Serious question about urban planning policy

Posted Fri 26 July 2013 10:30 under category politics

Skye retweeted an article today which made me realize that I really don't understand something: what do people who are profoundly anti-gentrification want? The argument that I see usually goes like this:

  1. Rich people are moving into a traditionally mixed neighborhood
  2. The big spike in demand drastically drives up rent
  3. "Normal" folk can't afford to live there (usually "normal" is defined as "poor and racially diverse", sometimes it's instead defined as "people who've lived here longer than these whippersnappers")
  4. This is bad

I generally agree that a lack of diversity is bad but, uh, what's would society do instead?

  • Is the implied message rich people should stick to their own neighborhoods and leave us alone? If so, isn't that actually, uh, even worse in terms of social stratification? That seems worse...
  • Is "anti-gentrification" really just a slightly less blunt way to say "classist"? Would people who protest against gentrification prefer that there just weren't rich (or, in the case of just about all the tech employees I know who get yelled at, slightly above the San Francisco median income) people and that all of that money was being redirected to existing city residents?
  • Is the primary request that the nouveau riche give back to their communities more? What would that entail, ideally? Is it more a question of civic engagement or of financial contribution?
  • Some sources seem to indicate that it's just a desire for more affordable housing development in existing space, but what does that mean? In a fixed-size city (particularly one like SF where it's not feasible to build upwards), housing is largely a zero-sum game. Do people just want larger cities? Because I've lived in LA county, and if you think that communities get better when they start to sprawl out, you're crazy-sauce.

I really don't know. I understand the anger that someone would have at no longer being able to afford their homes, but I also understand that there are way, way more people and way, way more jobs than there were 20 years ago in the same 49 square miles of San Francisco, and I don't know what people think the right "fix" for that is. I can't really imagine protesting something when I didn't have any idea on how to make it better because that's just unproductive and incoherent, so I imagine there are plans.

I imagine this could be a hella-inflamatory post, but a lot of the time I read (and see) things that seem to be arguing that I literally do not have a right to live in the city, and that stings a bit. I figure that I have enough people who might see this link that I might be sent something interesting. Feel free to send me any (preferably coherent) links via comments on this post, Facebook, Twitter, ADN, or whatever. If I get good ones, I'll write a follow-up post with what I've learned.

[update 2013-07-26T11:25-0700]

A response that I've gotten a couple of times so far:

  • A big part of the argument against gentrification is about changing "character", not just about economic disfortune. That seems really subjective, especially since "character" isn't fixed.

A few of the things that I've heard as mitigations that I don't think are super-effective:

  • Rent control
    • Pros: Keeps people in their homes. Fairly easy to understand.
    • Cons: Makes it extremely hard for people to move. Provides a perverse incentive to landlords to evict people rather than working to find a mutually-equitable rent.
  • Affordable housing requirements (often Section 8) in new construction
    • Pros: ensures economically-diverse residents
    • Cons: only applies to new construction; often only helps very-low-income people, but doesn't specifically help with economic spectrum diversity, racial diversity, or other issues
  • Denser building
    • Pros: More units means more room for everyone
    • Cons: Skyscrapers hurt neighborhood cohesion at least as much as demographic changes. Architecturally and politically difficult in a lot of areas (although maybe it's all NIMBYism)?

An anecdote about rent control: as of the 2007-2011 Census ACS, the median gross rent in my zip code was $859±64. When I was looking for housing in 2010, the median asking price was much more than double that. Essentially, with rent control, rather than have everyone pay a market price of $900, some people pay $400 and some pay $2000. And I'm as much of a hypocrite as possible here, since equivalent units in my building now rent for more than $1000 per month over what I pay. I would be very interested in an economic study that tried to analyze how much rent control policies encourage higher average new-tenant rents as landlords try to keep up with rising mean per-square-foot costs.

I am still looking for articles without much success, although I did enjoy this Salon article... from 1999. It's nice to know that nothing ever changes...


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