Gentrification or Cultural Shift?

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Do you remember your old neighborhood where you grew up? Are you used to certain tree arrangements, that cracked curb you always used to trip over, or even that annoying neighborhood dog? Whether you loved or hated your old neighborhood, did you feel a sense of nostalgia upon coming back? Of course, you would feel such memories of yesteryear…if they hadn’t completely change the place. There are now new shops, restaurants, and even a small high rise apartment complex or two now. Everything has changed, but for the better?

This is the sentiment many people struggle with when considering whether or not gentrification of a neighborhood is a good thing. Are things simply getting better for residents, or is the standard going to result in their displacement? On the other hand, is the natural demographic change of a neighborhood over time considered gentrification? People leave areas for various reasons and are not always forced out by a wealthy real estate interest.

gentrificationAll regions and neighborhoods undergo change over time by responding to the kinds of people that move in. There are many neighborhoods that spring up or disappear entirely due to some economic trends and major events in history. For example, Detroit originally became a major metropolitan center because of the car manufacturing factories that employed thousands. Since the major American auto manufacturers pulled up stakes because of rising costs in the early 2000’s, the area has devolved into a scene from war-torn Europe a la World War II. Even though the city has been decaying, it is starting to see a similar resurgence much like Brooklyn.

Unfortunately, it seems that gentrification is inevitable when improving a neighborhood or region. The renovation and revitalization of an area always begins with one thing: opportunistic people who are looking for cheap housing. Typically younger and more in touch with modern trends, these kinds of people could just be artists, entrepreneurs, or students who couldn’t afford the more affluent areas, but also bring their trendy culture with them. Brooklyn has seen a resurgence of opportunistic people who brought a certain culture with them over time and has ultimately changed in terms of demographics and local culture.

There are ultimately four stages of gentrification an area will go through before a full transformation is realized:

  1. The Creative Types – Starving artists, musicians, and creative innovators who are usually looking for spacious areas to work on their projects for a low rental rate. They assist in creating a new vibe and social identity for a given area by holding small events for their projects in local social spots like bars and coffeeshops, which in turn promote those local businesses.
  2. Young & Trendy – The area has garnered an underground cultural shift that younger low to middle-class people find intriguing and in-sync with their yearning for upbeat activities. A big proponent of these areas are college students looking for cheap places that can be molded to their on-the-go lifestyle. Some small renovations and restorations will be made to properties to accommodate the growing needs of this youthful base in terms of activities, nightlife, food outlets, and retail.
  3. Ripe for Redevelopment – Investors and development firms begin to see promise in these areas as their trendy populations grow, seeking to make room for even more activity. As more renovation takes place and more people find the area desirable, property owners refer back to a “supply and demand” model that typically increases home and rental prices significantly. Original inhabitants who are now unable to adjust to price increases find displacement a reality for them.
  4. Shopping Malls & Expensive Taste – There is now such a demand for good housing that existing dwellings become even more expensive and older non-properties become repurposed into apartments, condos, and homes to accommodate a growing middle to upper class population wishing to move in. Once popular shops and social spots can be shut down to make way for higher-earning tenants like retail stores, businesses, and restaurants. Displacement of lower income earners continues for those who cannot keep up with rising costs.

The biggest complaint about gentrification is that it eventually forces out low-income earners who called the area home because the cost of living was originally within their price range. Sometimes quickly becoming severely rent-burdened causes these people to have to relocate elsewhere, along with homeless or disadvantaged individuals.

Though transition is never easy and this process seems inevitable in poorer neighborhoods, there are a few things local government bodies can do with their newfound revenue to help low-income earners to either relieve rising costs and assist in economic mobility:

  • Incentify or contract businesses moving into the area to hire a certain quota of local residents to provide them with elevated income
  • New revenue can go towards funding vocational training to local residents to improve their skills to be more marketable for higher paying positions
  • In exchange for an extended lease and partial subsidization of rental costs, low income earners can attend classes regarding money management, how credit works, and proper banking with a case worker to supervise progress

There have been claims that you can revitalize without gentrification, but the model has yet to be proven to be repeatable on a massive scale. There is no simple solution to handling gentrified areas, but the first step is informing yourself on what gentrification is and how it could affect you.