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Is gentrification really a good thing?

Electrify

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After years of posting on urban forums and blogs, I always got the image that gentrification was a good thing. It brought new life into a struggling and depressed neighbourhood, making it safer and more livable.

However, at university we have been focusing more on the negative aspects of gentrification. Causing rents and property taxes to skyrocket, so that lower classes can no longer afford to live and work there and become displaced, thus dismantling the social fabric of the neighbourhood. It also means that these people may end up living and working in low density suburbs which were not designed to accommodate the needs of the poor.

What do you guys think?
 
Gentrification can indeed have these effects. But, on balance, there are a bunch of things which make living in city centers unaffordable for low income people today.

The first is government real estate purchase subsidies. These come in the form of construction, renovation and other tax breaks. But more perversely in the form in the subsidizing the banks by offsetting default risk through anti-abandonment legislation, home mortgage insurance subsidies (CMHC), primary market capital subsidization (also CMHC), and all the things that government does to make purchasing real estate "affordable". What it all amounts to is housing which is less affordable, but there's so much more cheap debt available to keep chasing the pricing tail. The debt-to-income ratio shows this in action.

The other big thing is zoning and density limits. This is often countered by by people pointing to NYC and so forth. But actually, New York City has a serious problem with historical preservation. I think I read in Edward Glaeser's book, that about 1/3 of the buildings in Manhattan are under historical preservation now -- with more and more buildings being added all the time. This has contributed to a long-term trend towards housing availability not keeping pace with demand. Thus, prices go up.

The only thing to keep inner city costs down over time is to dispense with density limits and allow production of housing to track market demand.

But too many people are focused on finding a "balance". That "balance" of course has a cost. It's cost is the cost of living. It turns city boulevards into a playground for the upperclass, and pushes poor people further and further from the city center.

Gentrification? I think it's a good thing -- if it's undertaken as a collaboration of local business. And if these other things were dealt with, the impact on cost of living in those areas would be significant attenuated.
 
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After years of posting on urban forums and blogs, I always got the image that gentrification was a good thing. It brought new life into a struggling and depressed neighbourhood, making it safer and more livable.

However, at university we have been focusing more on the negative aspects of gentrification. Causing rents and property taxes to skyrocket, so that lower classes can no longer afford to live and work there and become displaced, thus dismantling the social fabric of the neighbourhood. It also means that these people may end up living and working in low density suburbs which were not designed to accommodate the needs of the poor.

What do you guys think?

it is probably more technically accurate to characterise it as creating a new social fabric in the neighbourhood. neighbourhoods are not static - they change. the issue is whether the change observed is desirable, hence the values that we attach to the term 'gentrification'. and if it is not desirable, once we understand what we don't like about it, what interventions can be made and whether they are worth the effort.

while i bemoan the increasing lack of affordability in my part of the city everyday, i realise there is little i can do to stop it. people like our part of the city. they want to move into the neighbourhood. they will bid against each other to move into the neighbourhood and prices reflect that. ultimately there simply is not a range of housing options available for people of all income ranges and stages of life to live in my part of the city. (i'm looking at probably having to move out because of this in the next year or so - eglinton+weston here i come *sigh*). nor is there an appetite to provide it between the nimbys and the hipsters. our councillor is deadset against new development on one hand (to appease one set of constituents, those with the 700k+ homes) and on the other hand lurves the idea of live-work residences for artists and boutique stores. there really is no in-between discussed where one might see other housing redevelopments encouraged, more co-ops, family-friendly units and amenities, etc.

and i guess the other piece is the divergence between median incomes and median housing prices. one doesn't need to look too hard to find the literature documenting that, the loss of industrial jobs and the incomes they provided and so on and so forth. i certainly hope your class is touching upon the work of dr. hulchanski.


on the flip side of the coin, people also need to decide if its worth expending effort (and if so, how much) exhorting councillors to maintain the status quo mix in a neighbourhood, no matter the cost, or start addressing the challenges of the low density suburbs and make them more livable and accessible.
 
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In my planning program, gentrification was almost always discussed as a negative thing. As someone who is interested in heritage, I think there are a couple of reasons why it's bad. First, gentrification can drive out families with long roots in the area. It's not just people who get driven out of the community. It's their stories and their local knowledge that go with it. Second, gentrification often means the arrival of corporations and brands that have the ability to undercut locally owned shops and stores. Part of the great thing about many ungentrified neighbourhoods is their unique flavour thanks to various mom and pop shops, restaurants or hangouts. When a Starbucks moves in, a locally owned store that may have been at that location for years or even decades suddenly struggles to survive (particularly as new people move in to the neighbourhood and aren't aware of the history, or just how awesome mom and pa's coffee is). Third, as great as gentrification has been with regards to adaptive reuse, there are typically many buildings that don't survive, particularly as land values increase and the temptation for condo development increases.

I will say, it looks like the newest generation of planners are taking these issues to heart, so maybe we'll see a shift in how gentrification impacts communities in the future (though even then I'm not optimistic since planners can only do since much since it's all based so heavily on economics)
 
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When I studied Urban Geography in university (over 15 yrs ago), I came away with the notion that it considered a more positive thing in Canada (esp Toronto), rather than in America (esp NYC)..things might have changed these days..
 
Gentrification is 90% a good thing.

As to poor people can't afford to live in those areas, it is fair and square. It is like when you make $20K a year, you can't expect to buy Luis Vuitton bags. Competition is good for the society. Many people (excluding those born rich) are weathier because they studied harder worked worker, and took more risks. I don't want to over generalize, but poor people are stuck with their financial situation mostly due to their own fault. You can't be a mediocre or below average person and expect to live a better than average life, that's what I call unfair. Just because you have "long roots" in a neighbourhood doesn't mean you are more entitied to live there. Additionally, gentrification provides a good incentive for people to be ambitous and achieve more, rather than just being satisfied with their mediocre skills. It is simply healthy competition.

What's wrong with big corporations? They provide way more jobs than small corner store businesses. They can produce the same products at a lower cost due to more efficient use of resources and economies of scale. What's wrong with that? I like "unique mom and pop stores" too, however, if they are that unique, they should offer what those big brands can't and won't be squeezed out of business in the first place. Most likely they are driven away exactly because they produce the same generic stuff at a much higher cost. Customers are not stupid. If a small restaurants really runs well and provide outstanding food, people will come there despite the price premium. There are tons of such examples in Toronto and other cities. It is usually those generic restaurants whose products fail to differentiate from others while charging 20 or 30% more that eventually run out of business. They existed a long time only because of lack of competition and nearby residents' habit of visiting them. If your hamburg and fries are no different from McDonald's, which is moving in, why do you expect customers to frequent and pay more?

Not to mention gentrification brings positive aesthetic changes to the neighbourhoods. Richer residents demand more from their neighbourhood in terms of appeal, charm, safety, cutural offerings etc. When more old areas are gentrified, the entire city becomes more appealing.

Of course a certain percentage of poor people are negatively affected, but first they should really think why they are so uncompetitive; and second, that's the price for overall progress.
 
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Let's submit the opposite phenomenon and re-examine the question: If gentrification is not good than is degeneration or slumming good? We are very selective with our paradigms when we speak about these issues.

For example it's common knowledge that artists living in beautiful old run-down city neighbourhoods start the cycle of gentrification and then are kicked out for their troubles by wealthy sole-less masses...except that the beautiful old run-down city neighbourhoods were built by the wealthy sole-less masses. So are the artists architects at the genesis of the gentrification process or just urban place-holders? Depends on your paradigm doesn't it?

Proportionality is also largely a product of your own paradigm. We are speaking about gentrification in Toronto terms. We believe that it is reasonable for someone who is middle-class to expect to consider housing themselves in a leafy downtown Toronto neighbourhood with a backyard and white picket fence. This is just an insane idea from an international perspective, and yet because it is insane from that perspective it does not mean that it is not reasonable here.

Let me give you an example from a newspaper in London UK I read recently. In London the average renter pays over $3000 Canadian per month in rent. The average person spends over 75% of there income on shelter. Upon returning to Toronto I read an article suggesting that because 20% of renters are paying more than 50% of their after tax income on housing we are nearing crisis level. Here we expect people to spend less than 1/3 of their after-tax income on housing. Affordablity truly depends on your perspective doesn't it?
 
Gentrification is 90% a good thing.

As to poor people can't afford to live in those areas, it is fair and square. It is like when you make $20K a year, you can't expect to buy Luis Vuitton bags. Competition is good for the society. Many people (excluding those born rich) are weathier because they studied harder worked worker, and took more risks. I don't want to over generalize, but poor people are stuck with their financial situation mostly due to their own fault. You can't be a mediocre or below average person and expect to live a better than average life, that's what I call unfair. Just because you have "long roots" in a neighbourhood doesn't mean you are more entitied to live there. Additionally, gentrification provides a good incentive for people to be ambitous and achieve more, rather than just being satisfied with their mediocre skills. It is simply healthy competition.

What's wrong with big corporations? They provide way more jobs than small corner store businesses. They can produce the same products at a lower cost due to more efficient use of resources and economies of scale. What's wrong with that? I like "unique mom and pop stores" too, however, if they are that unique, they should offer what those big brands can't and won't be squeezed out of business in the first place. Most likely they are driven away exactly because they produce the same generic stuff at a much higher cost. Customers are not stupid. If a small restaurants really runs well and provide outstanding food, people will come there despite the price premium. There are tons of such examples in Toronto and other cities. It is usually those generic restaurants whose products fail to differentiate from others while charging 20 or 30% more that eventually run out of business. They existed a long time only because of lack of competition and nearby residents' habit of visiting them. If your hamburg and fries are no different from McDonald's, which is moving in, why do you expect customers to frequent and pay more?

Not to mention gentrification brings positive aesthetic changes to the neighbourhoods. Richer residents demand more from their neighbourhood in terms of appeal, charm, safety, cutural offerings etc. When more old areas are gentrified, the entire city becomes more appealing.

Of course a certain percentage of poor people are negatively affected, but first they should really think why they are so uncompetitive; and second, that's the price for overall progress.

Wow, so short sighted. Ok, well, I do hope that one day your home or your community doesn't become too expensive for you to live in. It'd be a shame to see the place you love and community you and maybe even generations of your family have helped create torn apart because of some real estate investments by people who may not even be from your city, country or hemisphere. And by the way, poverty isn't a term that describes people who are unskilled and/or lazy and unwilling to work people. We have a massive problem with regards to poverty amongst educated youth, laid off workers, retired seniors, people with illnesses, etc. Nevermind the fact that your economic situation is often rooted in the economic situation you were raised in. So this idea that people bring upon their povery themselves is bullshit, naive and rather ignorant.

Furthermore, have you heard of the term "sense of place"? It's the idea that there is something intrinsic in a community that provides you with the idea that you're somewhere distinct. By your post, it sounds like you'd rather have cheaper french fries than a sense of place. That is exactly the mindset that ruins a city or a community. In Toronto, it means my street looks like your street which looks like his street which looks like her street. But hey, we can all get the same Decaf, Triple Venti, 2 Pump Pumpkin, 2 Pump Gingerbread, 1 Pump Tazo Chai, 1 Pump Mocha, Nonfat, No Whip, No Foam, Extra Hot, 2 Sweetner, Latte, so that's pretty awesome I guess. Go outside Toronto and you just have to check out the many boarded up downtowns in North American towns and cities to see how corporations kills places first hand. I have no problem with (some) coporations, but if you re-read my post above, there is something inherent about their existance and their ability to suck the life out of a community that troubles me. In fact, there's a great Metric lyric that sums this up quite perfectly: "Tits out, pants down, overnight to London. Touchdown, look around, everyone's the same. World wide, air tight, no one's got a face left to blame."

And it amazes me that you'd bring up the word "progress". Do you know what else happens in the name of "progress"? This:
20111011-Toronto-parking-lots-history.jpg
. and this: http://www.blogto.com/toronto/lists/the_top_10_buildings_lost_to_demolition_in_toronto/

Anyways, that isn't to say all forms of gentrification are bad, but the "good reasons" you're describing miss the mark completely.
 
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Let me give you an example from a newspaper in London UK I read recently. In London the average renter pays over $3000 Canadian per month in rent. The average person spends over 75% of there income on shelter. Upon returning to Toronto I read an article suggesting that because 20% of renters are paying more than 50% of their after tax income on housing we are nearing crisis level. Here we expect people to spend less than 1/3 of their after-tax income on housing. Affordablity truly depends on your perspective doesn't it?


The whole 35% of your earnings to live applied in the 70's and 80's when Toronto was still the secondary city to Montreal, but on it's way to becoming the countries' business hub. If you look at all the major cities around the world, the cost of housing ratio's are all substantially closer to 50%+.


On the artist and gentrification note, it's rarely pointed out that artists are so ironically dependant on the capitalists and Bay street types to sustain, support, and consume their work... Gentrification is neither a good or bad thing... it's just change, progress... positives and/or negatives are depedant on which side of the fence you are on...
 
We have a massive problem with regards to poverty amongst educated youth, retired seniors, people with illnesses, etc. Nevermind the fact that your economic situation is often rooted in the economic situation you were raised in. So this idea that people bring upon their povery themselves is bullshit, naive and rather ignorant.

And it amazes me that you'd bring up the word "progress". Do you know what else happens in the name of "progress"? This:
20111011-Toronto-parking-lots-history.jpg
. and this: http://www.blogto.com/toronto/lists/the_top_10_buildings_lost_to_demolition_in_toronto/

Anyways, that isn't to say all forms of gentrification are bad, but the "good reasons" you're describing miss the mark completely.

I don't know if you can classify poverty and 'student' in the same sentence. The'yre generally wealthy enough to pay a premium to better themselves, not spend their time working or applying themselves to contribute to society, yet. I think once you become a student, you remove yourself from being on the poverty list or playing that card... As an individual you're making a decision to sacrifice current earnings for potential (note potential) better future livelyhood.

Yes, seniors and the disabled are a easy heart string to pull, but they are in their own category. It's the cycle of life, old, non-productive individuals pass on their knowledge and contributions to new. If Seniors never retired, how would 'young students' even find positions/jobs?


"Economic situation is often rooted in an economic situation you where rooted in?" -
That's unfortunately the same type of mind set that keeps poor people poor. I've witnessed many poor immigrants, and those brought up in projects that have bettered themselves through education, entrepreneurship, and career advancement. There are soo many social programs available, but it's up to the individual and their motivation... Take a look at the immigrant communities of indian and chinese descent, many of their families take on minial jobs of local shops, factory work, manual labour. Many of their children become successful doctors, financiers, lawyers. Most of the time, it's self motivation and that's all it takes. We don't live in the 1500's anymore, where you're birthright is determined by the 'caste' or level of society you where born into. So it's a complete cop-out to say that 'I was born into poverty, so I remain dependant on the state' what kind of mindset is that?

But I can see how so many of the now generation, brought up in comfortable and sheltered suburbs of North America, 'think' it's that way.

p.s. A lot of things happen in the name of 'Progress'.... you take the perceived good/bad.... The chinese moved from bicycles to VW's while we are going the opposite direction...both are considered 'Progress' in their own context... Perhaps a little more real world experience and a little less academic context?
 
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Wow, so short sighted. Ok, well, I do hope that one day your home or your community doesn't become too expensive for you to live in. It'd be a shame to see the place you love and community you and maybe even generations of your family have helped create torn apart because of some real estate investments by people who may not even be from your city, country or hemisphere. And by the way, poverty isn't a term that describes people who are unskilled and/or lazy and unwilling to work people. We have a massive problem with regards to poverty amongst educated youth, laid off workers, retired seniors, people with illnesses, etc. Nevermind the fact that your economic situation is often rooted in the economic situation you were raised in. So this idea that people bring upon their povery themselves is bullshit, naive and rather ignorant.

Furthermore, have you heard of the term "sense of place"? It's the idea that there is something intrinsic in a community that provides you with the idea that you're somewhere distinct. By your post, it sounds like you'd rather have cheaper french fries than a sense of place. That is exactly the mindset that ruins a city or a community. In Toronto, it means my street looks like your street which looks like his street which looks like her street. But hey, we can all get the same Decaf, Triple Venti, 2 Pump Pumpkin, 2 Pump Gingerbread, 1 Pump Tazo Chai, 1 Pump Mocha, Nonfat, No Whip, No Foam, Extra Hot, 2 Sweetner, Latte, so that's pretty awesome I guess. Go outside Toronto and you just have to check out the many boarded up downtowns in North American towns and cities to see how corporations kills places first hand. I have no problem with (some) coporations, but if you re-read my post above, there is something inherent about their existance and their ability to suck the life out of a community that troubles me. In fact, there's a great Metric lyric that sums this up quite perfectly: "Tits out, pants down, overnight to London. Touchdown, look around, everyone's the same. World wide, air tight, no one's got a face left to blame."

And it amazes me that you'd bring up the word "progress". Do you know what else happens in the name of "progress"? This:
20111011-Toronto-parking-lots-history.jpg
. and this: http://www.blogto.com/toronto/lists/the_top_10_buildings_lost_to_demolition_in_toronto/

Anyways, that isn't to say all forms of gentrification are bad, but the "good reasons" you're describing miss the mark completely.

I would give up my "sense of place" any day if the place I am familar with is rundown and crappy-looking for something more refreshing. You talk like you are emotional attached to a 20 year old shirt refusing to replace it just because nothing other than you have worn it for 20 years and are too used to it.

I am not arguing with you about corporations. They are coming no matter you like it or not. Uncompetitive business run out of business, that's the reality which will never change. With your mindset, you probably should move to New Zealand or something, somewhere that is remote away from globalization and big corporations. Even the Champs-Elysee accepted Gap stores. You think Toronto is more proud that Paris? You should really wake up.

Regarding poor people, Bill Clinton was born a fatherless poor child and look at what he turns out to be. Poverty is usually mostly due to someone's own fault, not excluding some external factors. Canada's umployment rate is less than 8%, so stop exaggerating. If someone is making $12 an hour, chances are that his labour is only worth that much.

I have no sympathy toward the retired seniors who are poor. They had 40 years to save for retirement yet they choose to spent it all. I am most sick of retired seniors crying poor as if the whole society owes them something. The fact is, housing is so much cheaper/affordable back then. If they had any teeny tiny restraint in spending and the smallest idea of investment, you should enjoy a comfortable life by now. If you didn't save at least 10% of your income when you were 30, you don't get to cry poor when you are 70.
 
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There are both positive and negative aspects of gentrification, and most of them have been touched upon here.

I think gentrification is just a result of a supply/demand imbalance for a certain type of neighbourhood. Namely, there is a much larger demand for urban living than what is currently supplied, so the price of a home in a pedestrian-oriented, pre-war urban neighbourhood in the old City of Toronto will climb much faster than, say, a comparably sized home in a 1950s auto-oriented bungalow suburb in inner Scarborough.

This is why I think that the urbanization of the inner suburbs is absolutely central to the development of the region. I place my blame at the feet of three groups of people: developers, the planning system and NIMBYs in those aforementioned inner suburban neighbourhoods. I blame developers because they are so unimaginative in their product designs and so unresponsive to market demands, despite being private companies working in the "free market". If people - especially young families - want to live in mid-sized rowhouse type designs in urban neighbourhoods, why do they divide their product offerings between shoebox condos in 50 storey towers and bland semi-detached houses in the suburbs? I then turn my blame to the planning system, which has - to some degree - straitjacketed the development industry to provide these kind of products with arcane policies around parking requirements, street widths (thanks, fire department!), and their relative rigidity towards incorporating mixed uses or flexible spaces in new residential neighbourhoods. Finally, I blame existing homeowners in those inner suburban neighbourhoods who are resistant to any incursion of development, despite the fact that their neighbourhodos are not very desirable at the current moment, and that adding density and street life would probably boost, not sink, their property values.

Until we start redeveloping our inner suburbs to add more "urban fabric", we're doomed to create an artificial Manhattan island effect: we're not surrounded by water, but we might as well be, if we have a huge demand for neighbourhoods that are in short supply and to which we are not adding any new supply.
 
I don't know if you can classify poverty and 'student' in the same sentence... their generally wealthy enough to pay a premium to better themselves, not spend their time working or applying themselves to contribute to society, yet. I think once you become a student, you remove yourself from being on the poverty list or playing that card... As an individual you're making a desicion t sacrifice current earnings for potential (note potential) better future earnings.
Ya I think maybe students is the wrong word. Young adults is better perhaps. I guess the point I was getting at was that unemployment and underemplyment is very high amongst young adults. My mom often feeds and gives clothing to many of my brother's friends because they can't get by on their own (i'll touch on this below).
Yes, seniors and the disabled are a easy heart string to pull, but they are in their own category.
It's not an easy pull of the heart strings. In terms of poverty amongst seniors it's going to be one of the biggest problems facing our society going forward.
"Economic situation is often rooted in an economic situation you where rooted in?" -
That's unfortunately the same type of mind set that keeps poor people poor... I've witnessed many poor immigrants, and those brought up in projects that have bettered themselves through education, entrepreneurship, and career advancement... There are soo many social programs available, but it's up to the individual and their motivation... Take a look at the immigrant communities of indian and chinese dissent... many of their families take on minial jobs of local shops, factory work, manual labour, their children become successful doctors, financiers, lawyers... Most of the time, it's self motivation... that's all it takes .. So it's a complete cop-out to say that 'I was born into peasant hood, so I remain dependant on the state'... what kind of mindset is that?

I agree in a sense. I'm one of those people whose parent gets by on 20k/year but I have 2 degrees. I have $40k of debt to show for it but I should make 2 or 3 times more that my parent once I find work. I'm the only one in the history of my family to go to university, and it was against the odds as no one in my family thought it was possible. I was never told once in my life that I could go to university, but I was always reminded of the type of work i could get at GM or another factory nearby. So I get it is possible. But this idea that poverty leads to more poverty isn't made up. It's been studied extensively. There will always be exceptions but you can't ignore the economic, sociological, physiological and psychological hurdles that someone who grew up in poverty has to overcome to take it to the next step.

To go back to my brother's friends, many of the ones that my mom feeds and clothes have families where the parents kicked them out at 16, or were absent for much of their upbringing, or were drugies or whatever. It sometimes meant they had to find their own places to live before most of us even get our first jobs. Sometimes it's a choice between going to school/doing homework or having a roof over your head and food on the table. Which do you think leads to a better future? Sure it's a bit of a sob story, but this is unfortunately very common.
 
I would give up my "sense of place" any day if the place I am familar with is rundown and crappy-looking for something more refreshing. You talk like you are emotional attached to a 20 year old shirt refusing to replace it just because nothing other than you have worn it for 20 years and are too used to it.

I am not arguing with you about corporations. They are coming no matter you like it or not. Uncompetitive business run out of business, that's the reality which will never change. With your mindset, you probably should move to New Zealand or something, somewhere that is remote away from globalization and big corporations. Even the Champs-Elysee accepted Gap stores. You think Toronto is more proud that Paris? You should really wake up.

Regarding poor people, Bill Clinton was born a fatherless poor child and look at what he turns out to be. Poverty is usually mostly due to someone's own fault, not excluding some external factors. Canada's umployment rate is less than 8%, so stop exaggerating. If someone is making $12 an hour, chances are that his labour is only worth that much.

I have no sympathy toward the retired seniors who are poor. They had 40 years to save for retirement yet they choose to spent it all. I am most sick of retired seniors crying poor as if the whole society owes them something. The fact is, housing is so much cheaper/affordable back then. If they had any teeny tiny restraint in spending and the smallest idea of investment, you should enjoy a comfortable life by now. If you didn't save at least 10% of your income when you were 30, you don't get to cry poor when you are 70.

I don't have time to deal with the absurdity of much that you wrote, but just a quick question: should we cease with heritage preservation? I mean why should we be attached to an old building when a new one could be in its place, right?
 

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