What’s Wrong With Gentrification?

So is gentrification really so bad? This article by Adam Sternbergh for New York Magazine suggests maybe not:

At least there was one upside to the downturn: It brought gentrification to a thudding halt. Because gentrification, as we all know, is a dirty word, and one that never tastes more sour than in the mouths of the people who practice it. n+1, the literary journal of the Brooklyn renaissance, headquartered in the rigorously revitalized Dumbo, just published two tut-tutting pieces on the subject: a book review titled “Gentrified Fiction” (en garde, Jonathan Lethem!) and an essay, “Gentrify, Gentrify,” which decries the annexation of Brooklyn into “Ikea-hoods” and calls on gentrifiers to (somehow) “ally with the displaced.”

Displacement is understood, of course, to be gentrification’s primary evil consequence. Housing prices balloon; boutiques and bistros blossom; and before you know it, some bearded dudes in vests have bought the local bodega and opened a saloon festooned with taxidermied animals. Thank God that’s all over, right?

Back in 2003, Lance Freeman, an associate professor of urban planning at Columbia, wanted to find out just how much displacement had occurred in two predominantly black, rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods: Clinton Hill and Harlem (Freeman’s home). But “much to my surprise,” he wrote in his book There Goes the ’Hood, he didn’t find any causal relationship between gentrification and displacement. More surprising, he found that “poor residents and those without a college education were actually less likely to move if they resided in gentrifying neighborhoods.” How does that square with our beliefs about Ikea-hoods?

Often lost amid our caricatures of benighted hipsters invading a blighted neighborhood is the fact that without gentrification, you’ve simply got a blighted neighborhood…

[continues in New York Magazine]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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1 Comment on "What’s Wrong With Gentrification?"

  1. girl.machine | Dec 13, 2009 at 3:37 am |

    This really is such a delicate subject, isn't it? I remember about a year and a half ago, a girlfriend of mine who was living in an artist collective in a decaying urban neighborhood, getting up in arms about some wealthier hipsters purchasing property on nearby streets, and how that was the beginning signs of gentrification. Then, shortly after, I had to take a class in which we did an in depth analysis of the process of gentrification, only to discover that the first signs are actually the poor artists moving into decaying urban neighborhoods, that allow the wealthier hipsters to feel safer buying property! It is such a long process with so many layers, and varying outcomes it is difficult to place blame anywhere.

    I now tend to agree with the author. An abandoned city neighborhood is a death sentence. In a country obsessed with cars and sprawling suburbs, our cities are dying, and they really need our attention.

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