The Issue

The Issue

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, gentrification is “the process of renewal and rebuilding, accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”

Gentrification has been a persistent source of concern for many New Yorkers over the past several decades. While it is often thought to be limited to Manhattan, gentrification is in fact happening in other boroughs as well, especially in Brooklyn.

Gentrification brings about increased home and rent prices. Soho, Chelsea, the East Village, Park Slope, Williamsburg, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and parts of Queens have all been gentrified. All these areas sport premium prices and in most cases are unaffordable for most New Yorkers.

The median monthly rent in these areas is around $2700; in some areas, nearly 60% of people’s income goes toward rent. Taking these high prices into account, people are looking to different areas to find a more affordable location in proximity to Manhattan. This drives lower income residents, artists and small businesses out of the area.

Indeed, this is apparent when one looks at the history of Clinton Hill. The median monthly rent for a one-bedroom in Clinton Hill is $2,450 a month. According to the New York Times, “the United States Census Bureau’s 2009-2013 American Community Survey estimated the population as 39 percent white, 36 percent black, 16 percent Hispanic and 5 percent Asian. The 2010 census showed a 149 percent increase in the white population over 2000 and a decline of 29 percent in the number of blacks.” Gentrification has thus been shown to disproportionately affect African Americans more than any other social group.

Plans for large developments and building renovations may sound positive to some, but it can bring anxiety and fear to locals. Living in the area, you may feel threatened by all the development and change going on–you’ve seen it happen to the other areas but never thought it would happen to yours. You start to worry, “Will my rent go up?  Will the local mom and pop I work at stay open?”
Still, some people believe that gentrification has an overall positive social impact. According to a report written for city observatory by Joe Cortright, a leading economic analyst, and Dillon Mahmoudi, a PhD candidate focusing on urban studies, the real urban problem is the prevalence and concentration of poverty–not gentrification. The theory goes that the people who surround us are the ones who provide us with our sense of opportunity and comfort. As such, when people are surrounded by poverty, it makes them feel as though they’re stuck in it. “Policies and regulations that insulate impoverished neighborhoods from gentrification could end up condemning these communities to yet another generation of deep poverty and segregation.”

The people moving in essentially come along with new social and economic capital. They bring along economic development and the opportunity for new jobs and careers. Furthermore, wealthier people means more money for public services such as schools. Schools with more money allow for better education and more opportunity.(Castle, Tyler)

However, there is a major problem with this argument. First, while it is true that urban renewal on its own can have many positive impacts on a neighborhood, such as decreased crime, access to healthier food and better schools, and cleaner streets, the only way wealthier people moving in can benefit the people who currently live in an area is if they can afford to continue living in their own neighborhoods. If rents and housing prices skyrocket, the natives of the area will essentially move out and miss out on any potential benefit. Instead of sending their students to better-performing local schools, long time residents of Clinton Hill have been forced to move out to cheaper, more decrepit neighborhoods, such as Brownsville or East Flatbush, and send their kids to those areas’ distressed schools.

Most poorer residents don’t willingly move out of gentrifying neighborhoods. The main reason isn’t necessarily a strong sense of nostalgia; rather, these residents attempt to stick around for as long as they could so that they and their families can reap some of the benefits of a gentrifying neighborhood and break out of the cycle of poverty.

Additionally, wealthier newcomers can sometimes unwittingly bring about the eradication of a neighborhood’s culture. The people moving in aren’t moving into an empty land, but rather a community with its own culture and historical roots. For example, a local bakery or art studio may be replaced by national chains, such as Starbucks, who could afford to operate in a high tax and rent area.

Hence, though gentrification may have brought some benefits to the neighborhood, many of the poorer residents have missed out on them; rising rents and housing prices have forced long term residents to move. Herein lies the main issue with gentrification; just as long-time distressed neighborhoods experience decreased crime, access to fresher food and better schools, and an overall economic development, their longtime, incumbent residents are forced to move out to poorer neighborhoods.

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