*To many, especially in the black community, gentrification is a curse word.
It is a reason people become jobless and homeless. But to focus on these negatives is to ignore the positives as well as consequences even more important and insidious.
Gentrification can be good. Gentrification involves a building up of an area. This will usually include the economic development and/or revitalization of an area that is currently not fulfilling its potential. Revitalization implies new or expanding businesses and theoretically means there will be a stimulation of the local economy. And because there will be economic growth, population growth follows. More people means a growth of necessary services (garbage pickup, schools, law enforcement) which will feed further population growth. All of the above economic and demographic developments mean a wider tax base which will allow for the cycle to continue on all fronts.
Unfortunately none of those positives is much comfort when someone is being priced out of their neighborhood. The bad of gentrification is that new businesses are usually more upscale in the goods and/or services offered as well as price. Residents that are in an area being redeveloped are normally not the target customers for such goods and services, if they were the business would have been there already – think day spa. Because the current residents will, in all likelihood, not be participating in the area’s renaissance, a new population is needed to support these businesses. And because that new population is of a higher economic class, when the population grow occurs, the new housing will be more expensive and thereby unaffordable to the current residents. Essentially the new business and population take the place of the current.
The bad of gentrification is not only bad but also sad. To see people displaced is never a nice story. Nevertheless the first two phenomena of gentrification are a natural part of economic progression. The ugly of gentrification is not natural and very avoidable. What is more it needs to be avoided for the betterment of the larger society.
The ugly of gentrification is that changes in the demographics of a neighborhood inevitably lead to interracial, inter-class, and/or inter-religious interactions in which each group blames the other for the ruining their vision of what the area should be.
The current residents being displaced are upset that the newer group is changing an area they’ve known and enjoyed to something they cannot take part in. The incoming group blames the current residents for standing in the way of progress. At the core, these two groups are having an economic argument. But in reality both sides often express their displeasure in racial, class, and religious terms. The ugly of gentrification is the personal attacks taken on people who are logically pursuing their self interests.
No one believes we should not try to develop areas not reaching their potential. But what must happen is an understanding of and sensitivity to the demographic upheaval that is probable. Such an understanding on the part of both groups would lessen, if not eliminate, the ugly aspect of gentrification. And when specific areas are built up, and there ugly ramifications are minimized, that is when the city, state, region, or country is benefited the most.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. You can reach him at [email protected]