What is Gentrification? And Why Does It Matter?

10 year difference at Bleecker St. & Carmine St.  Image: Jack Vartoogian / Getty Images

10 year difference at Bleecker St. & Carmine St.

Image: Jack Vartoogian / Getty Images

Perhaps many of you are unaware of what gentrification is, or at least to what the term refers. You might be familiar, especially if you live in a city, with the idea that hipsters (or typically richer folk from out of town) are taking over a neighborhood. You might hear something like that this mom-and-pop shop that’s been there forever has gone out of business and has been replaced by an artisanal cheese shop. Essentially gentrification, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood) accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people and that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.”

So why should we care about gentrification and how does it happen? Does it even really matter, like cities change all the time? To answer the first question, we need to care about gentrification’s effect on the community it comes to and we are going to address what supports it. It should also be stated that gentrification can be hard to “pin down” at a particular time, but these are some more visible examples. The exact causes of gentrification are debated, but a popular theory suggests that it has to do with demand-and-supply in a neighborhood. Following this type of gentrification, prices in the affected neighborhood rise. Take a look at San Francisco, from 2014 to 2017, the price of renting a home went up by 19.16% compared to the national average change which was 5.86%. San Francisco, in roughly the past 20 years has become one of the most expensive cities in the United States to live in. This has caused a massive displacement of its working class residents, to the extent that about 71% of the firefighters no longer live in San Francisco. An older example of Gentrification, and an example of one with visible government support would be the Manhattan neighborhood of San Juan Hill. If you’ve seen the musical West Side Story, this is the neighborhood where the story roughly plays out. A predominantly working class African and Puerto Rican neighborhood, it was torn down with the use of eminent domain in order to make room for Lincoln Square. This caused a massive displacement for this community by having their lives uprooted to make room for wealthier and generally whiter residents.

To answer the second question, it is true that cities change frequently, and oftentimes it is for the better. New York City has experienced plenty of change in its nearly 400 year history. It’s grown in size and in population, and who’s lived here has changed as well. Change can be great, crime rates over the last 20 years here have been dropping in the city.  Yet as we have seen with gentrification, it displaces communities for wealthier communities. If you care about your fellow human and imagine how hard it must be to restart your life with little resources available  is difficult; then this does matter.

By no means is change un-welcomed, and neighborhoods changing for the better is great. Yet the reason as to why many aren’t a “fan” of gentrification is that it inherently excludes its longtime and working class residents. It forces them out,  in order to make room for wealthier residents. It takes away homes, and communities.

Eileen MurrayComment