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GentrificationIntroduction Beginning in the 1960s, middle and upper class populations began moving out of the suburbs and back into urban areas. At first, this revitalization of urban areas was "treated as a 'back to the city' movement of suburbanites, but recent research has shown it to be a much more complicated phenomenon" (Schwirian 96). This phenomenon was coined "gentrification" by researcher Ruth Glass in 1964 to describe the residential movement of middle-class people into low-income areas of London (Zukin 131). More specifically, gentrification is the renovation of previously poor urban dwellings, typically into condominiums, aimed at upper and middle class professionals. Since the 1960s, gentrification has appeared in large cities such as Washington D.C., San Francisco, and New York. This trend among typically young, white, upper-middle class working professionals back into the city has caused much controversy (Schwirian 96).
The arguments for and against gentrification will be examined in this paper. Gentrification does not follow traditional urban growth theory, which predicts "the decline of inner city areas as monied classes move to the metropolitan fringe." The traditional economic model of real estate says that wealthy people can choose their housing from the total city market (Schwirian 96). Once these people decide to live in the suburbs, the lower social classes move into the old homes of the upper class, essentially handing housing down the socioeconomic ladder. Gentrification is actually a reversal of this process. For a variety of reasons, many inner city areas are becoming more attractive to the wealthy, and they are selecting their housing in those areas (Schwirian 96). The problem is that now when the wealthy take over poor homes and renovate them, the poor cannot afford the housing that the wealthy have abandoned. Many researchers have argued whether gentrification has truly created problems in cities.
I will analyze the arguments for and against gentrification by exploring the subject from both sides.Why is the City So Attractive? Many researchers have theorized why the wealthy desire to move back into the city. Schwirian believes that many wealthy people are drawn to the architectural design of some of these old houses in urban areas (Schwirian 96). Harvey believes in a number of theories, and uses West Oakland, California as an example. One reason that the city is so attractive to the wealthy is the location. Since most of the main business centers of a city are located in the urban part of the city, the wealthy are closer to where they work, drastically reducing commuting time to and from work. Another reason is the lack of land ownership. For example, 80% of all occupied property in West Oakland is occupied by renters. Many cannot afford to buy their houses.
"In 1990, West Oakland residents earned a median income of $11,529. By comparison, the median income for the Bay Area as a whole was $41,635." Many residents in West Oakland are unable to purchase their homes at the assessed value, which is significantly lower than the asking price, due to the wealthy land developers' plans to renovate the property. Probably the most attractive feature of the city is its low property and housing values. For example, "many of the single-family residential parcels in West Oakland are valued by the County Assessor's office as $70,000 or less. Although many of these parcels most likely will sell for more than their assessed value, land in West Oakland still remains well below comparable land in other regions of the Bay Area." The city property is much cheaper than the suburban, even though many of the city houses are more spacious than the suburban houses (Harvey). All of these factors contribute to the attractiveness of the city to the wealthy. Negative Indirect Effects of Gentrification According to Alejandrino, there are several indirect effects of gentrification.
One effect is that community development corporations, or CDCs, pay more for land. These corporations are specifically dedicated to revitalizing and preserving neighborhoods. Due to the growing demand for housing, CDCs must compete with market rate developers when acquiring properties (Alejandrino 28). Because of this competition, the cost of developing affordable housing is driven up, and this makes it harder for the CDCs to complete their function as aids for people in the community. Another effect is that service providers' clientele and staff leave the gentrified area in search of affordable housing. For example, in San Francisco, many low-income constituents have left the gentrified area known as the Mission. In response to their migrating client base, service providers have begun to establish offices elsewhere.
In addition, non-profit organizations often cannot pay employees enough income to live in the gentrified area because of the price increase (Alejandrino 28). So as a result, many long-time employees are leaving non-profits in the gentrified area, which is definitely hurting these businesses. Yet another effect of gentrification is its effect on senior citizens. Seniors often live in the same unit for many years. As a result, rent control has kept their rents well below market rate, and landlords stand to gain the most from evicting them. For example, in the Mission District of San Francisco, many seniors live on a fixed income, and cannot afford market rate rents once they are evicted.
"They lack mobility, and have difficulty re-locating for financial, social, and health reasons" (Alejandrino 28). This situation proves to be extremely harmful for senior citizens experiencing gentrification. On top of that, evictions caused by gentrification may lead to "blacklisting" of tenants. "Vacant units in the city receive such a large volume of responses, that landlords will use any means to filter out applicants" (Alejandrino 28). If the area one lives in experiences gentrification, he or she will not be able to find other affordable housing, and will in turn be evicted. Once that happens, it will be extremely difficult to find a new unit. This problem, coupled with low income, would force homelessness upon the affected residents in the gentrified area.Community Response to Gentrification Most communities that experience gentrification feel that it does more harm than it helps.
There are several paths that a community can travel in order to lessen the severity of gentrification in their neighborhood. In the 1980s, a number of responses occurred on the Lower East Side of New York City. One response of the community was to set up a "cross-subsidy program," which attempted to ensure the development of affordable housing. In 1987, the City of New York proposed a program whereby the city would sell vacant land in the Lower East Side to developers wishing to build market rate housing. In exchange, neighborhood non-profit organizations would be given city-owned tenements and the money needed to rehabilitate them for affordable housing (Alejandrino 34). Also, the Lower East Side community responded to gentrification through "urban homesteading." This program worked with low-income residents to acquire and renovate abandoned buildings on the Lower East Side.
The residents provided the labor, while the city donated the properties and materials. "Between 1980 and 1994, a total of 45 buildings and 365 units throughout New York City were constructed through the City homesteading program" (Alejandrino 34). These programs were necessary to remedy the effects of gentrification in the city.Positive Views of Gentrification Tierney from The New York Times believes that gentrification is not negative, but a positive growth for a city. He believes that economically, gentrification revitalizes activity by bringing in residents with high-income levels. Many businesses will soon follow the wealthy to benefit from these new centers of wealth (Tierney). Gentrification supporters claim that it does not displace poor residents, but allows them to live a better life in the city.
The businesses that move to the city in response to gentrification provide new jobs for the lower-income residents. In a recent study of New York and Boston's current conditions, displacement has been said to occur in only a very small percentage of low-income residents. The study reports, "only 5 percent of the New Yorkers who moved during the late 1990's reported being forced to move by high rents." The study concludes that old residents are inclined to stay because of better living conditions and simply pay higher rent as property values increase (Tierney). Old residents are able to do this because of the increase in income from the new jobs brought in by gentrification. Tierney strongly believes that opponents of gentrification are not looking at its positive views. While it is true that gentrification will bring in more businesses, that does not necessarily mean that the low-income residents will be hired and benefit from these businesses.
Also, this study misrepresents the problem. The study takes statistics from the late 1990s, while gentrification has been occurring since the 1960s. This study only shows that gentrification has started to slow down, and this is due to the economic recession. If a more thorough study were conducted, a better representation of the effects of gentrification would be evident.Conclusion Gentrification has been a phenomenon affecting cities for four decades. The majority of the community being gentrified believes that it does more harm than good by forcing low-income residents to leave their homes. Some people believe that gentrification provides a community with a source of revitalization through new businesses and an influx of income.
I feel that there is overwhelming evidence against gentrification. The case studies I have presented clearly display the problem of the displacement of low-income residents. Yes, gentrification will bring more income to the community, but in the process, replace its original residents with wealthier residents. These lower-income residents will in turn have nowhere else to live.Alejandrino recommends several approaches a community can take to the problem of gentrification. The community can leverage resources for low-income residents and local businesses from new developments. Instead of opposing all development in the city, anti-gentrification advocates should use the influx of capital to their advantage. In addition, it is recommended to "adopt a pro-active, rather than reactive, stance to displacement." A good strategy would be to challenge projects one at a time and assist individual households threatened with eviction.
Resources should be divided between short-term and long-term actions. Finally, anti-gentrification advocates should develop a comprehensive approach to slowing down gentrification. "A combination of relocation assistance, homebuyer programs, affordable housing development, land use planning, community organizing, and small business support must occur to address gentrification on all fronts" (Alejandrino 47). These are just some recommendations to help rescue those negatively affected by gentrification. Works CitedAlejandrino, Simon V. Gentrification in San Francisco's Mission District: Indicators and Policy Recommendations.
University of California at Berkeley, 2000.Harvey, Todd, and et al. Gentrification and West Oakland: Causes, Effects, and Best Practices 1999. 22 Nov. 2003. .Schwirian, Kent P. 'Models of Neighborhood Change.' Annual Review of Sociology 9(1983): 83-102.Tierney, John. 'The Gentry, Misjudged as Neighbors.' New York Times 26 Mar. 2002, sec.
B: 1.Zukin, Sharon. 'Gentrification: Culture and Capital in the Urban Core.' Annual Review of Sociology 13(1987): 129-147..
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