Gentrification’s Hollow Victory

Have you driven through a gentrified neighborhood? It is marvelous is it not? The streets are clear of needles. The porches are clear and clean. The old homes are restored. Brick warehouses or storefronts have been sand-blasted, looking like they did in 1910. You can walk streets at dusk with a friend without a care in the world. The cafes are full of young people or old retirees returning to the neighborhood they grew up in decades ago. Something does not feel quite right. You cannot put your finger on it until you leave and notice children elsewhere. Gentrified areas are Disneyland Main Street USA entertainment parks.

Gentrification is a beautiful thing. One of the first essays to send me on my path to current beliefs was after a business trip to a gentrifying zone to google gentrification efforts. This essay wrapped up all of the forces that come together to make the Disney quality magic happen. I could physically match the forces that came together in the neighborhood I had just visited with the items in that essay. City grants, police enforcement, private investment, and those clean living young whites willing to rent to be in the city.

To borrow from Taleb, gentrification has a fractal method to its process. The basic setting must be present of cheap real estate, government support, police commitment and buildings with good bones. There is a repetitive nature to the businesses and people who move in, and it is so cliche now that the sullen looking single mothers of the urban zones know when their time is nearly up. The gentrification starter pack does include a coffee shop, a gym, an art studio and rainbow flags outside apartment windows in June. These become the safe zones for the new residents to congregate and create a safe space.

When you drive through an urban area, you can tell what spot on the timeline they are situated with good accuracy. With practice, you can even tell how many years you have to buy something there to ride the equity elevator. It moves in waves. These have names and places in the progression like the pioneer wave, the young professionals and hipster wave, and then the big money wave, and finally the old rich people want to come home wave. No matter the wave, the drive through is marvelous. You can feel the change coming. If it is already at the late hipster wave, your pride swells as this becomes reclaimed space. Roll down a window and just enjoy the scene.

The architecture is key. There must be good homes with unique touches for people to want to engage with an area. White people will find any historical tidbit to flaunt as why the neighborhood matters, usually skipping over 1960-present day, but the look of homes and triplex apartments must be appealing. These buildings become restaurants and bars that fill with young sexy people. This is where the attractive women of a city are. There are no full families, and this is why it is not a complete victory.

Every person who enters with an eye on forming a family enters the gentrified zone with a clock over their head. There is a built in expiration date. The schools are not good, not safe, and well, even if you could feel safe walking home at night, maybe your child would not. People will not risk their kids for the Disney urban experience. After a while, kids will take your bar and restaurant time allotment and redistribute it to their ends. Unless you can home-school, there is no real workable, safe way to play ages five to eighteen for multiple kids in the city. If other states adopted the Nevada voucher program that pays you money to home-school your child, it might be possible to pull it off in a red state’s blue city gentrification zone.

My wife and I enjoyed buying in a gentrifying city that we did not know was gentrifying because we were young and unaware of the push. We did not understand big politics or economic interests. We just knew the city was getting cooler. The city stayed blue, and the state was deep blue, but we did notice the neighborhood getting cleaner and safer with each passing year, almost each month initially. Our real estate gain allowed us freedom. We had a couple little ones and wanted more. Suburbs in our blue state? Yeesh, plenty of safe school districts, but we were moving more right as the state was getting more pozzed.

I used my business experience traveling to other cities to convince her on a new area. Purple state and a big metro area that I could work in, and most importantly, she did not have to. More kids were possible. We set up a four day span of real estate viewings in the city and in a couple small towns outside of the city. We saw homes in different gentrifying areas at different spots on the gentrification timeline. With our experience, we knew the upside for each zone. There was one problem. I counted and not once did I see a stroller. Our kids would enter the school system in under two years. By the end of the second day, we talked at dinner and faced facts that as two small town kids we would give our children the experience we knew. We flew back home Sunday, knowing that the new city would be an interesting place to visit for its amenities but not live.

That describes gentrified neighborhoods. They are places to visit. Even the renters themselves are just visiting. There is no reconquista as much as rented space, kicking a great yield to land barons and taxes to the municipal coffers. The change is real but its permanency is a mirage. Corporations and some big investors own that space, and you pay them for the privilege of living in a safe zone. It is a park, and you do not own it.

Drive through again and smell the air. Yes, it is glorious. It is also an amusement park with all the same attractions as any other. Gentrified Urban Oasis! Look, there is the gym. There is the cafe. Hey, a yoga studio just ended a class! There is the converted warehouse workshare space. There is the pizza parlor and next to it, the cupcake store. The workers have the same look: piercings, sleeve tats and off color, dyed hair. There are smiling white people everywhere. If you carved out those ten blocks and airlifted them to Florida, they could be the new land at Disneyworld.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Spooky N says:

    Sterile corporate enclaves full of leftist filth, nothing new under the sun.

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  2. Shrill says:

    This writer has good insights about what the new gentrified urbanism is; I think he’s described it perfectly. But, if we’re going to survive and thrive, we’re going to need to turn these forces towards our own purposes. Anyone who lives in a large metro can see the shift taking place. The (largely ethnic minority) underclass people who are being displaced aren’t disappearing into the ether. They’re leaving not only for the suburbs, but also for that next ring of more peripheral small (formerly safe and quiet) towns. In some cases, they’re being given government vouchers to complete the process (yes, that means that real estate and finance types are making money on both ends of the great population transfer that’s happening; they’re good at that!).

    My point is that eventually fleeing the company of neighbors one doesn’t fancy is going to have diminishing returns. You may move once to get or keep your kids in “good schools,” but if you stay involved and maintain consistent standards for “school goodness,” you might find a second or third move necessary (children, easily the most intuitive humans, HATE moving).

    Proximity to goods/jobs/services is desirable, having good neighbors is paramount, and getting them involves a coordination problem. A previous generation’s remedy, restrictive deed covenants banning subsequent sales to members of ethnic/religious minorities, was found unconstitutional back in the 60’s. That means we can either throw up our hands, pay a lot of money for diminishing results and more rootlessness, or we can re-organize.

    I can’t write the article about this that I want to read, because I don’t know enough. But whoever can solve this coordination problem will be a hero. The schools thing is laughably easy to fix. Religious people can put their kids in parochial schools (agnostics can too, really), and homeschooling isn’t the daunting task it once was, both because of MOOCs and because it’s becoming a team sport in ways it once wasn’t; homeschool cooperatives are available in every major city, and they ameliorate most of the worst things about doing it.

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  3. The way I’ve seen it being done, they don’t spruce up old buildings. Instead, they bulldoze everything and put up condos. Then it all starts to look like Los Angeles. The Los Angeles look is fine for Los Angeles, of course, but any other city loses some of its uniqueness.

    The way it’s usually done is that City Council jacks up the property tax rates. That forces the underclass folks to move elsewhere, as they can’t keep up with the payments. Then the developers can scoop up the vacant properties. As the first commenter pointed out, these folks have to move elsewhere, and you know what happens to the neighborhood where they next settle – we’ve seen plenty of that since the 1960s.

    So that gives the urban elves a trendy place to hang out, and it gives the yuppies a short commute downtown, and the developers rake in the dough from all this. Still, it’s a destructive trend.

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