2 Half-Truths about Gentrification & Displacement

Hellloooo Detroiters, PPPers, and those of you who have ever been "more probable than not...at least generally aware of inappropriate activities."

                                                Equipment malfunctions happen!

                                                Equipment malfunctions happen!

                                                                  Yeah Tom, we know.

                                                                  Yeah Tom, we know.


Summary for busy PPPer's:  The public narrative about gentrification during the revitalization of urban neighborhoods perpetuates a number of half-truths.  Here are two of them:

  1.  The gentrifiers are the new white people moving into the neighborhood; and
  2.  Gentrification and displacement occurs when the hipsters start moving in.

These are both half-truths.  Here's a quick synopsis of my five whole truths in response: 

  1. Not all gentrifiers are white;
  2. Gentrifiers not only include the new residents, but also the people who originally spurred the gentrification (I call these folks the Original Gentrifiers or OGs);
  3. Many of the people who gentrify a neighborhood never move into it;
  4. Hipsters moving into a 'hood are more likely to be an effect of gentrification than a cause of it;
  5. If you start fighting displacement when you see hipsters moving in, you're too late.

These clarifications are critical because we can't fight displacement if we don't start with the whole truth. 

We can’t bring more social equity to neighborhood revitalization if we are fighting the wrong battles against the wrong enemy at the wrong time.
— Calvin Gladney

Half Truth #1:  The gentrifiers are the new white people moving into the neighborhood.

The Whole Truth #1:  Many gentrifiers are white but they also hail from other racial groups.  Gentrifiers also include the people who spurred the original gentrification who may never actually move into the neighborhood.  No need to belabor the racial point - all gentrifiers aren't white.  Despite what you mostly see and read, that's just factual.  Moreover, gentrifiers are not just new residents, but also include the public, private and non-profit actors who implemented the original redevelopment plans that spurred the gentrification.  This whole class of gentrifiers are often left out of the public conversation. 

Many of the gentrifiers of urban neighborhoods are the government officials, urban planners, brokers and developers who started the wheels of gentrification moving years before the neighborhood changed.

I call these folks the Original Gentrifiers (OG's for short), and most of them will never move into the neighborhood, and many of them are not white.   Whatever their racial makeup, I also hold the OGs (particularly the public sector OGs) at least partially responsible for not putting in place mitigation and prevention strategies to counteract any negative effects that may occur when gentrification does happen.

    When I say OGs, I mean the Original Gentrifiers, not OGs like Cube from Boyz N the Hood.

    When I say OGs, I mean the Original Gentrifiers, not OGs like Cube from Boyz N the Hood.


Half Truth #2:  Gentrification and displacement occurs when the hipsters start moving in.

                                                                Hi neighbor.

                                                                Hi neighbor.

Whole Truth #2:   Gentrification really starts when the neighborhood redevelopment plan is laid out, not when the hipsters are moving in.  Much of the public narrative about gentrification is misfocused on hipsters and their plaid shirt wearing, bicycle-riding brethren.  There's some truth that hipsters are a sign of gentrification when they arrive in droves, but I think they are more likely to be an effect of gentrification, not a cause.  The hipsters get labeled as gentrifiers, but they are not OGs.  Gentrification starts when the neighborhood redevelopment plan is laid out, and properties are bought and sold.  Gentrification starts to happen when certain people already in the neighborhood start re-naming areas that already had names. Gentrification begins way before the hipsters and higher-income people start moving in.

Final Truth:  If you start fighting displacement when you see hipsters moving in, you're too late.  Displacement is a real problem that can occur during the revitalization of a neighborhood.  The root causes of gentrification-based displacement can be best addressed when the gentrification process starts, not when the hipsters move in.  These clarifications of half-truths are important because we can't fight displacement if we don't start with the whole truth.  We can't bring more social equity to neighborhood revitalization if we are fighting the wrong battles against the wrong enemy at the wrong time. 

Up Next in Part 2:  Public discourse also tends to ignore an important segment of the ranks of the gentrified:  The local businesses who made it through urban disinvestment, riots and downturns, but could not survive the gale force winds of gentrification.  

Posted on May 15, 2015 and filed under Most Read.

Can Uber & Airbnb Lyft Urban Neighborhoods?

Helllooo PPPers, Detroiters, and those of you who were more excited about the Season Premiere of Game of Thrones than Hillary Clinton's announcement of her candidacy on the same day!

Next time I request a trial by combat, I'll just handle it myself.

Next time I request a trial by combat, I'll just handle it myself.

Executive Summary for busy PPPers

Municipalities should explore how the sharing economy could support economic development and improve the quality of life of its most challenged residents and neighborhoods. 

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The sharing economy is here to stay.  That's what happens when an industry was estimated to have $15 billion in global revenues in 2013 and is projected to have $335 billion in global revenues in 2025.  Hell, those numbers might be low -- Uber is projecting $10 billion in revenues by itself in 2015!  Whether it's Uber, Lyft or Sidecar for transportation, or Airbnb, VRBO or FlipKey for short-term lodging - the sharing economy is changing cities around the world. 

However, many municipalities and neighborhood residents are fighting against the spread of the sharing economy.   Airbnb and its competitors are being attacked as mostly illegal, a drain on the stock of affordable housing, and bad for housing markets around the world.   Residents are calling them disruptive to the fabric of neighborhoods.  Uber and its competitors are being hit with unfair competition lawsuits and charges of exploiting its drivers.  One Salon article argued that Uber must be stopped.  

I don't want to wade into the debate on whether the critics or the champions are right or wrong, but I do want to throw out another perspective:

Sharing economy companies could be leveraged to improve the quality of life of lower-income residents and revitalize neighborhoods.

Leverage Car-Sharing for Good. Through thoughtful public-private partnerships, vehicle-sharing companies could offer subsidized service to low-income seniors who need to get around town.  Through P5 Partnerships vehicle-sharing companies could also offer subsidized lower-cost ride shares to lower-income residents who can't afford a car but live in neighborhoods not adequately served by public transit or taxis.  As an example, construction workers who don't have a car but have to be at the construction site by 5am can't use public transit to get themselves to work.  Residents of certain urban or rural areas only have access to very poor public transit options.  A low-cost ride sharing option could bridge these gaps.

No one should have to walk 21 miles to work.  Image via Huffington Post & Detroit Free Press.

No one should have to walk 21 miles to work.  Image via Huffington Post & Detroit Free Press.

Make Short-Term Rentals Have Long-Term Upsides.  A report by the NY Attorney General alleges that short-term rentals are disproportionally centered outside of certain neighborhoods. 

Image Source:  Airbnb in the City/New York State Office of the Attorney General

Image Source:  Airbnb in the City/New York State Office of the Attorney General

Short-term rental companies could be incentivized to get more listings posted in urban neighborhoods, rural towns and other areas that could benefit from the additional vibrancy and activity brought by short-term renters.  Maybe these short-term renters would realize what they've been missing in these areas.  Some of them might consider moving there. Or over time the increased activity might give owners a market-based reason to improve their properties.  Or values might rise in those neighborhoods as people see real estate and investment opportunity in overlooked places. 

Conclusion.  I have no doubt that there are 100 issues to be resolved to make sure these potential sharing economy arrangements are equitable.  They must be structured to promote economic development and improve quality of life, not just company profits.   These deals won't be easy.  However, the potential upside is worth it.  Municipalities should explore how the sharing economy could support economic development and improve the quality of life of its most challenged residents and neighborhoods.

 

-- Calvin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on April 12, 2015 and filed under Most Read.