in property tax revenue, all of which help old and new residents. Of course, they also appear to force mom & pop shops to shutter, price out longterm residents and, in New York's case at least, inspire predatory landlords to illegally toss out rent-stabilized tenants in favor of more high-paying ones.
According to The Economist, though, gentrifiers aren't necessarily pushing poor people out, at least on a national scale:
Yet there is little evidence that gentrification is responsible for displacing the poor or minorities. Black people were moving out of Washington in the 1980s, long before most parts of the city began gentrifying. In cities like Detroit, where gentrifiers are few and far between and housing costs almost nothing, they are still leaving. One 2008 study of census data found “no evidence of displacement of low-income non-white households in gentrifying neighbourhoods”. They did find, however, that the average income of black people with high- school diplomas in gentrifying areas soared...
...The bigger problem for most American cities, says Mr Butler, is not gentrification but the opposite: the concentration of poverty. Of neighbourhoods that were more than 30% poor in 1970, just 9% are now less poor than the national average.
The Economist argues that gentrification in Williamsburg, where the median rent for a one-bedroom is now $3,100 a month, didn't actually displace many poor or minority residents. We'd love to hear some of the Southside's Puerto Rican and Dominican locals thoughts on that. And many of the artists that started the neighborhood's first wave have been priced out, and gentrifying neighborhoods like Crown Heights, Bushwick, and Bedford-Stuyvesant do have many longterm poor and minority residents who may already be finding themselves pushed further east thanks to wealthier newcomers.
To be sure, not everyone's crowing about the blessings bestowed by the Starbucks set. U.S. News & World Report published a piece today showing how gentrification is making many public schools socioeconomically segregated, with wealthier students piling into better-funded selective enrollment programs instead of neighborhood public schools.
An urban geography professor in the Netherlands penned a piece in The Guardian this week warning Detroit residents that gentrifiers will contribute to "growing inequality across the city," noting that the revival of the city's downtown area and influx of white residents will focus better public transportation and security in that small region, while 95 percent of Detroit will continue to suffer.
And also in The Guardian this week, a native San Franciscan pointed out that the black culture and community she once enjoyed in inner-city neighborhood is being pushed out in favor of fancy restaurants, boutiques and chains:
I returned home this year to find Fillmore gentrified. The black population of San Francisco is half of what it was in the 80s and Hayes Valley and Lower Pacific Heights are encroaching on what I knew as Fillmore. A hipster-preppy-tech-idea of Fillmore is gradually replacing the neighborhood I knew.
And that’s OK. Cities evolve and neighborhoods change. We can’t stop Manifest Destiny, can we?
But the idea that the wealthy newcomers are culturally superior is as old as white people “gentrifying” areas occupied by people of color. Gentrification supplants one culture with another; it doesn’t fill in a void.