Friday, June 19, 2009

What's wrong with bringing in Higher Income Residents to the 'Hood?

In my previous post I discussed Gentrification and New Urbanism where the founder of New Urbanism, Andres Duany seemed to be in support of Gentrification. In an interview with American Enterprise in 2002, Duany ponders why there is a negative connotation with gentrification and bringing in higher income residents. Here is an excerpt of that interview:

TAE: You’ve complained that some poverty activists actually resist measures that reduce poverty.

Duany: Oh yes. There are, for instance many, many places where what the town needs most desperately is what is now derisively called “gentrification.” When I study most inner cities I see poverty mono-cultures. The arrival of some higher-income residents is exactly what they need, so it’s amazing that gentrification has become a negative term.

What smart urbanists want is to have a full range of society within neighborhoods. You need people who are CEOs, and people who are secretaries. You need school teachers, and you need somebody to deliver the pizza. Society doesn’t work unless there are all kinds of people around, in relatively close proximity. Any society that has only one income level is dysfunctional. And, by the way, the great thing about the American system is that everybody can actually aspire to rise to the level of “gentry.” We don’t have the generalized envy and resentment that you find in many other countries.

But “gentrification”—attracting the middle class back to poor areas—is sometimes resisted by certain local activists. Why? Because it threatens to break up their political coalitions, and their base of power. When I first ran across this I was just amazed. I was so naive. Why wouldn’t this poor area want middle class people moving in? I mean, you need the tax base. Now, I see selfish local bosses as the source of the resistance.

Ok, here's my beef. I do not belief that bringing in higher income residents into poor urban neighborhoods is the only way to improve neighborhoods. I believe you can generate the same results of improving the living conditions of a poor neighborhood by improving their access to jobs, education and healthcare. I do believe it is important for young people, especially young people in poor urban neighborhoods to have role models. And having an economically diverse and socially diverse neighborhood is a great way of producing various role models for young people to model themselves after. We know that in some urban neighborhoods the lack of proper role models is severely lacking but I believe with better access to opportunities, role models can be created from within the neighborhood rather than imported.

Poverty mono-cultures as Duany points out are prevalent within inner-cities and a lot of times these cultures unintentionally help reinforce their own social and economic barriers. Other times these poverty mono-cultures are products of historical trends and current lack of access to opportunities. Whether their problems of poverty mono-cultures are self imposed or they are being generated externally, it is social and economic barriers that keeps the community in poverty. If the barriers are removed then the community can create its own economic and social stratosphere and will not have to depend on an outside force to do that for them.

I truly agree that is not healthy to have one income neighborhoods as Duany points out above. However for a neighborhood to be truly stratified where a CEO can live in the same neighborhood as his secretary, then that CEO is going to have to be willing to go to the same neighborhood church with their secretary. The CEO is going to have to let their kid go to school with their secretary's kid and when the kids get older have both kids allowed to date. If the CEO chooses to live in that same neighborhood but still partake of all the trappings of CEO such as private schools, country clubs, etc... then the secretary and her family will slowly be pushed out of the neighborhood or will not benefit from any of the social interactions of living next to a CEO.

As far as local activists against the moving in of higher income residents because it will destroy their power base - well, I'm sure it's true in some instances but in most instances these activists are fighting for a neighborhood that's in fear. For every example of where gentrification succeeded in not permanently displacing the poor and not significantly raising property values past the median home value of that city, I can point out five other examples were gentrification did the opposite and the people who had the least continued to struggle.

Let me be clear, I'm not against the upper class moving into urban neighborhoods, we all know cities could desperately use their property taxes - to help the poor. I just don't believe that adding the upper class to neighborhoods will create an economically stratified environment unless everyone shows some sacrifice and participation to create a truly diverse neighborhood. The answer for every urban neighborhood can not be add higher incomes and condos. To me it is the equivalent of every East Coast state legislating casinos to cash in on gambling. Eventually there will be not enough gamblers. And eventually there will be not enough high income residents to spread across our metropolitan regions to save our neighborhoods.

So while I do agree partly with Duany that high income residents should be added to some urban neighborhoods, I firmly believe that better living conditions can be created within neighborhoods internally and that the removal of economic and social barriers can generate better living within urban neighborhoods.

What are your thoughts?


WestIndian Archie said...

" I firmly believe that better living conditions can be created within neighborhoods internally and that the removal of economic and social barriers can generate better living within urban neighborhoods."

IMO, your view on the situation is far too narrow and specific. Just like the developers and gentrifiers, looking @ low income neighborhoods close to all the "action".

"povery mono-cultures"

The key word here is "poverty".

If these people weren't poor, they wouldn't be in danger of being displaced. They'd be paying enough rent so that land lords wouldn't be pressured to sell. Indeed, many would own the SFH's that they currently rent.

But they are poor.

Why are they poor?

Well, it's because they don't have money.

Why don't they have money?

They don't have good paying jobs.

Is it merely education?

Meaning that if the 30,40,50 year old people that live in these communities had better educations, they'd make more money, and their neighborhoods wouldn't be poor?

That seems to be the go to answer for the left and the right - because they believe that "education is the key".

Even before the current economic turmoil, a good education wasn't a ticket into the middle class. You needed to pick the right field. (Business, IT/CS, some engineering, medicine, etc)

But the # of good jobs (defined as)
- "good" income
- good benefits
- long term

Are fewer and fewer, despite the fact that there are more and more people.

So the band-aids being offered
- access to public transportation
- ending food deserts
- more green space
- denser neighborhoods
- charter schools/vouchers/accountability

These things ameliorate bad situations, but they don't end them. They may raise a few out of poverty, but they don't raise all.

Indeed, a lot of these communities were in much better shape, when the people were workers in high wage/low skill/low education manufacturing.

In order to solve the problem of poverty mono-cultures, policy makers should be focusing on *industry* creation - industries beget jobs.

You get good jobs to the people of SE DC, Compton, 5th Ward in Houston, the Lower 9th in New Orleans - and those neighborhoods would change dramatically.

BC Planning said...

The reason that I mention poverty mono-cultures is that they do shape and foster people's belief on what they can achieve. People are poor for a whole number of reasons. People from poor neighborhoods do get out and do better. Often times the ones that are left are the ones that can not leave.

More people in poor communities would and could stay if the cultures around them changed or they had better access to their jobs or stores.

I dont think education is just a go-to answer. Where I live in Baltimore City, only 30% of the kids graduate which means the majority end up in some type of informal market where they get stuck at. Why do kids drop out? It has to do more with them just being poor but with a perception in the neighborhood that they wont succeed.

If the positive models from poor communities still stayed poor urban communities would be a lot different. Yes, industry jobs would be great but industry jobs have been leaving the U.S. especially the northeast for over 30 years. Industry jobs are not coming back. Even if they did come back, the people in urban communities could not get them without education and skill. And when I mean education, I mean any type of skilled learning not just college.

BC Planning said...

This clip kind of goes at the heart of what I was trying to express about improving living conditions and removing economic an social barriers for those in poor urban neighborhoods.

I think the clip is a good example of a barrier that is either self imposed from the neighborhood or just a lack of proper planning by the city. If you are poor and the conditions around you are so lacking that organized sports for neighborhood kids is a luxary then you are going to find ways to move out. So if your kid has any type of talent you will move away, which takes away another potential model of someone doing good from the neighborhood. If the resources were there in the neighborhood, maybe those with talent, drive and ambition would stay in the neighborhood and be the good model those neighborhoods desperately need.

Now I do partly agree with Duany that sometimes that in order to make a community people you have to make it diverse by brining in people with different wants and needs then what it currently there in the neighborhood. My whole point is that is not the only way. It's only part of the answer.

Ryan said...

So, the writer of the quoted article simply sounds like a developer, or someone who would like to take advantage of inexpensive real estate that could be converted to middle to upper-middle class.

to actually suggest that resisting gentrification is about retaining a 'power base' is one of the most ignorant arguments i've ever heard made for gentrifying neighborhoods. the fact here is that you can't add a sprinkling of middle class and assume that things will get better, and no additional residents will be displaced. quite the opposite - once the middle class enters these communities it marks the transition to a gentrified area where the original residents [eventually] must leave.

changing some existing housing to middle class increases/affects the value of all other properties - which sounds great, but in reality means that existing residents can't afford to stay, and that young people from the existing community, in particular, end up leaving. Owners who rent out apartments increased rents. Homes are sold for more money, as 'fixer-uppers'. Multi-family homes are converted into condos, and price is over-inflated.

Now, to encourage a diversity of incomes is a wonderful idea - but it's simply not the way things work out. Neighborhoods are gentrified within a generation of the middle class entering in many instances I've witnessed - even if the gentrified area is simply a handful of streets within a larger area.

Lastly, one real issue that seems to be widely ignored is that these displaced residents have to go somewhere. In Boston, where I live, gentrification in parts of the city has increased the number of 'low-income' residents in surrounding towns/communities, which has simply transplanted the 'hood' to someplace more remote.

Anonymous said...

I am a relatively new member to my neighborhood, and would like to note that displacement has not (yet) become an issue. Currently, there are a plethora of vacant and foreclosed homes that have been, and are being, renovated to be sold to new inhabitants.

The newer residents are actively interested in keeping the long-timers in the neighborhood. We've even helped an elderly gentleman get his back-taxes abated through a property tax abatement program. Despite our efforts, we have faced resistance by two nearby associations, which are clearly afraid of losing local political pull (not that there is much here). Our own civic association struggles to find a balance with the active members. Active members include two main groups: elderly black residents, and younger white residents. We do a great job tackling some neighborhood issues, and will have to perfect how we can deal, collectively, with others.

I will admit to wanting to displace specific residents, such as the inhabitants of the drug dealing house down the street. I do realize that drug dealing is cyclical, and while I may, one day, be successful in closing that operation, another will pop up in the next neighborhood over to take its place. If the inhabitants would show some respect for their neighbors, I wouldn't even question their livelihood.

So, from somebody who lives in this type of neighborhood, I would like to note that, while I don't agree with total redevelopment (such as condos taking over residential blocks), Duany does make some verifiable arguments.

Beltway Buddha said...

Hey BC! Great stuff man, I really dug this post.

My wife and I just moved to "the hood" (well, a very black neighborhood in South St. Petersburg, Fl., although we are across the main street from most of the more severe semi-poverty/blight conditions of neighboring "hoods"...our area is mostly quieter and with significantly less blight...still overwhelmingly a black community, and still the hood).

Anyhow, I have some thoughts on this. First of all, dude, I'm even a Republican! Lol...don't clam up on me though. You offer your value to me and I offer mine to you.

First I will say that I think it is HIGH TIME our communities intertwined. When your neighbor is not like you, you tend to be more tolerant. More curious. More open.

Not only that, but look: take it to another plane: the rich hate the poor, the poor hate the rich. They don't "get" each others' mindsets. And yet both mindsets make sense (when you see what came before "now" in those respective lives).

Some of my wife's family and some of my family definitely have what I call "poverty consciousness." And usually this manifests itself in being "obstacle minded."

In other words, they grew up around struggle, they know struggle, they are conscious of problems and that is how their mind is oriented. They WANT success but have no clue HOW to get it. They even may believe success for them is impossible, or something that may come later, eventually, some day. Any time but NOW, what with the big problem(s) they have. And so the cycle repeats.

But when you drill down and see the mechanics of their thought patterns, the biggest focus is on obstacles. And a lot of times, I don't believe it is their fault. That is just what they grew up around or best understand. Their mental self-talk is that of success coming but then always going or being taken away.

And yet life presents so many opportunities on a daily basis. The beautiful thing about our free country is the fact that all it really takes to make an honest buck is to provide value to your fellow man.

The question is, are we seeing these opportunities to do this or are we being obstacle minded?

When you were a kid and felt you could not swim, could not take off those water wings, but then saw another kid just like you swimming...well...that changed things. Your mind had a "moment" and snapped into action. You could do it too.

What I am getting at is that I have seen in my life one thing work like magic: mentorship.

In my life, I have been lucky enough to have a very industrious father who made amazing things happen in business. Also I have a great friend who I am very thankful for, mentoring me in building wealth.

Being around people in your neighborhood, being friendly, knowing one another...someone who is enlightened can help spark the light in others to open their eyes and light their path out of lack and into abundance. Into overcoming racism and the opportunity it steals by understanding it's inner workings. That is a whole other topic.

On the other hand, someone who is down can shine the light on the plight and challenges faced by those TRYING to come up, and create some real empathy...which may just lead to mentorship. And a POSITIVE cycle STARTS.

I think this positive example setting and being exposed to one another's ideas and mindsets - helped by intermingling communities - can do nothing but good for EVERYONE'S attitudes.

I realize this solves nothing this week, this month, this year. But this is the start of something real good, a cultural sea-change.

- Matt