Gentrification Rips Communities Apart

Earlier this month, New York City's Washington Heights’ local community board rejected Quadridad Realty Partners’ proposal to build four 23-to-39-story apartment buildings. Quadridad’s plans faces significant opposition, not only from the community board, but also from local residents who fear that the buildings will accelerate the rate at which developers gentrify Washington Heights.

Gentrification is usually touted as a boon for so many under-served communities. When more affluent individuals move into a traditionally lower-class neighborhood, many argue that their new presence is an economic lifeline for the community that creates new jobs, improves existing services, and reduces crime rates. Gentrification is a destructive phenomenon that creates class tensions, frequently displaces old residents and destroying beloved cultural traditions.

Gentrification begins when a few individuals, usually artists and students, settle in a district not necessarily known for its popularity. Over time, it becomes rather fashionable and attracts more individuals who, due to the increase in demand, drive up property prices and rent.

Often times, landlords evict current tenants to create more expensive condominiums. In fact, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a resident stressed by the increased cost of living told the Washington Post that he and many older inhabitants of the area would be relocating to Pennsylvania. Therefore, many of the original residents of the neighborhood do not ever get to taste the fruits that gentrification brings, because they are forced to leave for communities they can afford.

For those older residents who somehow manage to stay (perhaps because they owned their own homes) there exists a divide between the older residents and the new, more affluent members of the community. Even if they are able to stay within the community, they see these million dollar condos being constructed and know that they will never be able to participate in the gains their community has made. This then creates a division between the community and makes it harder for people of such obviously disparate backgrounds to relate to each other. This tension, however, does not necessarily have to manifest in an economic fashion.

For example, in a neighborhood in Santa Monica, Califorina, which is steadily becoming affluent due to new individuals, there is tension because many of the newcomers do not comply with leash laws. The dog owners, however, complain that they do not have any facilities and are reluctant to use another one, a mile away, that they claim is “unkempt.” This reasserts the divide in that both sides are reluctant to accommodate the other.

Cultural institutions and traditions tend to dissipate during gentrification as well. In the past few years, Long Island City, New York, has undergone transformation due to an influx of more affluent individuals. Also ensuing in the recent years is the move to turn 5 Pointz Aerosol Art Center, a warehouse where graffiti artists can legally paint and has existed for 10 years, into luxury apartments.  

We might still continue to argue that, though there are problems associated with gentrification, it is still the best way to save urban communities. However, this is patently untrue. Williamsburg’s transformation did not begin when it was gentrified. In fact, it started during the mid-1980s when New York City poured $750 million into the area. Residents used the money to maintain affordable housing yet fix the neighborhood. Therefore, saving urban communities does not necessarily have to involve gentrification; funds and education would actually help the people who live in these communities without having to sacrifice beloved cultural artifacts, like 5 Pointz, or create unnecessary culture clashes

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons