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Thursday, January 22, 2009


I love watching areas go from urban blight to prime real estate. 14th and U is a great example; when I was in high school, the very names of the streets carried horrible stigmas, but nowadays that corner is perhaps one of the most famous non-government areas of DC. Okay, maybe after Georgetown... but even parts Georgetown were very neglected while I was growing up.

Yes, in a perfect world, we'll all have our four story house in Kalorama right near a Metro station and some nice shops. But the fact of the matter is that the meat and potatoes of a city's population can't afford to live in such fancy digs, and it is unwise to over-gentrify a city for this reason. Plumbers, teachers, fire fighters, custodians, and other working class professionals demand more moderately priced housing.

Gentrification can be a good thing for some parts of a city. But recently I came across one very controversial blogger (warning: coarse language) from Brooklyn who is an extreme case of just howout of control gentrification can get. Gentrification causes tension between socio-economic classes, which often translates into racial tension. Even when it doesn't, it prices out workers who are vital to the day-to-day function of a city... the EMTs, bus drivers, carpenters, police officers, and mechanics. These (and countless others) are all noble professions vital to any community. It sends the very wrong kind of message when a city forces out its lower-wage residents.

But this is no reason to stop progress in working-class neighborhoods. There is a right way to fix these areas. It can be cost effective and productive for the city, and it doesn't have to include wholesale outpricing of the neighborhood's residents. One such project in Southeast (tip: River East Idealist) has shown that an area can be rehabilitated while keeping the people who brought the sense of community there. The investment in the Wheeler Terrace development was largely the product of the residents, who, faced with losing their homes to gentrification, fought to have their development refurbished instead of razed in favor of luxury condos.

Though this level of community activism is admirable, it shouldn't take this much effort for a struggling community (particularly one neglected by the city for so long) to keep their homes while the neighborhood recieves a makeover. Mixed use and mixed income ought to come with new developments, but older working-class residential developments should not be stomped out when a city gets refurbished. They ought to recieve the type of elbow grease that encourages their working class residents to want to live there, a sign that their city recognizes its need for a blue collar workforce


Carmen said...

Prime example of destructive gentrification - Baltimore Inner Harbour. Yes, the Inner HArbour is nice and profitable for all these big chain stores and what not, but, really, what has it done for Baltimore as a city? Were the middle to lower class Baltimore residents considered when there homes were plowed down for the Cheesecake Factories and ESPN Zones? Sure, it generated some jobs. Some minimum wage, seasonal types of jobs. What did it do for the fabric of the city? For the small businesses? For the crime rate? For the schools? NOTHING. Development for the sake of making cities look pretty for the tourists and the wealthiest people to enjoy is not enough. It has to be about raising up the community from within. What are some good examples of Gentrification? Where was it done right?

Dave Murphy said...

In the case of the Inner Harbor, it brought some much needed tourism to the city, as well as commerce. It's much more inviting to go to Oriole Park, M&T Bank Stadium, or the Mariner Arena, not to mention all the Harbor attractions. I think the problem there is that it didn't bleed over to surrounding neighborhoods to make them more inviting, and where it did it priced residents out (Federal Hill, Canton).

I think Georgetown is a good example of good gentrification. It brought out the historical charm of the area, and I can live with little affordable housing in a part of town not served by as much transit. I also like the areas immediately surrounding the Federal District.

Carmen said...

In the inner harbour... sure, it's much more inviting to tourists - but that's not the purpose. The purpose should be to benefit the RESIDENTS of the city. It should raise up the culture of the people who live there.

Instead, it destroyed a lot of the culture, and none of the benefit went back to the RESIDENTS. See crime rate, see poverty rate, see high school graduation rate.

To me, gentrification that does not benefit the RESIDENTS and raise up the COMMUNITY is bad.

Cavan said...

Gentrification is a direct result of there not being enough housing in walkable urban settings. There's a reason why people are willing to pay so much more money for a nice place in a good walkable urban environment. It is so rare as a part of the overall housing market. The prices won't come down until there is enough housing in walkable places to start to satisfy demand.

That's what happens when you only build one type of real estate product for 60 years. You get really screwed up housing markets.