What can be done about gentrification?
I saw this on a reblog and I started answering it, but it turned into something I wanted to stand alone and not be tacked on to another post.
Nothing. Movement of populations is natural and neighborhood demographics always change. But I'ma take a moment and describe the different ways irresponsible or disrespectful gentrification displaces and disregards the current residents. This is all from a NYC point of view, but I’m sure it applies to other metro areas.
1) Choosing personal preference over neighborhood character.
I know plenty of people (mostly white, but some POC as well) who move to big cities from their small towns and they’re appalled at how little space you get for the money. They want the same amount of living area they had in the suburbs of Omaha but they don’t have the money to pay for it in DUMBO or Chelsea or the Upper West Side or whatever. So, instead of downsizing their expectations and living where they initially wanted, they move to brown neighborhoods where their money will go a lot further. You don’t actually need that second bedroom so you can do yoga or work on your art projects. You made the conscious decision to speed up gentrification in an area because you wanted more space than you could afford coming into a very expensive city to follow your dreams or whatever.
2) Using non-white neighborhoods as a transitional period.
I know plenty of people (again, mostly white) who will move to Harlem or Bed-Stuy or Washington Heights until their paycheck rises to a point where they can afford to move to a different neighborhood. In terms of gentrification, it seems initially that it would be the proper way to do it – they didn’t stay for years and years and brown people can move back in after they leave. But obviously that’s not how it works. Businesses follow those transitional whites who make more money than the surrounding POC, but not enough money to live in the white neighborhoods they’re aspiring to. So they bring with them the Starbuckses and the Whole Foodses and the juice bars, all business that lead to rapid increases in rents. And then they get their raises or their careers advance and in a few years they’re gone. It’s basically drive-by gentrification.
3) Disregarding the local character.
I know plenty of people (mostly white) who have lived in gentrifying neighborhoods for years and have never met a neighbor. Never gone to a community meeting. Never gone to a block party. I can accept that kind of passive existence, but then there are those who take it a step further to complain about things in the neighborhood that have been part of the fabric for decades before gentrification. If you have a baby, don’t move to Washington Heights and rent an apartment on the main drag where all the clubs are and then call the police every night because of noise to the point where liquor licenses are threatened. Don’t call the cops on the Ecuadorian lady selling dinner plates out of her living room for extra cash. Don’t call the cops about the old Black dudes barbecuing on the sidewalk because they’re blocking the way.
Gentrification is a hard pill to swallow and there’s absolutely no way to prevent it. However, as with most things, if you conduct yourself like a considerate human being, you can help mitigate the damages.
1) Think about where you’re moving.
If you tour a place on a block full of older buildings and you walk into your prospective apartment and everything is brand new, somebody probably just moved out (maybe not of their own volition) and the landlord renovated so he could jack the price up. You can look up the history of a building and in NYC that’s helpful because shady landlords regularly force longtime tenants out of a building once the surrounding neighborhood starts to support a higher rental price due to the influx of gentrifiers.
2) Think about why you’re moving.
If you have X amount of dollars and you’re choosing between some neighborhood you love and another neighborhood you just plan to live in until you can afford the same amount of space in the neighborhood you love, ask yourself if you really need all of that space in the first place. Sometimes the answer is yes, and that’s absolutely your prerogative. I just want everyone to take a beat and seriously consider it first.
3) Don’t rent more than you can afford and then crowdsource the rest.
Y'all know I deleted a potential friend/date-person because they rented a two-bedroom they couldn’t afford with the intention of putting the other bedroom on Air BnB to cover the rest of the rent. That is the most disrespectful form of gentrification. You’re taking an apartment that was probably needed by a family who can no longer afford it because the landlord can get a much higher rent out of you…who also can’t afford it, but have the luxury of just being one person so you can crowdsource the rest of the rent. It’s gross and there’s no part of me that will ever see someone in the same light once they rent an apartment with the explicit plan to cover the rent using a shared economy model.
4) Know where you’re moving and make sure you’re fine with the area as is.
Don’t move and then be shocked that a church is having choir practice on Wednesday night, the same practice they’ve had for the past three decades. Don’t move and then decide the neighborhood is too loud. Don’t move and then act like the Saturday afternoon block party is inconveniencing your life. If you’re going to contribute to rising rents and corporate chains putting mom & pops out of business, the least you can do is let the people live and enjoy themselves the way they did before you got there.
I do recognize the benefits of gentrification, partly because I live in Harlem, partly because I follow trends and statistics, and partly because I recognize the unfortunate fact that a whole host of institutions from law enforcement to capital investment don’t give a damn about an area until white people move in and those improvements can benefit everyone, not just the new white folks. But if you’re really committed to awareness, justice, and equality while also being a (possibly even reluctant) gentrifier, it’s your duty to make sure you’re doing it as responsibly as you can.