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?