"We conflate the idea that cities change (of course they do!) with the idea that neighborhoods are inevitably taken over by wealthier, whiter residents."
Thank you for addressing this topic! I’m definitely adding Leslie’s book to my reading list. Maybe she answers this question therein, but where I live in Queens, there is a massive housing shortage. We desperately need to build more housing (for current unhoused neighbors as well as a steady stream of incoming new residents), and due to the cost and complexities, large developers seem to be the only entities with that capability. Recently, some people in my neighborhood protested against a new development, and gentrification was one of their main qualms. This development is displacing 10 current residential tenants to create thousands of desperately needed new housing units (the rest of the area is currently industrial/warehouse/commercial space). The local city councilperson (a woman of color) negotiated 1,400+ affordable units, including hundreds for low-income tenants. That said, it is market-rate new construction, and the protesters objected to how it would “change the character of the neighborhood.”
So I guess my question is: when there’s a housing shortage, how can cities alleviate that without contributing to gentrification?
And if new development (which is expensive to live in, because it’s so expensive to build) isn’t the solution, won’t rising rents eventually gentrify the neighborhood anyway, because the lack of supply will drive up the price of housing until only the wealthy can afford to live there? It seems like, at least where I live, opposing new development amounts to saying “sorry, no room for you here!” I’ve also noticed that many of those who oppose development are homeowners and landlords, who benefit from housing scarcity because it increases the value of their properties and they can charge higher rents.
I don’t want to displace people from their homes, but I don’t think the solution is to pull up the drawbridge to keep new people out - and that seems to be the unspoken implication when people talk about resisting gentrification. So is the solution subsidized affordable housing and/or public housing? And if so, how can cities with strapped budgets make that happen?
I cannot wait to read Leslie's book! My background is in city and regional planning (and like her, I've been living in a small town now for several years so I feel a bit disconnected!) but she is so right about there being power structures behind gentrification, including the local governments themselves, and that it is not inevitable.
I could give so many examples from Baltimore City that are simply maddening. In the East Baltimore Development Initiative, rowhome owners were bought out for $30K and then their houses were renovated and flipped for $300K. In West Baltimore, the city bought an entire row of 10 houses for $200K from a landlord (so $20K each) with the intent to demolish them and then give the land to a developer. ALL OF THESE HOMES WERE OCCUPIED, SOME BY THE SAME RENTERS FOR DECADES! Why not buy the houses and then give them to the tenants mortgage-free? Why is it okay to give them to developers and not the existing residents? Why can't the existing residents be given the power to revitalize their own neighborhoods?
This doesn't include all of the people who have been bought out just to have their homes left vacant for a decade and then be considered a health hazard for the city to spend even more money to demolish. It costed the city $600,000 to demolish 16 houses in the 2200 block of Druid Hill Ave!
I went to city council meetings and asked these very questions and no one had direct answers. Yes, I know there are very complicated and decades-long histories behind these projects. But the city's mindset has never been to help house the people already here. Their top priority is to attract and give handouts to developers instead.
My participation of the long discourse around gentrification is very much shaped by my experiences living in a thoroughly gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn, but I confess that as a slogan "gentrification is not inevitable" makes me chafe. Of course the truth of that statement turns entirely on how you define gentrification, but to me what makes New York the city that it is that *change* is inevitable.
Just thinking about the Brooklyn neighborhood where I've lived for the last decade: Within living memory this has been a middle class Jewish neighborhood (Joan Rivers grew up down the block), then a West Indian immigrant neighborhood, then a lower-middle class Black neighborhood, and now a fairly-diverse-by-US-standards-but-a-lot-whiter-than-it-used-to-be upper middle-class neighborhood (that probably leaves out a few groups and steps here and there--and it wasn't so long before all that that this was essentially a rural area). Only that last step is "gentrification" as its commonly understood, but that doesn't change the fact that in the last 80 years there were two or three other major demographic transitions of the kind that are super common in New York as new communities move into and then out of the city. So even if there was nothing inevitable about this becoming a wealthier, whiter neighborhood than it had been (though being four subway stops from Wall Street at a time when the finance industry was booming does make that pretty easy to explain), it does seem inevitable to me that it would have become *something different* and not been frozen in amber as whatever it happened to be in the 60s and 70s. And it will probably become something different again, I will be very surprised if there are still a bunch of washed hipster types living here in 40 years.
I think about this with respect to my grandmother sometimes, she grew up in what was then an Irish immigrant neighborhood in the Bronx, left for the suburbs, and now all four of her 30-something grandchildren live back in the city (albeit Manhattan and Brooklyn). I honestly don't know how to feel about that, her exit in the first place was just as engineered by policy as anything that's discussed in the interview above. If we move back to the city are we "coming home" to where our family was two generations ago before America's (deeply weird in international and historical context) experiment with moving the upper middle class out of central cities, or are we the new arrivals because other communities formed here in the meantime? I have been thinking about this constantly for ten years and I don't feel like I'm any closer to an answer.
Even though this is the bread and butter of my own Substack(please subscribe, it's free!) and professional work (and Leslie, I would love to chat with you soon, your book is also on my TBR), it's good to see us having this conversation outside of the capital U urbanism and related communities.
It's also encouraging to have folks I consider white allies making sure we have a real, equitable conversation about this and flat out saying the words that gentrification is not inevitable, especially as we reckon with the damage other race and classed "solutions" to housing and transportation have done to our society.
Living in a Black queer feminist urbanist body going through all of this is heavy. If I don't speak up, I might not survive. I would say more, even on my platform, but sometimes the thought of not being able to afford rent or worse, eviction, because I call out the immorality of these practices has me curled up in a ball. I'm working on separate projects because my newsletter doesn't reach enough people for me to be 100% financially independent.
I value this newsletter for so many of the other cultural takes and I'm happy to know that you have my proverbial back with this issue. I look forward to sharing more with all of y'all both here and on my platform as I dedicate 2023 to afirmatively declare that none of these issues, even our Earth burning up, is inevitable!
So much tied up in this issue, and I will put her book on my list. I work for a company that builds affordable housing, and it is wild to see all the barriers put up to AH in cities. It’s nearly impossible to build any because to get the tax credit to build, it has to be the perfect unicorn of a spot: walk score above 80, on a bus line, and walking distance to some kind of health care.
There are workarounds to this, but most apartment builders obviously want to build for profit. It’s a whole mess.
This conversation comes up so much in walkability and public transit circles. Change is inevitable but gentrification (as the author defines it) isn’t; to ensure that means making sure that people have a say in their neighborhoods and policies are designed to help people “stay put” (in Jane Jacobs’s terms) if they want to. It is possible. It takes a lot of hard work but that’s partly because our systems are so thoroughly designed to reward and encourage profit rather than other values.
Very excited that this book is centred on Toronto! I live downtown in one of the few centrally-located neighbourhoods that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, and still if I were to want to move into my current unit as a new tenant, I wouldn't be able to afford it. Yay rent control, but boo to literally being unable to move.
I think of all the things that made Toronto so exciting when I moved here ~15 years ago as an undergraduate and feel like a lot of them just wouldn't be possible today, or would be inaccessible to most. The kinds of people who made them happen are priced out or made to feel unwelcome or hamstrung by shitty policy. I've thought about leaving, especially since I'm starting a new career and could look for jobs anywhere, but... I can't afford other places either!
I find this article especially interesting in light of the Twitter feed regarding a man in Chicago, riding the L (public transportation) using a laptop. The woman who posted lamented about gentrification and literally wrote that she wanted him to get robbed, as did others in the comments. Many people reposted the thread, with Chicagoans noting the L stop sign seen in the background identified that that area was gentrified already, and who knows where the man got on in the first place. Also: computer could be owned by his employer, could be old, could have been bought refurbished, etc. And are people arguing that only 'poor' people should be taking public transportation? Shouldn't it be a safe alternative for everyone ?
As a Chicagoan who has lived away for many years, I couldn't speak to the particular neighborhood. But I grew up in Wrigleyville/Boys Town in the 1970s, and while my neighborhood has grown, changed, expanded since I was a child (my parents still live in my childhood home) imo sometimes people will use 'gentrified' to mean 'changed' instead of the true meaning (NOT talking about the author obviously, but around the particular Twitter situation. I hope this makes sense!)
Fascinating, thanks. I am telling myself I will buy this book. I think a lot about gentrification in the context of my neighborhood and one a few blocks away that I think of as ungentrifiable. The latter because it's the old Catholic neighborhood (literally the Catholic cemetery is on one side of the street) and it's a very dense street of freestanding but mostly quite small houses on what I think are small lots. So there's not a lot of room to do much tearing down and putting up bigger stuff *I don't think* although I wonder if in a few years we'll see how creatively capital can approach that challenge. A few houses show signs of attempts at gentrification by individuals, with some very weird results on one of them, but at least now it doesn't seem to be taking off. (Also the area lies awkwardly between T stops.)
My neighborhood is like ... half gentrified? The trend for things in Cambridge becoming more and more expensive very much applies and you definitely see the freestanding houses that go on the market being bought by developers and getting the exact renovation that every other developer flip gets and then being put on the market for truly ridiculous amounts of money, but there's also a large apartment building that as I understand it used to be market rate rentals and some years back became all affordable, then close by that there's a newer (and much nicer) affordable housing development. So the neighborhood is a hodgepodge of condo buildings a couple decades old that aren't super fancy but are participating in the general increase in prices; formerly single-family houses that at some point were converted into two or three unit rentals; a few maybe 6-10 unit apartment buildings on what probably used to be duplex lots; freestanding houses ripe for flipping or immediately post-flip; and affordable housing. And the visible move on changing the housing situation that everyone talks about is the effort to build more affordable units on the property with the big building (which a lot of neighbors organized against -- very interesting since a lot of the rhetoric was exactly what's usually used against affordable housing developments, minus opposition to living near affordable housing given that it's already here; also the residents of the existing units used that to get political leverage on their own complaints about their landlord), but meanwhile the developers are coming in and profiting house by house as they buy up and flip things, which is not something being much discussed.
Can I just say: FUCKING love this. I am currently in grad school studying arts management. I am endlessly irritated by the way arts and artists are used for "creative community" and "creative placemaking". While those things are true, they're NOT the sole purpose of art. Furthermore, most artists and arts managers I know are decidedly progressive, socialist or even communist in their politics. This neoliberal valuation of our work only fuels our worst capitalist tendencies and literally uses the poor to price themselves out of a home! Ahhhh! But I don't have answers. This interview and these books offer a glimmer of hope to me.
This is so good. It addresses many of the issues we face across Hawaiʻi as newcomers displace local residents in neighborhoods to which they have genealogical ties. Our local communities need all the allies they can get and changing the "inevitability" narrative is a great place for all of us to start. I just bought the book (thanks for the link).
I thought about buying the book, then remembered I’m on a budget this year and so am using my library not my credit card.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how far I’ve come to be part of conversations like this as a property owner, college educated professional. My working class poor upbringing did not guarantee any of this. I like the idea that gentrification is not inevitable. So often we have thought it a guarantee, a right of passage in some way for, usually, young white disaffected people fleeing their upbringing. It is so much the history of the western world: to take what it sees as undervalued or indeed to undervalue it then take it from others who were trying to survive. We could share resources. That could be inevitable.
The digital nomad visa is finally going through in Spain this year, it seems. I dread the impact it will have on local culture of all kinds as well as rents and property prices. See: Portugal, which thanks to easy-to-get residence visas is still affordable to visit but not to settle in for those on a limited budget. I think of it as gentrification of a slightly different form.
I write this as someone who has the kind of privilege necessary to uproot and settle here in Spain without fulltime work. I wouldn't be surprised if locals see me as a kind of gentrifier myself, although my apartment and lifestyle are very modest by US standards. So it feels a little hypocritical to want the well-salaried digital nomads to go elsewhere in the world... but this part of Spain now feels like home, and along with the rest of the people who've called this home for much longer than I have, I don't want to be priced out of it by a bunch of cryptobros.