Gentrification: What’s it Good For?

In the Bay Area, where property values are constantly rising, the term gentrification is thrown around, but few actually know what it means. Gentrification is a multifaceted with many  different implications. According to John Muller, a writer for Greater Greater Washington,  gentrification is “middle class people taking up residence in a traditionally working class areas of a city, changing the character of the area.” In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about gentrification in San Francisco’s Mission District, authors Joe Garofoli and Carolyn Said describe it as, “a situation more nuanced than the past narrative of rich newcomers forcing out longtime residents”. This definition recognizes that gentrification takes on different forms and there is not easy to decide if it is good or bad. Although gentrification has many perceived benefits for residents in gentrifying areas, those same residents are often times not there to enjoy the revamped neighborhoods.

Gentrification isn’t necessarily wealthy people moving into an area with the intention of taking over and claiming it as their own. Often times it can come down to people who have money moving into a neighborhood that they appreciate, unintentionally pushing former residents out.

Gentrification creates a snowball effect, beginning with ambitious wealthy families encroaching on new territory. They then tell their friends and those friends follow. More and more people hear about the neighborhood and how nice it is, and they too move. All of the sudden, the area is full of new people looking to improve, upgrade, and revitalize. A fitting definition that reflects this process comes from a PBS article. This article captures the way that gentrification plays out in a concise and clear way. Gentrification is described as “arrival of new people in an existing urban district, a related increase in rents and property values, and changes in the district’s character and culture” (PBS).  The residents who were there in the first place are pushed out along with the culture they had once cultivated in their homes.

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Features that are known to attract gentrification are culture and community (two things that gentrifiers desperately wish to purchase). For example, many people are drawn to the strong culture in the Mission in San Francisco. The rich culture that is spread throughout the Mission district takes the form of public art, lively community centers, and festive gatherings. The many murals around the mission are a sight to see. Karen Lau, an author for San Francisco Travel describes the mission as a “virtual outdoor art gallery full of vibrant murals”. The artists who create these pieces of public art are as much a part of the culture as the paintings themselves. When new money and people move into the area the same art that was once there is no longer as powerful and meaningful when the creators are no longer there.

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With a strong community, like in the Mission, there are often small businesses that reflect the population and culture of that community. In the mission as new, more expensive restaurants have moved into the rapidly growing neighborhood changing that. A restaurant called Local’s Corner is the perfect example. The owner of the restaurant opened it, along with three other places in the Mission. With the more expensive option many locals were unhappy and business eventually slowed down and Local’s Corner closed. However the owner Yaron Milgrom said, he wouldn’t have had a chance to open the restaurant in the first place“if this weren’t a growth period in San Francisco and there wasn’t lots of development and changes and people weren’t getting excited about this neighborhood”. He saw the opportunity to start business and took it. However the more upscale institution was not favored by nearby residents. They felt like the new place didn’t reflect the old Mission, it reflected the new and wealthier version.

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Gentrification can easily change the economic structure of an area. As new people with more money move in, there is basically no chance that people with less money would ever end up back in that neighborhood. “Once the pendulum swings toward wealth, it rarely swings back” says Joe Garofoli and Carolyn Said (SFChronicle). When a neighborhood starts moving towards wealth it will probably never go back. In processes like this, those with money win and those without lose. “Change nearly always involves winners and losers.” says Benjamin Grant (PBS). The people who enjoy their new neighborhood win and the people who are pushed out are the losers.

Even when the reason for relocation was not eviction, individuals who are forced out by those with more money, often times feel resentful due to the fact that more money provides more options and they don’t have those same options. It is a vicious cycle where low income families are seen as being forced out. With rising rent and evictions, locals who have lived in gentrifying areas for years don’t have other options for living in the same neighborhoods.

There are many benefits that can come from gentrification. With new people and new money coming into a neighborhood, the work force of the surrounding area has a tendency to flourish. New and wealthy business people could be “creating more jobs with [their] next big ideas” (Alistair Crane). Meltzer and Pooya Ghorbani, authors of a study about the effects of gentrification suggest that, “jobs of all earnings levels see an increase under conditions of ZIP-wide gentrification, the magnitude of the gain is largest for moderate- and low earning jobs”. This means that in gentrified neighborhoods, there is an increase in wages, especially for people in traditionally low paying jobs.  In an article about gentrification Patrick Gillespie writes, “low income folks… have benefitted by seeing an increase in jobs and lower crime” (CNN Money). Lower crime rates and more people in the workforce creates the potential for growth and development in communities that might not have been present before.

The revitalization and upgrades that often come with a gentrified can make a city more appealing to potential residents. However, with this new attraction, housing prices skyrocket and the lower class is pushed out of their previous residence. If the local government takes preventative measures to insure the protection of their citizens like set mortgage rates and public programs this epidemic can be avoided.

There are obvious drawbacks from gentrification, it has been proven to discriminate and oppress people of color and the impoverished. According to an article by Patricia Valoy, “gentrification is new-wave colonialism, and it has economic, societal, and public health repercussions for poor communities of color” (Everyday Feminism). Valoy’s comparison of modern day gentrification to colonialism was a shocking one, however the parallels between the two are irrefutably present.

Even though there are many parallels, gentrification does not seem like a process that is rooted in taking control over an area. People move to areas they think they would like to live without thinking about the effects of their move. In any area, even one where there are mostly poor people of color, people who have more money have more options to move wherever they want. It only starts to make more of a difference when people who have more money have a lot more money. So when people of color living in a neighborhood are pushed out by white people with even a little more money, it cements the stereotype that white people are rich and people of color are not. This is partly why gentrification is seen as such a negative process.   

A phenomena that can occur in gentrified neighborhoods that affects other areas that have less money is Not in My Backyard. Not in My Backyard, according to the Huffington Post, is when “people do not want to lose what they have and they do not trust the large and powerful institutions that try to site major facilities near their homes.” This means that when large companies and other institutions try to place necessary facilities in wealthier and growing neighborhoods they have more of an option to say no and push those facilities into smaller and less wealthy areas nearby.

NIMBY is not a good thing for communities. According to the Huffington Post, NIMBY is “not a natural phenomenon; it is a social construct that needs to be addressed.” It is driven by fear and doesn’t promote positive relationships between cities and the people living there. In order to combat this behavior, communities need to find ways to compromise. It is unfair to places with fewer resources to force the facilities that are unwanted elsewhere when these communities with fewer resources have very little power to prevent it.

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Oftentimes gentrification is looked at as an issue of race, when it is actually an economic issue. When gentrification is acknowledged as an issue of race, it is an oversimplification of the problem. Instead, areas that are facing and afraid of gentrification need to address the economic impacts of gentrification and how to minimize those impacts on low income families.

Gentrification is intimidating, with many implications that aren’t often discussed. People with the means to move into culturally rich areas should take responsibility for preserving the culture and being respectful of the people who may feel the effects of the newer population.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Mia teller says:

    super interesting essay! I wasn’t aware that anyone interpreted gentrification to mean good but that’s interesting as well! I really appreciate the media accompanying the text, makes for an easy and interesting read.

    Like

  2. jackgnelson says:

    Great article, I always appreciate a piece of writing that acknowledges all opinions and facts. I thought it was funny that someone was telling people how much art meant(since meaning is up to the beholder). Either way its a very complex issue that I struggle to find an opinion on as balancing protecting residents and allowing for people to live where they want is hard to balance.

    Like

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