Gentrification: Why We Can’t Build Our Way Out
"You see how all of the people have moved out of here?" laments one black Brooklyn resident in the film My Brooklyn. "You see how all the stores are gone?"
As middle- and upper-class Americans rediscover city living, gentrification is forcing many working-class communities of color out of their longtime neighborhoods and further away from urban cores. Though the problem isn't new, this time "the housing that the poor are losing to the rich is not being replaced," writes Stephen Smith in Atlantic Cities.
Smith argues that, at least in Brooklyn, increasing density is the best fix for gentrification and the displacement it causes. He's not the first to propose building bigger and higher; in Washington, DC, many are pushing to reduce housing prices by eliminating a citywide height limit. And while density has many perks—it helps the environment, cuts down long commutes, and encourages communitarian living—it doesn't address the inequality at the root of gentrification.
“The city's ubiquitous six-story tenement would be illegal to build in most of Williamsburg today," Smith writes, "as would many of the neighborhood's coveted loft buildings." Get rid of restrictive zoning, he says, and let the market go to work. The laws of supply and demand would spur the creation of more housing, which would then stabilize prices and allow everyone to enjoy Williamsburg and other trendy neighborhoods. Presto!
The result may be a less gentrified Brooklyn, but not a more equal Brooklyn. To low-income Brooklyn residents, it's as if Smith is saying: You can stay, but only if you are willing to leave your row houses and pack yourself into crowded apartments.
"We have to really look broadly at what gentrification has done to people in addition to displacing people," said Sabiyha Prince, author of the upcoming African-Americans and Gentrification in Washington, DC.
“People don’t have universal needs," Prince told Campus Progress. "An upper-middle class person's needs and desires may not be congruent with a working class person's."
A neighborhood full of trendy bars and coffee shops might not offer affordable food and child care for a single mother. A more just policy solution is one that increases the purchasing power of the poor and working class through living wage jobs, subsidized housing, and a robust social safety net.
"There are the resources and the funds available," Prince said, "so it's a matter of what the will is, it's a matter of who is valued."
Chris Lewis is a reporter at Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @chris_lewis_.
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