The Dilemma of Gentrification


Living in cities is once again a viable option as trends of suburbanization are seen to be reversing at least in some urban areas. The inner city was long neglected and seen as a haven from poverty and crime. This was much in part to the dilapidated structures and abandoned property that resulted due to the changing economy from manufacturing to services. Industries no longer needed central city locations or simply found cheaper land outside the city due to advances in telecommunications and transportation. So they left lock stock and barrel leaving behind either contaminated lands or simply abandoned structures that the vandals took over.

gentrificationOf course, the people that worked in those establishments didn’t follow the path of the retreating industries either because it wasn’t feasible or affordable to but largely because the industries no longer needed them. They found themselves to be out of a job and the poverty status wasn’t too far behind. Crime and poverty are often unwilling partners in these neglected parts and soon everyone else including the government writes them off and let them remain in these godforsaken parts of inner cities.

But things don’t remain the same as economy changes and so does attitudes and perceptions of people. It once again became hip to live in cities. At first, certain sections of the seemingly middle-class started moving back in the city. They spruced up their neighborhood a little, tried fitting in with the neighbors and soon got their friends interested in moving next door to them. The neighborhood, as they say, started gentrifying. Homes that once housed low income residents slowly began to be occupied by higher income people who moved to the city owing to low rents or property prices long suppressed either by crime, dilapidation, or simply due to the fact of being where it was.

People who moved in didn’t just move in but they fixed up their houses, cleaned the yards, and even got the government to cleanup the nearby brownfields. It doesn’t take long for the laws of economics and real estate to notice such changes. Prices start rising and so do the property prices. Unfortunately, the ones that had always lived there enduring years of poverty, crime, dilapidation suddenly find their homes to expensive to live in as the state comes calling for the increased property taxes. If you can’t afford your property taxes, why don’t you sell your homes to those nice people who would love to fix it up, says the state (or the market). Economically it makes sense but do they really want to leave? Probably they have lived there all their life, went to school there and built their childhood memories in the neighborhood. But the calling of the market is strong enough to stifle such sentiments.

The city isn’t complaining. It can finally look at the neighborhood without feeling sorry for its residents; after all they seem to have gotten a new lease of life. And of course, there is that little matter of increased tax revenue through property taxes for the city coffers. Everyone loves the new folk and like what they are doing to the neighborhood. Soon there is a Starbucks to cater to the new clientele and a wine bar is opening shortly. You hear faint music and laughter on Friday nights.

Where are the erstwhile residents, you ask? Who knows. Probably in some old-age home living their last days in peace or some other ignored neighborhood that hasn’t yet been gentrified. You never know they just might have to move once again when it is the turn of that neighborhood to be gentrified. The gentrified neighborhood sports a new look but where are the people that made it a neighborhood in the first place? Should we care about the place or the people?

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One thought on “The Dilemma of Gentrification

  1. FS

    This seems to be the conventional wisdom, that gentrification is a universally bad thing for a neighbourhood’s traditional population. I find it hard to believe that new residents who want to fix up the neighbourhood and add to the local community are an entirely negative factor.

    I’d be interested in learning more about gentrifying neighbourhoods that have tried to maintain housing for low-income families. The evidence points to mixed-income neighbourhoods as the healthiest kind from a social and economic standpoint. Let’s look at how we can direct gentrification to help create them!

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