Monday, August 2, 2010

Gentrification Apology?

"Yet the ailing cities that save themselves in the 21st century will do so by following Brooklyn's blueprint. They'll gentrify as fast as they can."

Adam Sternbergh, "What's Wrong With Gentrification: The Displacement Myth," New York, December 21-28, 2009.

It's never too late to comment on a bizzare statement like the above. The author is right in talking about some of the benefits of gentrification and poking holes in some of its supposed costs. Crime may go down, services expand, housing equity for those who own goes up. In cities with shakier-than-average economies, getting upset by a little gentrification makes little sense in light of abandonment. And we have to ask who really has moral claims on any neighborhood since neighborhood change has been central to the story of American cities.

But I have a few problems with gentrification. Current residents move somewhere, even though some neighborhoods may grow denser. Maybe they leave having sold for a good price, maybe they lose affordable rental housing in the context of not-enough affordable housing, or maybe higher property taxes, etc. make owning unaffordable. Let's not kid ourselves about people leaving --for good and bad. Also, neighborhood change is rarely pretty thing -- and there are typically a set of developers, promoters, etc. who make money off the process -- sometimes aided by public officials and investments of different kinds. Unscupulous at times, speculative: gentrification occurs in waves, not the one big wave.

Finally, is gentrification an urban development strategy for cities in tough circumstances? Is Brooklyn's blueprint (if one exists) to be copied? Of is Brooklyn's gentrification related to it being in the big diversified economy of New York. Let's admit it: creative people are only so creative -- and there are only so many of them. Markets matter.

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