Is Gentrification a Good Thing?

There are many negative side effects to gentrification, but is it an overall good thing for the communities in which it happens?   

By Henry Adeleye on January 23, 2015 


Gentry:  People of high social position; upper class.  Gentrification:  The movement of gentry into urban areas; most often decaying urban areas.  Usually accompanied by a rise in people jogging in yoga pants, a rise in artisanal mayonnaise shops, and a rise in the number of Patriots fans.  SNL is talking about it.  The new season of Shameless is talking about it.  A lot of millennials and empty nesters are benefiting from it.  A lot of non-millennials and non-empty nesters are being displaced by it.  So, what's to make of this gentrification stuff?  It's become the new four-letter word (Actually, 14 letters but who's counting?  You are because I know you just counted them.).  But outside of the generally known negative effects of gentrification, is it an overall positive thing?  Should we try to preserve man-made things that have become outdated, or is it better to make way for new people to take a shot at making a history of their own?          

There's no secret about it, gentrification causes a lot of the people who lived in the area before to be displaced.  People start moving closer to the city to escape long commutes and bask in the culture, creativity, and night life that urban areas offer.  Low-income housing is often the first thing to go, to make room for high rises and organic coffee shops.  Once the rent increases as a result, artists and other young up-and-comers, once attracted to the city core by the low rent caused by suburbanization, begin to feel the heat as they're priced out of the market.  In essence, the culture and art scenes that attract people to the city begin to cause the curators of creativity to move out.  This is more prevalent in places like San Francisco than anywhere else, where Google buses plow through the city like Godzilla, taking men, women, and children in their wrath, forcing them to either go without housing or move to the outskirts of the city and eat Rally's for dinner for the rest of their lives.    

If done the wrong way, gentrification can also lead to some of the same problems that suburbanization creates.  They're not economic problems, by any means; rather, issues of blandness.  Instead of a Walmart and Applebee's on every corner, where you can score great discounts on cheaply made goods or eat pre-packaged food marketed as fresh and made-to-order, you can end up with a Starbucks or Chipotle on every corner.  Slightly better, since both are pretty good companies, but it can turn what was once vibrant and full of life into something as deflated as Tom Brady's footballs.   

If done the right way, however, gentrification can take places with a lot of history and make them better for everyone.  Repurposing buildings and mixing in new construction that blends well with the old helps preserve character.  Mixed use areas can help with some of the displacement caused by getting rid of low-income housing, while still making something new and exciting (Or at least, in theory, that's what's supposed to happen).  An old abandoned gas station in my old stomping ground is now a cool burger joint.  Right next to it is an organic grocery store.  There's a cognitive dissonance caused by nostalgia, but there's no mistaking that what's there now is better than what used to be there.  In large cities, a new class of creatives is bringing in fresh, new ideas and challenging the status quo.  Parks are cleaner and safer, and artisanal mayonnaise shops sure beat yet another corner store.  So, when it's all said and done, gentrification done right is like a Drake song.  You publicly hate it, but secretly you know deep down inside that it's actually pretty good.