What Doesn’t Belong? Or, that Awkward Vacant Condominium on My Block.

I live on a funny little street corner in Brooklyn.

If you walk in one direction, there is Greenpoint—filled with Polish bakeries and businesses, and perhaps one of my favorite shop signs in all of New York City.

In another direction is Williamsburg—filled with coffee shops, vegan restaurants, bicycles and hipsters in flannel shirts and cut off shorts. In Williamsburg, fancy and expensive high-rise condos overlooking the polluted beauty of the East River (and I suppose the Manhattan skyline) have become as ubiquitous and indicative of the neighborhood as the classic, flat colorful houses or vegan laundromats.

It is not a joke!

In the opposite direction are abandoned factories, some transformed into artists’ lofts, some into crack dens and some probably a lovely combination thereof. To the south, is Grand Street—as you walk south, the predominant language changes from English to Spanish, the businesses are Puerto Rican, the bakeries are Dominican and there is music from every corner—whether it’s the radio outside the shop or cars driving down the avenue with all of the windows down.

On my block itself, there is a motorcycle training school (it comes in handy), several little houses with flat wood paneling on the outside and our bodega. Our building itself has a little bit of graffiti on it and a bicycle out front. It has red trim on the windows, and I can see the Palestinian flag I have in my window from the street. It’s home.

There—amidst the flat wood paneled houses, no more than three stories high, the bodega and the super convenient motorcycle training school and few warehouses that characterize my block—is a chic, glassy condominium.

It is completely empty.

Williamsburg has seen record rates of condominiums popping up over the past five years—and Bushwick (and apparently my little area that happens to be nestled in between) seems to be quickly following suit as the most quickly gentrifying neighborhood. But for now, these condos of the future venture capitalists that find a quaint charm in my local motorcycle training school are empty—while homeless men and women sleep outside the subways and many across New York City face foreclosure evictions from their homes. On a less extreme scale, the types of businesses that the condo-inhabiting corporate types and of course, the notorious young white hipster crowd bring are often out of the price range and immediate needs of those who already live in the neighborhood.

It is easy to feel queasy about this issue of gentrification. It’s multi-faceted—and there are many valid and sometimes contradictory arguments. I know that by all definitions I’m a technically gentrifier in my neighborhood—but as Nona Willis Aronowitz points out in a recent piece
for The Atlantic, the current economic climate leaves few other options. I live in a little room in a building that has quite obviously been there for decades. I try to make my presence small, support the local businesses and avoid the newer, more expensive establishments that are most aggressively transforming the neighborhood’s traditional economic cycle. But what about these fancy condominiums? What about these tall, glassy buildings with elevators that are sold by relators as “East Williamsburg” and boast views of Manhattan from a carefully groomed roof? What about the buildings that were there before and had to be torn down to make room for the newer building? Where are the people that were forced out, who—like me–used to look up at their windows from the street and call that street corner home?

In a recent interview on GRITtv with Laura Flanders, Julia Abumada Grob—co-creator of the (wonderful) web series East Willy B—a show exploring the Latino perspective of the complications of gentrification in Bushwick—presented the idea of productive gentrification: how do you harness the positive effects of gentrification while still preserving the character—and in habitants—of the neighborhood?

What do you think? What is your relationship to your neighborhood? Do you think that if wielded properly, there is a less aggressive form of gentrification can be a positive force that revives a neighborhood, allowing both the families who have lived there for decades and more recent inhabitants to coexist? What is it like for all of you non-New Yorkers in your respective cities?

50 comments for “What Doesn’t Belong? Or, that Awkward Vacant Condominium on My Block.

  1. archie
    July 3, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Really great post, and excellent questions! It’s not possible to separate artists from the economy, especially in a place like NYC where the production of culture rivals finance in importance in the local economy. If you think about it, if you’re an artist or a writer or a photographer, filmmaker, etc., you’re similar in many ways to a Wall Streeter when it comes to transformational urban geography. I question the plausibility of “productive gentrification” – like many building activities, the transformation of neighborhoods is brutal by nature.

    Instead, I’d say that strengthening communities and facilitating property ownership by longtime residents may be the best way to resist tides of gentrification. The value of institutions such as churches and school communities cannot be underestimated in neighborhoods such as these. Even community gardens can be institutions. Whatever keeps local residents attached and engaged.

    Another, perhaps less popular, approach is to ensure that cheap subsidized housing remains available to people in the neighborhood. Or perhaps the thing is to allow more density – larger buildings in areas that are well served by transportation. While this might mean that people make some money, it might also mean that more people can afford to live in a particular neighborhood. New York has a chronic shortage of good housing, so the more that can be built, the better. (By the way, NYC really got it wrong with the Williamsburg rezoning – waterfront high rises and limited inland density reward the wrong type of development.)

  2. Beauzeaux
    July 3, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    how do you harness the positive effects of gentrification while still preserving the character—and in habitants—of the neighborhood?

    You can’t. You can rage, rage against the dying of the light but it changes nothing. I lived in the East Village when people I knew had a bathtub in the kitchen and a toilet down the hall. People lived there because they could afford it. Gentrification doesn’t mean that the people who live in poor neighborhoods can transmogrify into rich people when housing is “rehabbed.”

    The only thing that can slow down gentrification is economic collapse. I have lived in remarkable neighborhoods in New York and San Francisco. None of those neighborhoods exist any more.

    if wielded properly, there is a less aggressive form of gentrification can be a positive force

    Gentrification is always wielded by the people with money. The first people who come for rehabbed buildings are thrilled that the old shops and the old people are still there. They tell their friends, the NYTimes does a “Living” piece on the area, and soon the gentry are all that’s left. If another scenario is possible, I’d love to see it happen — especially in NYC.

  3. Chris
    July 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    I enjoyed your post; it was quite… thought provoking. It made me realize that I couldn’t quite explain the unique gentrification of my own home, Miami. Expensive beach front condos, largely owned by wealthy tourists, but now also being short-term rented by those who live miles inland in largely immigrant, low-income neighborhoods that once stretched across the entire city. I can’t tell which direction the waters are flowing, but I’ll keep thinking about it.

  4. miga
    July 3, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    The old meat/fish market in my Brooklyn neighborhood put up a sign that said “We have crabs.” I was giggling so hard but the shopkeeper (who had come out to hit on me) didn’t realize why. Oh God, if he had!

  5. roro80
    July 3, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    What an interesting post and question. I was a San Francisco resident for many years, which has gentrification issues like the best of ’em. I think that one thing SF does fairly well as far as slowing gentrification of poorer neighborhoods is strict rent control. It causes all sorts of weird side-effects (example: people literally can never move no matter how bad things get because after a few years, the economic insentives to stay put are enormous; friends who have been renting the same 3-bedroom apt for 15 years now couldn’t find a studio in a terrible neighborhood for what they’re paying), but it does mean that in most cases, at least the new developers trying to get long-time residents out can’t just price them out of the building as they can in other cities. My buddy is an amazing fashion guru in London, and he tells stories of how he and his artist buddies would move into a poor neighborhood, the artist communities would make it more desireable, and then all the people who made it “up and coming” in the first place would get priced totally out of the area along with the previous residents, because landlords would have no qualms about raising the rent by 50% or more each year. SF also has a number of extremely helpful renters-rights groups that include free legal advice for those who can’t afford to pay. I do feel that the most vulnerable to being taken advantage of may not really know about them, though.

    Anyway, all the problems discussed in earlier comments and in the post still apply to SF, of course. Requirements for new condos to include certain percentages of low-cost housing often have problems of sky-rocketing HOA fees which push out those renting/buying those units anyway. That sort of thing. It got pretty nuts during the real estate boom, as every old place in the city was bought up, painted, split into TICs, and flipped for humungous profits. That process left a lot of long-time residents in the cold, as new owners were allowed to kick out any resident from a unit they would personally occupy for a time period (a year, I think?), under the Ellis Act. They’d choose the unit of the longest-term resident, who was of course paying the least rent. Then there are all the tails of landlords using semi-terroristic tactics against residents who weren’t paying full market on their rentals. Things like showing up with off-duty cops threatening to kick them out, refusing to repair the elevators where older residents live, etc.

  6. Michelle
    July 3, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    I think it’s hard to talk about something as complex as gentrification, and you’ve done a delicate job, and for that i commend you. however, i don’t think this article considers your own place in it–you are a self-proclaimed recent college grad, from a big expensive private school, living in (near?) greenpoint, a historically older, polish neighborhood. you cannot talk about gentrification without considering your place in it–the position from which you accuse a high rise of destroying the view. i know that there are levels of gentrification, and that a poor recent-student may not be as socioeconomically or as socially affective as a wall street tycoon who wants a new apartment in a trendy neighborhood, but this is new york–it is defined by flux. you’re a bigger part of it than you acknowledge in this post!

  7. xenu01
    July 3, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    I live on the other side of the bridge-and-tunnel from roro88. Because of rent control and the fact that many low-income East Bay residents literally cannot afford prohibitively expensive San Francisco rents, a lot of gentrification is happening on the other side of the bay, in Oakland. This article refers to that.

  8. Roro80
    July 3, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Hey xenu01, I’m actually an East Bay-ite these days too. And absolutely, Oakland is definitely falling victim to gentrification too. As Michelle has reminded me, though, I can’t really say I’m not part of it. I mean, my husband and I – both young white professionals – just bought a house in an up-n-coming neighborhood in the East Bay, taking advantage of someone’s beautifully-done remodel in a buyer’s market.

  9. Treebeard
    July 3, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    I don’t know where to put this, but maybe someone can tell me – why are comments closed on all the old Hunger Games threads? They’re not that old, and most other threads around that age still have open comments. I just finished the book and wanted to discuss it… :-(.

  10. July 3, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    Pardon my ignorance, but how are “regular” washing machines and dryers not vegan or vegetarian? What an odd sign!

  11. Jean
    July 3, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    This is an incredibly timely post: just yesterday I began to weigh my housing options for when I finish undergrad in December. I’ll be leaving a $55k/year liberal arts college (extremely heavily subsidized by financial aid, but still), and have absolutely no idea what I will be doing with my life other than knowing that I belong in New York City, after pretty much splitting my life between there and school or my hometown for the past six years.
    I’m going to be broke as can be. No financial assistance from parents or relatives, three cats, and a humanities and social sciences degree. I can’t fathom living anywhere much more expensive than Bushwick. Williamsburg ‘proper’ will be way beyond my price range, as I plan to primarily work for a small non-profit org (I should say hope!, as I know so many people who graduated from this prestigious college of ours this past spring and then couldn’t even wrangle such work. Jobs are so terrifyingly scarce), and I would really like to live somewhere that doesn’t require an hour and a half just to get into Manhattan.
    But I was flooded with concern yesterday when I began to read long-term residents’ (as in the past 4-6 decades, since the ethnic makeup of Bushwick shifted from mostly Germans and Italians to African-Americans after WWII and especially during the 60s) discussions and concerns over the effects of Bushwick’s gentrification on their neighbors, friends, and family. It’s pretty clear that, as a twenty-something white girl with a degree from a fancy college (it doesn’t matter whether my family has any money, or whether I am a first-gen college student), me and my ilk are not wanted in their neighborhood.

    I am extremely opposed to displacing underprivileged, low-income folks from their homes so that wealthy and privileged folks can have a trendy new playground in a high-rise luxury condo, or a trendy and expensive new yuppie restaurant, faux speakeasy/gourmet cocktail bar and lounge, whatever. I get Bushwick residents’ rage. I get their animosity. But where am I supposed to go? Again, I literally could not afford to live anywhere but a neighborhood like Bushwick. My skin color grants me a tremendous amount of privilege, but it doesn’t give me a free pass to a more expensive neighborhood. I intend to make community/neighborhood service a BIG part of my life wherever I move in the city, because I want to do what I can to lessen the detrimental effects of “people like me” moving into historically low-income, minority-dominated neighborhoods and uprooting families, decades-old local businesses, and local community and culture in a country that puts in overtime trying to suppresses it outside these safe spaces. But is that enough? Just what sorts of apologies do I owe the long-term residents of Bushwick/wherever for being one of many white, recent liberal arts college grads to move in and try to claim part of their neighborhood as my own?
    Just feeling really confused about my place in the gentrification process and how I can combat the negative effects of it while simultaneously being PART of it by moving into a gentrifying neighborhood in part because I appreciate that others “like me”–people with shared backgrounds and interests, to whom I can relate–have also moved there recently.
    I feel like I may have said all sorts of problematic stuff just now, but I’m truly having a hard time wrapping my head around all of this (not to mention, I’m terrified when I think about finishing college in six months and being left with tremendous debt and no promising job prospects). I would really appreciate anyone’s thoughts or input.

  12. elena
    July 3, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    Michelle, she stated that she tries to counteract her actions as best she can. It’s unfair to take a high position and point a condemning finger, seeing as she is knowledgeable about the issue and doing the best she can.
    Some coworkers of mine were born and raised in Greenpoint (and had been there for a couple generations). They moved to a hispanic neighborhood in Queens out of necessity after Greenpoint became too expensive. This hispanic neighborhood, due to the gentrification caused by moves from people like them, is further causing Latino immigrants to uproot elsewhere. I know this isn’t addressing the rich side of the issue, but more I’m just musing – are my coworkers causes or victims of gentrification? What level of blame or sympathy, and how would we talk about that?
    It was an interesting situation. As an artist moving into Brooklyn, I felt guilty doing a similar thing in Bed Stuy. But it was out of necessity – New York is the capital of the world for art and Bed Stuy is really the only option within my immediate price point. How much guilt, how much blame in these circumstances, setting aside any thoughts about any Wall street types etc? And frankly, what the heck can I or anyone else do about it to counteract the effects?

  13. July 3, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    I’m too warn out from work to type a coherent reply to this, but I just came across this beautiful, heart-breaking post on gentrification in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, and it seems fitting to share: East Hastings: A Love Story.

  14. July 3, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    One thought: I think as long as we generally (as a society) value “buildings” and “character” and property value more than we value other human beings, especially those we consider “lesser”, “unvirtuous”, and “subhuman”, then gentrification will always ultimately be about reclaiming property from the poor, and not the poor from poverty.

    Not an attack. Pessimism.

  15. bbbbb
    July 3, 2012 at 11:53 pm

    Just as an fyi, most condominiums and luxury housing is empty for long stretches of time. a lot of condos are bought and purchased by businessmen (foreign or live-somewhere-else) as an investment and tax haven. many people who purchase luxury housing have no intention of ever living there or living there for only a couple days of the year (when they happen to be in that city).

    as well, cities aggressively pursue building luxury housing and real estate development in the hopes it’ll ‘widen their tax base’ and lots of luxury housing developments are bankrolled by the cities in partnership with real estate companies.

    i just think it adds an interesting perspective on how inorganic gentrification is and how it’s much more complex than simply not moving to a gentrifying neighbourhood.

  16. Milquetoast
    July 4, 2012 at 12:59 am

    Gentrification is almost always yucky…no, wait, I mean multifaceted. Yeah, that’s word puts the ole’ degree to work :) Essentially, it’s important to distinguish the difference between the individual and collective agent of gentrification. Jean’s worries, for instance, about cultural integrity and the function of an urban community set her apart from some of the other driving forces of gentrification (and that’s a GOOD thing! IMHO).

    For some, like Neil Smith, gentrification represents a reconfiguration space in which urban locales are appropriated due to their nature as places receptive to the movement of capital. In other words, people go to where the money is or will be. Or, if not people, investment goes to where other investments are or will be. The drive to the burbs was a product of capital leaving many urban spaces; consequently, the drive toward gentrification represents the move of capital–in form of the oft-quoted service economy–back to urban spaces. I find this understanding of a space/capital connection to be fairly persuasive on a collective level, but on a personal level it can be quite tricky. I don’t think many of the posters, including the OP Anna, to be an active part of this reconquista of urban spaces. Nor would I consider a family making the best decision about their living space to be a part of it either.

    I guess, for me, it comes down to the difference between habitation and investment. There are plenty of ways to invest in an area, but to make a habitat seems to produce a more muddy, yet ethically better sense of community. The empty condo described by Anna is an investment–in the purest sense–in the community, whereas other gentrifiers offer the chance for more positive forms of interaction because they want to habitate in the environment.

    Ugh, look at all that. It seems that 3 Pisco Sours=Blabbermouth Milquetoast.

  17. lambda
    July 4, 2012 at 3:33 am


    I have a few questions about practical remedies for gentrification.

    1) The OP seems critical of efforts to increase the housing supply in desirable neighborhoods, mostly because “tall glassy buildings with elevators” are distasteful (?). But if the housing supply does not increase in response to the price signal (i.e. lots of people trying to live in said neighborhood and bidding up the price of housing) doesn’t the price signal stay high, hurting poor folks more? Shouldn’t we strongly favor new, modern high-density buildings on those grounds alone?

    2) Archie suggested “facilitating property ownership by long-time residents”. Wouldn’t gentrification actually make those residents better off by boosting the value of their homes or rental properties?

    3) It’s hard to get a sense of exactly how bad a social problem gentrification is. If gentrification produces self-evident harms, should we favor a legal remedy? One commenter notes some of the “weird side effects” of rent control. One of the most important distortions is that it often prevents people from investing in increasing the housing supply in the first place. Another is that, since we have to allocate rent-controlled apartments somehow, but we aren’t allowed to allocate them by prices, they end up getting allocated according to some non-economic scheme, like who knows somebody or who owes somebody a favor. It seems that, overall, rent control is strongly disfavored by the people who study its effects. Is rent control the answer? A law preventing freedom of movement within the US?

    What should we do in practical terms?

  18. im
    July 4, 2012 at 3:36 am

    I wonder whether there are ways to physically improve these areas while maintaining their suitability for the residents without market-breaking methods like the aforementioned rent control. I also wonder what would happen if population density were to increase, with the original residents staying in place, and new, richer residents entering, but without the original residents leaving or being locked in by simplistic manipulation.

  19. William
    July 4, 2012 at 9:48 am

    I grew up in Chicago and I’ve lived here my whole life. Once upon a time I figured I would die here but the city that I knew is gone and the older I get the more I realize that it probably never existed in the first place. I have a lot of trouble getting worked up about gentrification, largely because I’m a native. I suppose you could say my old neighborhood gentrified, but I’m hesitant to call it that because this is Chicago. The working-class Poles and Germans and Irish made way for yuppies where my parents live, but a little west they made way for working-class Mexicans. In both cases the shift was slow, measured out one death or nursing home move or flight to Florida at a time. In both cases the newcomers remodeled. In both cases old courtyard apartment buildings were converted into the condos that young couples who couldn’t afford houses craved with their easy credit. In both cases property values went up. In both cases the neighborhoods changed, the shops changed, the peoples and schools changed, but we only really call one gentrification. The other is just Chicago’s natural cycle.

    I’ve been priced out of my old neighborhood, so I’ve moved north into Rogers’ Park. I live a little over a block from where I bought drugs in high school. People who are afraid of the word “gentrification” call it a “transitional neighborhood” but everyone knows what that means: the poor folks are moving to cheaper pastures, the middle class folks are slowly selling. I’m here because its a nice neighborhood, because I can afford it, because I like being able to eat food from around the world without actually having to travel. There are things in the neighborhood I don’t like, too. We’ve got too many churches so theres always a flyer on my car to turn to evangelical paste when it rains. We’ve got gang members who take pot shots at one another and spray paint buildings. There are a lot of Ca$h 4 Gold stores. I don’t have gold to sell, I’m not interested in Jesus (or even being polite if a church won’t shovel it’s goddamn walk), I’m 30 so I think its pretty clear I won’t be jumped into anyone’s crew. As more people like me move into the neighborhood, those things will go away. I’m sure someone will miss them, but I’m just living here.

    The thing about Rogers Park is that, like so many neighborhoods in Chicago, nobody really has a claim on it. Or everyone does. Twenty years ago it was mostly Black, but before that it was Russian, for awhile it was Jewish, way back in the 20s it was rich and White, before the young middle class professionals started moving in the neighborhood was becoming Latino and South-East Asian. Things change.

  20. EG
    July 4, 2012 at 10:18 am

    It’s interesting, William, because I’m a NYC native and I have practically the opposite reaction that you do, perhaps because in my lifetime the neighborhood changes have gone only one way. The neighborhood I grew up in has gone from a place with, yes, drugs and crime, but also a place where immigrants and working-class people raised families, a place that supported local hardware stores and stationery shops and baby-supply shops to a chi-chi locale populated with trust-fund babies and wine bars and Starbucks. And what happened to the people who lived there before? Some of them are still there–the ones in the housing projects, which haven’t moved, and the ones like my mom, in rent-stabilized apartments. Some of them died. Many of them just had to go to less convenient places. And this was a neighborhood that put up a concentrated fight against gentrification (see Janet Abu-Lughod’s From Urban Village to East Village). What happened to the homeless people who used to line the streets and live in the park? I’m sure a lot of them are dead now, and the others are just…somewhere else. But gentrification didn’t help them at all.

    Manhattan used to be a place where artists, poor people, immigrants could make a home, and as a result, the cultural mix was fascinating. Gentrification has taken away a lot of the city I knew and valued.

    I’m very pro-rent-stabilization. Gentrification destroys communities, and it doesn’t always do so slowly. Rent stabilization allows the people who make a neighborhood appealing to the monied classes to stay.

  21. Angie unduplicated
    July 4, 2012 at 11:02 am

    I’ve seen the downside of gentrification first hand. Bought an inexpensive house in a declining nabe near downtown. When RE skyrocketed, the area became hot because it was very close to three private schools. After I paid the place off (10 yr note), I was harassed, repeatedly burglarized, and eventually blacklisted from employment in order to force me to sell. My retaliation was to let the place rot, trash the yard, and see to it that their property values would suffer as long as I was harassed. My childhood abuser, who had a RE agent for a neighbor, kept my house listed and would “help” sell it and take earnest money for her heroin, non-refundable because it was contingent on getting the warranty deed and I kept that suckah well hidden. I eventually signed the house over to a creditor after I incurred a hideously large uninsured hospital bill.

    I constantly wonder how many owner residents of gentrifying neighborhoods are subjected to the same social terrorism I endured.

  22. Michelle
    July 4, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    elena — i halfway agree with you. do i think the author should wake up every morning and do self-flagulation exercises in shame because she is living in a neighborhood where she doesn’t belong? absolutely not. but i do think that one can’t point an accusatory finger at a process that one is absolutely a part of. i personally think that the more interesting conversation is historical–neighborhoods have always moved up and down in socioeconomic status, especially in new york. someone else said they used to live in the east village “because it was cheap.” well, before students, there were jewish immigrants. now, there are students sharing studios and moneyed 20-somethings. it all changes. no one has a monopoly on authenticity here.

  23. Teri28
    July 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Ok, I have to delurk to post on this one. I’m in agreement with Michelle on this. I’m a third generation New Yorker. My mom and grandma grew up in Greenpoint. I was baptized at St. Cecilia’s and my great grandmother was buried from there. My grandma’s family moved there when they were poor immigrants and basically couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. A few generations later we’ve all moved up and out and I don’t think anyone from the family is still there, but when we did live there we were pretty heavily invested in the place. I think my family’s take on it is best summed up by their reactions to a NYT article I told them about touting Greenpoint as a great place to live.

    Grandma: Why would anyone want to move there?!
    Mom: (laughs) They can have it.

    Notice the lack of nostalgia. I think immigrant neighborhoods are that way for a lot of people. A stop over for a few generations until they move on to other things, (and my grandparent’s couch in Greenpoint was literally a stopover for a whole string of relatives coming over from the old country). I know that’s not a rousing endorsement for preserving one’s ethnic identity, but it’s true. That’s probably why you see the turnover in ethnic neighborhoods, Italian to Polish to Korean to whatever else over time. I kind of see the hipster influx as just another immigrant group, albeit from the suburbs and other parts of this country as opposed to another country. They’re bringing their culture with them and changing the neighborhood as a result. As far as Greenpoint goes…they can have it, but that’s ok because we don’t need it anymore.

  24. Becky
    July 4, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    I understand that gentrification is generally something that happens to neighborhoods in urban areas, however I think in some sense it can also happen to rural areas. I live in a rather rural area that had an economy supported by farming, mainly tobacco farming, until the late 60s/early 70s. Then, the local power company decided to build a lake for a power source and recreational use. If your land was in the way of the lake you were forced to sell your property. Now, the people who once owned the land where the lake currently is cannot afford to live even remotely close to it.

    So now, in terms of gentrification, the entire area surrounding the lake has been transformed from working class people who farmed or did factory work, to thousands of upper middle class folks who buy homes on the lakefront simply to use as vacation homes. People who were born and raised in the area, for the most part, cannot afford homes where their families used to live, while the vacationers rave about how ” cheap” everything is compared to where they live ( mainly NE states).

    So, maybe it’s not gentrification in the strictest sense, but it did cause many people whose families have lived in the area for generations to no longer be able to afford a decent home. Sure, all the people vacationing does support the economy in a way, but it doesn’t bring in the types of jobs that allow you to purchase a home and support yourself/your family.

  25. seisy
    July 4, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    My perspective on things might be a little different, because I’ve never really lived somewhere as absolutely urban as San Francisco or New York or Chicago. In any case, my feelings on it are pretty mixed.

    On the one hand, I hate when things turn into Carmel, you know, into soulless yuppie disneylands where most of the houses are bought up as vacation spots and all the businesses are touristy-ventures. (All overpriced restaurants and antique stores with a few boutiques thrown in for good measure.) I grew up in the Napa Valley, and I watched this happen to St Helena and Calistoga and Yountville and am watching this same transition in my home town of Napa. There used to be three bookstores downtown, and now there are none. There used to be a toystore, a great place for smoothies, barbers and hairdressers (not fancy salons), a supermarket/drug store, an army surplus kind of place, thrift stores, a cheapie movie theater (showing 6 month old films), the funky little shops that fix watches or shoes and so on and so forth. And that’s pretty much all gone. A few remnants of that are left, and fast going. It’s transitioning into endless rows of trendy and pretentious restaurants and music venues and antique shops and boutiques and art gallaries. There’s very little that feels *real*. And I say this as someone who loves great food and dining experiences. I’m not against expensive or fancy restaurants or cool music venues or whatever, but there’s a certain artificiality to much of the new….the kind of places where things are expensive, not because they’re quality, but because it grants them some weird moneyed allure.

    So there’s that. I think of that as the evil side of things. But on the other hand, there’s a certain degree of creative destruction that must happen in all communities, I think, to stay alive. Nothing stays the same, but that’s not always a bad thing. New cultures move into some part of town previous inhabited by some different group. Sometimes there are interesting syntheses as a result, and we get new and vibrant communities. The economic fortunes of neighborhoods might cycle around. I think the biggest problem in someways is when things don’t change (at least when it comes to be super wealthy or super poor).

    I live in downtown Reno (well, close enough). Once upon a time, it was all lovely family neighborhoods and a few upscale neighborhoods and cute little bungalows. And then the big casinos and the freeway were put in, and then Reno lost out to Las Vegas as the big draw, and then downtown turned into a fairly decent example of urban decay, all pawnshops and payday loans and decaying motels and drugs and empty buildings. And then there was something of a renaissance when the housing boom kicked in. It’s still a little dreary and risky in parts, but there are a lot of families and college students and a good mix of people, all living along the river within walking distance of parks and movie theaters and neat little festivals and a few good cafes. And I’d be hard pressed to say it’s a bad thing, and not just because I live here. The whole urban decay thing isn’t really optimal, or sustainable, and if it grows too big, it hollows out a place and then you’ve got a dead city.

  26. Kyra
    July 4, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    The positive way to improve a neighborhood is to design the new buildings to fit in with the present ones, not only in aesthetic, scale, style, etc, but in perceived quality—there’s gotta be ways to keep buildings from screaming “This is fucking NEW!”—and in realness of its components. (Make the buildings out of real brick, real adobe, whatever. I hate seeing new buildings where you can see all the seams in the prefab faux-plaster/stone/brick, or putting my hand on a sunny “stone” wall that isn’t warm like stone would be, or tapping on the “brick” and it’s hollow.)

    And to price the space within so people in the neighborhood can afford it.

    And to encourage, not forbid, the residents to customize the space, making it theirs in the way people do with the rest of the street.

    A neighborhood is for living in, not decorating your life like a museum piece that sits outside your home but doesn’t touch it. People paying big bucks to live in a fake, tasteless hulk that squats next to someplace wonderful but is never part of it ’cause it’s too busy looking down its nose at the untidy habits that make it live.

    Having the buildings owned in cooperative by the people living in them, rather than by some landlord who doesn’t care who can afford it just so long as zie gets the best price for it, would also help—lacking that, rent controls based on percentage of the community’s median income, with percentage quotas for the lower ends of the economic spectrum (like, 30% of apartments must be affordable to people making half the poverty level, or to people making what unemployment or social security benefits alone pays, and another 30% at the poverty level, and some at double it, and then the rest you can make luxury apartments and charge the moon for them).

    Aside from that, it’s yet another thing that warrants a hard look at capitalism and the practice of seeing a human need like housing as a commodity to make profits upon. As long as there are discrepencies in how much buying power people have, and as long as quality, vibrant, desirable housing is in more demand than supply, people with more money will be able to outcompete people with less money for it. What we really need is reforms to create housing that is plentiful and cheap and well-designed, for people to own it (easily and cheaply) and customize it, so that price-gouging landlords and the sort of soulless apartments that limit what you can do to them lose out on the business of EVERYONE who’d rather have a nice little cheap place they can turn into whatever feels most like home.

  27. im
    July 5, 2012 at 1:14 am

    @kyra: That really struck a chord. I really hate living at home because my family (which is pretty much the opposite of gentrifying in our area) has one of those pretty perfect houses and still thinks they can keep it pretty and perfect. My poor mother does way more housework than really makes sense.

  28. Lillie
    July 5, 2012 at 1:30 am

    But where am I supposed to go? Again, I literally could not afford to live anywhere but a neighborhood like Bushwick.

    Why not just move to a neighborhood in New York that’s as affordable as Bushwick but isn’t Bushwick … a neighborhood that is not in the throes of gentrification? Try Chinatown or Washington Heights in Manhattan, or countless neighborhoods in the Bronx, Queens … New York City is enormous!!! You have so many options. Not every affordable neighborhood is a hotbed of displacement of longtime residents.

  29. a lawyer
    July 5, 2012 at 8:41 am

    This is one of those things that seems pretty simple in the small view but gets really problematic in the large view.

    Opposing gentrification means that you have to define some folks who have some sort of “right” to the area. And you have to define some people who DON’T have a “right” to the area. Problem is, who would that be?

    Who gets to stay?

    -New immigrants?
    -New folks from out of town who are “like” (whatever that means) the folks who live there, be it in terms of culture or language or race or income?
    -As-yet-unborn children, spouses, friends, etc. of current residents?
    -How do you decide that Person A gets a free ride, and Person B does not?
    -Who gets excluded? How “different” do they have to be in order to not get a slice of the pie?
    -And who decides?

    And then you get to the really sticky question: Does this only apply to poor neighborhoods?

    Some people don’t want rich folks moving into and building condos. But of course, most rich folks don’t want poor people moving into THEIR areas either. Are poor communities the only ones which count as “communities?” Are nonwhite communities the only ones who are supposed to protect their “community culture?”

    Gentrification sucks. But the “solutions” to gentrification are worse.

  30. EG
    July 5, 2012 at 9:35 am

    someone else said they used to live in the east village “because it was cheap.” well, before students, there were jewish immigrants. now, there are students sharing studios and moneyed 20-somethings. it all changes. no one has a monopoly on authenticity here.

    You misunderstand. I didn’t live in the East Village as a student because it was cheap. I grew up there, my family lived there, because it was cheap, back before it was called the East Village, when it was still the Lower East Side/Alphabet City.

    It’s not a question of authenticity; I don’t care about authenticity. It’s about the destruction of communities because their members are too poor to buy property.

    But of course, most rich folks don’t want poor people moving into THEIR areas either.

    Rich people have a pretty easy way of managing that: they keep the rental/selling prices jacked way up. Why should rich people get to keep people out of their communities, but poor people shouldn’t?

    But the “solutions” to gentrification are worse.

    Rent stabilization. Not at all worse than gentrification–particularly if by “worse,” you mean “worse for the communities already in those neighborhoods.”

  31. EG
    July 5, 2012 at 9:53 am

    And wealthy racists can just agree on restrictive covenants, as well. All the money my great-grandma married couldn’t buy my great-grandparents a place on Park Avenue, because those people wouldn’t sell to Jews. Why should poor people and ethnic people have to vulnerable?

  32. Brian
    July 5, 2012 at 10:47 am

    These debates always come across as if there are only two New Yorks: the wealthy elite spots in Manhattan and the gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn. This is not the case and presents a reductive portrait of the city.

    There are places that you can move in New York, where you leave little impact on the culture and the community. Look to neighborhoods where a significant portion of the residents own their own homes. This means that the individuals who reside there will not be affected by residents moving in and out. These neighborhoods, like Midwood, near Kings Highway or Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn and East Flushing or Bayside in Queens may not be as hip and they may be slighter farther way from the city, but moving to these places does not displace residents the way that moving to Bushwick or Bed-Stuy does.

    And if you are forced to choose a gentrifying neighborhood, think about what type of impact you will leave on the community. Choose Astoria over Long Island City. In Astoria, you have more people who own their homes–home owners benefit when new blood moves into the neighborhood.

    The neighborhood you choose may not be cool or hip, but they have low rents, and they do not push people out of their own apartments.
    There is always the third option, or at least an option that is less obtrusive than another.

  33. ArielNYC
    July 5, 2012 at 12:40 pm


    And wealthy racists can just agree on restrictive covenants, as well. All the money my great-grandma married couldn’t buy my great-grandparents a place on Park Avenue, because those people wouldn’t sell to Jews. Why should poor people and ethnic people have to vulnerable?

    I think you can be anti redlining and pro market. There’s no contradiction here. As for rent controls, I’ve come to see them as counterproductive (see Krugman http://www.pkarchive.org/column/6700.html). From what I can tell, I think the best solution is to increase the overall stock and density of housing and use the additional tax revenues to support the less well-off. And that means more macro policy change rather than well-meaning but likely ineffective individual initiatives to frequent or avoid this or that business in the gentrifying neighborhood.

  34. July 5, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    These debates always come across as if there are only two New Yorks: the wealthy elite spots in Manhattan and the gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn. This is not the case and presents a reductive portrait of the city.

    There are places that you can move in New York, where you leave little impact on the culture and the community. Look to neighborhoods where a significant portion of the residents own their own homes. This means that the individuals who reside there will not be affected by residents moving in and out. These neighborhoods, like Midwood, near Kings Highway or Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn and East Flushing or Bayside in Queens may not be as hip and they may be slighter farther way from the city, but moving to these places does not displace residents the way that moving to Bushwick or Bed-Stuy does.

    And this paints a pretty reductive portrait of why people move places and what their needs and desires are.

    People want community. I’ve lived in the places I’ve chosen because of (a) convenience to work / school and (b) it’s where most of my friends lived. If you’re a transplant to a place, friends are like family. I would never in a million years move to Sheepshead Bay because (a) it’s very far from all of the places I need and want to go, and (b) I don’t know a single person who lives there. My closest friends all live down the street. The places we go are nearby. That’s valuable to me. It keeps me sane and happy. It’s necessary. And you see that not just among middle-class white people — why do you think particular immigrant groups are concentrated in particular areas?

    I’ll also note that the further-out parts of Brooklyn you name often have vast areas that are not close to public transportation, or mean an hour-long commute (or more) versus half of that.

    And gentrification really isn’t going to be solved by a few guilty-feeling white people deciding to move to Midwood. As EG says, rent control laws are key to allowing long-time residents to stay put. Strong community boards are key to blocking the kind of enormous high-rise buildings that displace long-time residents, and otherwise preserving the integrity of the neighborhood.

    As others have pointed out, a lot of the knee-jerk reaction against gentrification is… simplistic. BAD WHITE PEOPLE is not particularly helpful. And frankly, New York has always been a hub for immigrants and out-of-towners and people coming looking for what New York is: Exciting, always-changing, shape-shifting. Even the folks I know who were born in NYC? Their parents weren’t born here. My own grandparents lived here for a while, in a flophouse somewhere on their way from post-war Europe to Chicago. My roommate’s mom was born somewhere near what’s now Clinton Hill, but decamped for the suburbs; now her daughter is back living in Brooklyn.

    So who belongs? Who has a right to certain neighborhoods and certain spaces? Obviously power and privilege and money have to be taken into account, but NYC has never been a static space, or a place where neighborhoods stayed exactly as-is forever (just look at some of the incredible, ornate apartment buildings in Prospect Heights across from the Brooklyn Museum — at some point not too long ago it was fairly low-income, which is why it’s now relatively affordable; at some point before that, it was clearly a habitat for the very wealthy). I live in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood where the largest ethnic group a generation ago was Italians. But before that the neighborhood was Irish, and they were displaced by large numbers of incoming Italians. In the 1990s and through now, large numbers of French immigrants moved into the neighborhood, and now you hear French on the street as much as Italian.

    Point being, a lot of the hand-wringing over “change” generally is pointless and ahistorical. What is worth focusing on is making sure that people who currently live in these neighborhoods and want to stay aren’t being pushed out by the process of inevitable and ongoing neighborhood shifts. Which means rent control (or real rent stabilization), opposition to major development projects (hello Brooklyn Yards), etc., rather than just telling people, “Move somewhere else.” That doesn’t work.

  35. EG
    July 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Even the folks I know who were born in NYC? Their parents weren’t born here.

    Hey, Jill, you know me! My family goes back 4 generations, here.

    Ditto to everything you said about neighborhoods, and why we pick them. I’m not moving somewhere where it takes me well over an hour to get to my family and friends. To say nothing of the subway service.

  36. ArielNYC
    July 5, 2012 at 2:24 pm


    I agree that “a lot of the hand-wringing over ‘change’ generally is pointless and ahistorical” and that jut saying “Move somewhere else” is not effective. But it seems like your solution – lower density, less new construction, rent control – doesn’t really square with the idea that a neighborhod doesn’t have to stay the same forever and certainly comes at a considerable cost.

    I’d be interested to know how you weigh the benefit of maintaining a community intact vs the opportunity cost of jobs, lost economic growth, a greter tax base to support social services, etc. I find the Krguman-Yglesias camp (more houses=lower housing cost) pretty convincing, but I’d be curious to know more about the contrarian take.

  37. Kes
    July 5, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    I moved to DC in 2009 and found a great group home in Columbia Heights, which went from up-and-coming in the 2000s to $500,000-Homes-Arrived by 2012. The charming starving-artists/bartender seven-people-in-four-rooms homes are all still there (I lived in one for three years), but so are a whole host of Shiney New Condos that have been thrown up over the past ten years.

    The thing is, those condos, and the Target-anchored Mall that they surround, were built almost entirely on previously empty or blighted lots. In the 90s, they called the neighborhood Kill-umbia Heights, and you Just Didn’t Go There. But the Metro stop and the retail it spurred changed everything, and it is now one of the toniest neighborhoods in the city.

    So my neighbors were a mix of other group homes full of yuppies like me, new families just starting out, old-time residents going back forty years, and the occasional vacant or crack house. I went to the community association meetings, patronized the local liquor store and the fancy new wine shop, and bitched with my old-time neighbors about the rats, and the cops, and the city and the drug dealers (ahem, I mean Misunderstood Youth). All of them agreed that the neighborhood was changing for the better, and they were happy they’d stayed around to see it. They appreciated us as (mostly) considerate neighbors, and we never felt any tension unless we partied too late and too loud on the front porch.

    Last year I screwed up my courage and bought a home. Not in Columbia Heights, where prices were so high you couldn’t get a run-down burnt-out shell for less than $300,000. I bought in Trinidad, a neighborhood with a terrible reputation with anyone who lived in the city in 2008, due to some awful shootings. My neighbors here are all long-time residents with family ties to the area. They sit out on the stoop and play cards and drink beer in paper bags. One of them is a homeless man who apparently lost everything and turned to liquor after the death of his wife. We are on first-name terms, and I’ve called an ambulance for him more than once.

    The gentrifiers, like me, are also moving into Trinidad now, because they didn’t even live here in 2008, and the nearby H St nightlife in some of the hottest in the city. There is a long-promised, soon-to-be-finished-next-year (Really!) streetcar in the works, and lots and lots of new condos and apartments built or planned. Thing about those projects, is most if not all of them are razing long-blighted blocks and breathing new life into the street. H St, like 14th St in Columbia Heights, was absolutely desolated in the ’68 riots. Most old-time residents will tell you straight out, the riots killed those neighborhoods, and it took them forty years to get over it.

    So the gentrification I see is the replacement of old, blighted, vacant properties with new, useable living space, driving new and better retail, not to mention new jobs. Plenty of people post on DC neighborhood blogs about the “tension” between old and new, casting it as a question of rich v. poor and white v. black. I don’t see it that way. My neighbors certainly don’t resent me, and the feeling of community on my block is very strong. The house I bought was foreclosed and vacant for a year before the developer came along, rehabbed and flipped it to me, for a very reasonable price, actually. In a way, Trinidad’s reputation for violence has insulated it from the price inflation going on elsewhere in the city, but that won’t last. Where things are going I’m not sure, but I hope Trinidad can become like Columbia Heights, with a mix of income levels and races all respectful of each other.

  38. William
    July 5, 2012 at 5:46 pm


    Having the buildings owned in cooperative by the people living in them, rather than by some landlord who doesn’t care who can afford it just so long as zie gets the best price for it, would also help—lacking that, rent controls based on percentage of the community’s median income, with percentage quotas for the lower ends of the economic spectrum (like, 30% of apartments must be affordable to people making half the poverty level, or to people making what unemployment or social security benefits alone pays, and another 30% at the poverty level, and some at double it, and then the rest you can make luxury apartments and charge the moon for them).

    This might be a little inside baseball, but some things similar to that were tried in Chicago over the past 20 or so years as the direction of white flight began to reverse. Condos have become all the rave, so much so that buying an actual single family home in the city is an almost prohibitively expensive proposition. What that means is that a lot of the middle class folk bought into condos because you could afford it, you didn’t have to worry about a landlord, and the significant costs of owning (upkeep, garbage, water, etc) could be shared and became pretty manageable. Low interest rates and 0% down made that a lot easier. When the economy bottomed out, though, a lot of people couldn’t make their payments. If you lived in an apartment you could always just give your landlord the notice, cut your losses, and move out. You can’t do that if you own, instead you end up in foreclosure and your credit gets ruined. In the meantime the banks have taken to renting properties to cover their costs, a factor which makes it very hard for people living in the building to sell or move.

    On the other side of the spectrum is whats called “mixed income housing.” Here in Chicago theres a program where homes (generally a percentage of units in a development) are sold at affordable, significantly below market, prices through the city to people on waiting lists who are going to live in the homes for the long term. Its not a bad program at all, but its voluntary. One of the Alderman from the Uptown neighborhood decided that, in order to fight gentrification, she would require developers to participate in the program. The methods basically came down to “either you can get permits easy and have friendly inspectors or you can languish in building code hell” once you were on the ground. As you can guess, most developers just chose to pursue projects a few blocks away, out of this Alderman’s jurisdiction. Prices still went up in Uptown, landlords still played their games, but development shifted from being condo-focused to high-end single family or town-home focused.

    Even when outright destructive, market factors are still going to be at work.

  39. lambda
    July 5, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    I think the positions of the folks suggesting rent control would be much stronger if they would address the well-known criticisms of that policy.

    I’m especially baffled about simultaneous support for rent control and opposition to increasing the housing supply. If the problem with gentrification is really rising rents, why should we oppose efforts to increase the number of rental units relative to the number of people who want to live in them?

  40. E
    July 5, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    De-lurking because this strikes a chord with me. I have no solutions whatsoever. I am a 20-something college-educated white woman living in West Harlem, now considering a move to Bushwick. I have a lot of discussions with friends about what counts as gentrifying and how we’re supposed to mitigate the effects of what gentrifiers we are, but mostly it just turns into ineffectual hand-wringing. Who’s a gentrifier? My boyfriend and his roommates live in a predominately Puerto Rican neighborhood (just south of Grand Street, holla- where can I find these vegan dryers?). They’re from Puerto Rico and are usually read as white. Are they gentrifiers? What about my roommate, who is black but who comes from a similar socioeconomic background as me (and has similar income, obviously, since we pay the same rent)? Is it my skin color that makes me a gentrifier, or is it what I do with it? And for that matter, what am I supposed to do with it?

    I have no idea. So far, I am friendly and polite to my neighbors, I shop nearby, I speak Spanish when it makes sense to do so (predominantly Dominican neighborhood, I can’t imagine living here without at least trying to learn the language >50% of the residents use), and I educate myself about racism and anti-oppression and try not to perpetuate anything too obviously bad. I don’t even know what that would be… yelling slurs at the grocery store? Running around demanding a Starbucks? I’m well aware that this neighborhood doesn’t belong to me. But… at the end of the day, I pay rent here, I feel safe here, it’s a good neighborhood and I guess I’m gentrifying it. I don’t know. What’s my alternative? And hell no, man, I’m not moving to Sheepshead Bay, and I definitely can’t afford predominantly white neighborhoods that offer an easy commute to my job in Manhattan. I’d like to live near my friends in Williamsburg, which at this point is about 50% white, but it’s out of my price range.

    I did have a conversation with a lifelong Harlemite who said that he thought gentrification was great because the gentrifiers insisted on better building maintenance, safer neighborhoods, etc., but later he told me he was a diamond importer and had to leave soon for the Ivory Coast, so maybe he was pulling my leg.

    By the way, for the person who suggested Washington Heights as an alternative to gentrifying neighborhoods: no dice, Washington Heights is definitely gentrifying. A lot of white and/or middle-class families moving there, pilates studios next to upscale-ish restaurants, etc.

  41. Donna L
    July 5, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    Washington Heights is definitely gentrifying. A lot of white and/or middle-class families moving there, pilates studios next to upscale-ish restaurants, etc.

    It really depends on where in Washington Heights you mean, since it’s is a big area. There are large sections of it, mostly west of Broadway and north of the bridge, that have been considered “middle class” continuously for the last 80 years, even before that part of the neighborhood became known as “Frankfurt on the Hudson” with the wave of German-Jewish refugees. I moved to that part of Washington Heights two years ago, after more than 20 years in New Jersey, because I wanted to be in Manhattan again (where I grew up), and it’s one of the very few neighborhoods where I can afford to rent an apartment big enough to hold all the books I’ve accumulated in the last 40 years! As it happens, I was born in Washington Heights, in a hospital that no longer exists. Entirely coincidentally, the building where I now live is on the same block as the building where my mother’s parents first lived when they came here from Germany as refugees in 1941. Another relative lived not only in the same building I’m in, but on the same floor! Also a coincidence, which I didn’t discover until after I moved here. There are even still a handful of elderly German Jews in the neighborhood. So I feel like I very much belong. And it’s not “gentrification” by any definition.

    By contrast, there are other parts of Washington Heights that have been almost entirely Dominican for a long time now, and I haven’t seen any sign of that changing. So I’d be curious as to what area you were thinking of.

  42. July 5, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    I’m coming from a slightly different perspective here in that I live in a small tourist town that has a population of about 20k people (if you include outlying areas) that pretty much doubles and sometimes triples in the summer months.

    In the last few years we have seen most of our major industry in the area shut down and as a result, the area has become economically depressed. Since we are surrounded by water, and a mere two hours north of Toronto, the powers that be are striving to encourage tourists and commuters to live here. The result is basically gentrification because town planning is so totally geared towards attracting the young upwardly mobile professionals who work in the city rather than concentrating on trying to bring industry to the area that might actually benefit those already living here.

    Commercial zoning bylaws have actively prevented locals from entrepreneurship because attempts to make a lving through a means such as, for example, opening a chip truck, is turned down by local councils because it might look “too trashy”.

    The thing that pisses me off the most is that we are surrounded on three sides by water but there isn’t a damn decent place to swim because all the waterfront is tied up in either industry that is on the verge of collapse (one of our two mills is slated to close this year) or is owned by condo developers.

    It’s a shitty spot because in this case the alternative to gentrification is an eventual ghost town.. But in it’s current form, neither option works out well for the locals.

  43. spot
    July 6, 2012 at 6:59 am

    There’s also this: NYC built housing projects (in the 70s?) on what is now considered to be prime waterfront real estate (Coney Island, Rockaway peninsula, etc.). In order to realize a potentially huge profit, they are looking to empty these buildings. One tactic they are using (from what i understand) is evicting entire families if any one member picks up a drug-related conviction. This strikes me active engineering as opposed to the natural/passive changes that occur through time; and is perhaps a little bit evil because of it.

  44. William
    July 6, 2012 at 9:28 am

    There’s also this: NYC built housing projects (in the 70s?) on what is now considered to be prime waterfront real estate (Coney Island, Rockaway peninsula, etc.). In order to realize a potentially huge profit, they are looking to empty these buildings. One tactic they are using (from what i understand) is evicting entire families if any one member picks up a drug-related conviction. This strikes me active engineering as opposed to the natural/passive changes that occur through time; and is perhaps a little bit evil because of it.

    Years ago there was a housing project in Chicago called Cabrini-Green. It was one of the big, old-fashioned, high-rise-farm kinds of projects. Then the neighborhoods around Cabrini started to change. Cabrini was never far from some fabulously wealthy areas, but as the city began to recover all the neighborhoods around Cabrini which had once been “bad neighborhoods” were rapidly becoming exclusive. By the 90s, Cabrini had become a little island of poor and black surrounded by a sea of rich and white while the City of Chicago King Richard II was looking for a way to get out of the public housing business. There were some scandals, as there always are in Chicago, and in the mid 90s the federal government handed the city a gift and ordered that a lot of deplorable public housing units (almost 20,000) be torn down. It was a gift because it gave the city the leverage it needed to tear down Cabrini and sell the land to developers, an attractive proposition given that things had developed to the point that Cabrini was all that stood between linking two of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Chicago together.

    So the high rises were torn down over 15 years. Residents went elsewhere. High end developments went up, but it hardly takes a genius to tell that the new houses and condos couldn’t house 15,000 people, let alone the small percentage of “mixed income” units set aside for former residents of Cabrini. Residents responded by going to court, going on the news, getting orders from judges, but over time they were pushed out all the same. Some found themselves ineligible, some were ordered to move to new housing, a handful were given fancy new townhomes so everyone could pat themselves on the backs for being good progressives, a lot of people were arrested. Its tough for a bunch of poor folks to stand up to a mobbed up Mayor backed by the city’s wealthiest on one side and developers looking for contracts to bid on on the other.

  45. Brian
    July 6, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Jill, I do agree that the structural changes must be made first to protect the poor, but until that is done, there are still ways that an individual who truly wants to avoid displacing others, can find a home in the city for a reasonable price, and that is by moving to neighborhoods where there are more home owners. This may not apply to your specific situation, but it certainly can help others who are in the process of choosing a place to live. Another option would be to move into the gentrifying neighborhood and fight for the structural changes.

    This is a complicated issue, and I’m not placing judgment on you or anyone else for his or her choices, but I do think there are alternatives for those who feel they want one, and the dichotomy that is often presented: to gentrify or not to gentrify, is a false one.

  46. ArielNYC
    July 6, 2012 at 1:58 pm


    I think we both want to support low-income residents and ensure that they’re provided with adequate and safe housing. Where we disagree is that you seem to believe that neighborhoods are some sort of of a UNESCO biosphere reserve that must be protected for posterity.

    As to your specific suggestion, you’re basically saying that a prospective resident should look for a supoptimal living accommodation based on some future possibility of someone somewhere in the neighborhood being adversely affected by your choices. Which is makes any rational decision making rather difficult, to say the least. Plus, I’m not so sure that the best of best of both worlds that you offer is really possible. A neighborhood in NYC with high home ownerhsip would suggest either geographical remoteness or affluence, i.e. expensive real estate. So instead of paying more or opting for a less convenient neighborhood, why not live wherever you want and give the money you saved to charity or something?

  47. ahmm
    July 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    This thread is pointless and this post is a joke. It’s the literal definition of (mostly) white self absorbed hand wringing. Gentrification, like racism, is structural. It’s not about “feeling bad”. If white people feeling bad stopped structural harm to POC, then America would be a paradise. Instead of writing a post asking for yet more privileged people to agonise about how awful these conversations make *them* feel, why not bother to read all of the work on gentrification that has already been done and move the conversation forward?

  48. ArielNYC
    July 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm


    And what structural solutions do you propose?

  49. hmmm
    July 8, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    I do not live in a city, and have not since my parents moved from Cambridge (and before that Hyde Park) when I was a small child. As it happens, I prefer rural areas, so I don’t have much of a stake in this conversation. I just can’t help observe that (as someone with little knowledge about this topic) conversations about gentrification all seem to come down to this —

    I wish the interesting, affordable, low-crime, diverse neighborhood I just moved into would stay EXACTLY THE SAME forever, so clearly nobody else should ever move here.

    People with a little more White Guilt tend to add (And maybe I shouldn’t have moved here either).

    But it’s an odd proposition – the idea that neighborhoods would be “perfect” if people were barred from moving into them once they achieved the perfect ratio of bodega to hipster bar, of long time, “colorful” “ethnic” residents to young (white, generally) artist or intellectual or yuppie types. The unfortunate implication is often that what makes the neighborhoods perfect is that just enough “colorful” “ethnic” residents remain for the white folks to feel as if they’re living the Diversity Dream.

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