Monday, March 05, 2007

Gentrification Hurts Sometimes

although it has been a long while since i came home to find someone smoking crack in the entryway to my apartment building, there are a lot of things i miss about the 'old' central square. actually, i miss most of it. i don't miss the trash on the streets, the drunken street brawls that used to wake me up at 5:00 am, or the packs of college kids/local youths who used to throw up everywhere and pee on lots of stuff while drunk and/or high. those things were tolerable annoyances i gladly endured.

i'm happy that the longtime residents of the area enjoyed an economic boost because of central square's status as a hot neighborhood. my landlord's family has owned their property since the 1920s or 1930s. rent control made it difficult to generate a profit renting apartments, but they stuck it out. now, they earn a steady profit by renting their apartments at below market rates.

i know i'm part of the wave of gentrification that has transformed the neighborhood and that makes me sad too. it's a predictable cycle -- a wave of young people in their twenties gravitate towards a neighborhood because of the low rents. some are in college, but many are not. as a whole, they're whiter than the current residents. then the yuppies move in. trendiness sets in. rents rise.

i can only claim casual nostalgia for what i remember of a gentrified neighborhood. i'm part of the gentrification. it's a lot more painful for some with a long history in a community undergoing gentrification.


emily2 said...

double edged sword.

i wonder how it is possible to strike a medium between blight and bling.

on one hand, a municipality needs to attract people with higher incomes in order to feed off their taxes. and once a neighborhood becomes less of a blight, and the residents who had been long-suffering gets a small window of welcome respite before the developers salivate and make the neighborhood completely unaffordable. i suppose it is unavoidable. and i'd be lying if i said i feel guilty about living in a yuppie neighborhood that went through gentrification in the 90s. it used to be an economically depressed working class italian town; now it's a middle class yuppie town where the residents are descendants of immigrants from a variety of european countries with a smattering of asian americans. ROFL. (more diversity than ever!) okay, kidding aside...

i looked at ABB's post. now let's forget about the "big bad white people" vs. "the poor minorities". it ain't that simple. there was a comment in that post about a neighborhood that was mostly comprised of working class white folks, and now people of south asian descent were trickling in. the commenter noted that, in these mostly-white neighborhood, the long-time residents might be renting to white middle class renters to keep the neighborhood white, so to speak.

earlier, i linked to a new york times article about a racially motivated... okay fuck it, it was a hate crime. east asians have been moving into eastern queens (flushing / bayside) for the last thirty years, and they were the ones who revitalized the economy. a client i worked with described flushing as a "sleepy little town" when she grew up. now it's a bustling business center. property values have gone through the roof.

some people may consider flushing a ghetto, but i wouldn't consider an area where the average property is $500k to be, economically speaking, a "ghetto." culturally, maybe. in any event, in recent times, asian americans have started moving east into bayside (even higher property values), and some of the long term residents are unhappy, despite the fact that these residents, if they don't like asians, can sell their bayside house for a $700,000 profit and move somewhere else. a few months ago, a group of asian americans were beaten in bayside by a group of white kids. the asians were driving a lexus, the white kids a toyota. i think that detail is significant.

in discussion boards around the internet, people spoke about the tensions rising between white old timers and the affluent asian americans who were moving in. the neighborhood was originally a lower middle class white neighborhood. there was mention of "white power" bands of kids bothering "newcomers".

anyway, "gentrification" has always seemed to imply that the big bad white people are coming in to take away neighborhoods from brown people. i'll say that the asian americans in bayside are about as "big and bad" as the white people living in central square. in short, they aren't big and bad - they just want a nice place to live like anyone else, and for that, they shouldn't feel guilty.

emily2 said...

(okay after reading ABBs post again, i'm finding it increasingly hypocritical and a little offensive.

first, she admits to being a gentrifier. how can you claim solidarity with the "people being pushed out" by people with a "pioneer" mentality if you were one of the so-called "pioneers"? so a minority person who wants to be in a diverse neighborhood has moral superiority over a white person who wants to live in a non-wonder bread neighborhood? i'm not even white, and this is wack!

second, about the lower east side. up until the 1950s, it was a white neighborhood. the LES was a hardscrabble jewish neighborhood, and then the descendants of the residents eventually moved out into the 'burbs. then the demographic was replaced by puerto ricans, and then the dominicans. and now the demographic is changing again. a friend noted that some of the descendants of the jewish residents of the LES back in the 1880s are moving back in - albeit with higher rents.

anyway, neighborhoods change. sometimes they come full circle. people shift around; people get shifted around. demographics change. turn of the century neighborhoods with mansions suffer economic declines (parts of brooklyn); then lower income people move in. then a hundred years later, property values rise.

re: harlem. yes, harlem has a rich history, and i'm sure it's irritating to see white kids move in. i see people bitching about straight people moving into fire island. i think fire island is a lovely little gay haven. but i also understand that you can't prevent others from buying or renting property. so, i understand the motivation, but ugh... i don't know. i don't think people have an evil motivation for moving into a desirable neighborhood.

and for crying out loud, yuppies aren't bad people. all of us here are yuppies. what annoys me are yuppies who deny that they are yuppies. why do we get a bad rep anyway? the 80s are long gone. yuppie has a whole new meaning.

so yeah, this is rambling. i guess i don't really have a position on gentrification except that i hope i can eventually buy property, and when i buy property, i hope nothing happens to the neighborhood value-wise (except appreciate!). and i don't care what color of people move in.)

emily1 said...

i didn't mean to imply that the author of the post was being driven out of her community by rising costs. it was just a nice summary of some of the drawbacks to gentrification. i also thought the discussion about how people who participate in it talk about the neighborhoods as if they discovered them, as if they were the first people to live there.

emily2 said...

i also thought the discussion about how people who participate in it talk about the neighborhoods as if they discovered them, as if they were the first people to live there.

ROFL... honestly, it sort of reminds me of the designation of north america as the "new world." new? uh, weren't there people here already?