Is gentrification evil and racist or just business as usual?
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the “evils” of the gentrification going on in many cities in the West and around the world. It is frequently described as a “racist” practice to displace minorities so that rich and usually white residents can move into their neighborhoods. It would be ignorant to assume there is no truth to this claim whatsoever, but it would also be ignorant to believe racism is the sole cause and purpose behind gentrification.
The Money Factor
The single biggest factor driving modern gentrification is money. No one can “displace” you if you can afford to pay the rent, no matter what race, gender or age you are. At least in the United States. Therefore, gentrification in the United States is highly economic. The economic and social inequality between races is a completely different topic and problem that should not be confused with gentrification. While it may be related, it is not the cause.
Gentrification is rooted in economics, following the rule of supply and demand. The more desirable an area is to live in, the higher the demand to live in that area. When demand climbs, it creates scarcity which causes prices to rise. When prices rise, people with low incomes can no longer afford these areas. Thus, they are pushed out and forced to live in areas that are more affordable.
What does “affordable” really mean?
Paired with the gentrification issue, is the issue of affordable housing. With many of the poor being pushed out of expensive urban areas, they are forced to endure longer commutes to the urban job centers while being the people who can least afford it. Many see this as a major roadblock to upward mobility.
Where the issue becomes tricky is in defining what constitutes “fair prices”. How exactly do we define what the standard of living should be for everyone? As expensive as urban areas can be, they can be very affordable for those willing to have roommates. This is how many low-income college graduates afford to live in cities.
However, this is where class, education and other types of discrimination can begin to play a role. In highly competitive rental markets, its very easy to get shut out if you don’t have enough money for a security deposit or the means to complete the paperwork and rental process before the next guy applying for the same apartment.
In the age of information technology and social media, it is very easy to profile a person. In theory, two rental applications can come in for the same apartment and the decision maker can do a quick Internet search on the applicants, then choose the person they like better. Again, in theory.
Then you have people who claim cities are not affordable because they feel entitled to a certain lifestyle. For instance, they want to be able to purchase a house or condo in the city. Maybe they want a penthouse apartment with a view in the middle of Manhattan. They cannot afford it, so that means “New York is too expensive”. A lot of it comes down to perspective.
Is Gentrification Really A Problem?
Like with all changes and shifts in society, there will be winners and losers. For the winners, gentrification is great because they can live in a convenient, thriving, vibrant urban area without worrying too much about crime or urban decay. For the losers, gentrification is terrible because people who spent most of their life (or all of their life) in a certain neighborhood can lose their community and have less access to economic opportunities and resources.
As you move further away from the urban core of most cities, access to transit becomes scarcer. There are less subway lines, light rail lines, buses, taxi’s and ride hailing services available. And the services available become less frequent.
Grocery stores, restaurants, jobs, hospitals, and other important resources become less abundant as well. This is especially true in poorer neighborhoods. Being pushed out of the “opportunity” areas creates yet another roadblock to a better life. And this is the perceived “problem” many people have with gentrification.
However, this is a somewhat short-sighted perspective. Many people forget that prior to gentrification, urban decay was the norm as most money, development and resources flooded into the suburbs. Why? Because that’s where the people with the most income and education wanted to live. The money and investment always follows the people who drive the economy the most. And the people who drive the economy the most always choose the best living conditions they can afford. In other words: they choose desirable, safe, and convenient places to live.
Since everyone wants the best lifestyle possible, desirable places to live always become more expensive. As a place becomes more expensive, the poor will be pushed out. Gentrification is nothing new or unique. It is basic economics and the movement of money. The development and the resources follow the money as they always have.
This is why the racial factor is much smaller than many people believe it to be. Green is the one color no one discriminates against. If you have the money, you can live anywhere you want. The poor will never have the same lifestyle as the middle and upper class. If they did, money would lose all value and the economic system would implode.