OK, before your blood pressure rises too much—I’m not a gentrification denier. It happens, it is very much a real problem and we need to be both ameliorating its effects and changing policies to prevent them.
(For those not familiar with the term, gentrification describes a rapid upscaling of a previously poor neighborhood that economically and culturally displaces long-term residents.)
However, if you have any relationship to one of the vast majority of poor neighborhoods in the country that is not currently gentrifying and not obviously about to, you have likely engaged at some point in a lively round of “Could it happen here? Will it happen here?” It happens here in the Capital Region with regularity.
The arguments usually rely on two facts, both of which are completely true:
- Places that were given up as utterly lost causes have, over the course of decades, absolutely gentrified and experienced serious displacement and affordability issues, and we all wish more had been done back when land was cheap to prepare for and stave off those changes. Take Lower Manhattan, which had a vacancy problem nearly as serious as Detroit’s today in the 1970s.
- Most places are not gentrifying. Places remaining in and or falling into concentrated poverty far outnumber the places experiencing rapid appreciation, and being skeptical of helping those places fight vacancy or get decent amenities, transportation connections, or services out of fear of gentrification is terrifically insulting to their residents.
Sometimes these arguments get heated. Sometimes just how likely gentrification is or isn’t is used to justify action or inaction.
And that’s what I’m saying doesn’t matter.
Because here’s the thing: If your goal is economic and racial justice, community empowerment, and stable, healthy, economically diverse communities from which people are not being constantly displaced, and you are working in a low-income community that is currently not experiencing a hot market, rising prices, and massive private investment, what you should do is pretty much the same, whether gentrification is imminent or not.
There are strategies that create tangible change here and now, reduce the likelihood of gentrification, and mitigate the damage and displacement if there does come a time when the neighborhood becomes hip. They all start with increasing community control and voice and focusing resources and investments on the needs of current residents in the right direction, no matter what the future economic trend lines are.