Friday, January 27, 2012

Gentrifiers vs. anti-gentrifiers...

Megan McArdle writes for The Atlantic on issues of business and economics. She takes a timeout to talk about the issues of her Washington, DC neighborhood.
Many of the urban planning debates that take place in DC are in fact proxy battles over gentrification.  Almost no one on either side ever actually voices the core conflict, which is that the poorer, mostly black current residents do not want gentrification to force their community out of their affordable and centrally located homes, and the newer, mostly white residents want the sort of services (and property values) that materialize when a neighborhood gentrifies*--and that the presence of one community is an obstacle to the goals of the other.  

Since no one wants to come right out and say this, the debate focuses on procedural issues:  noise, parking, safety, "respect to the community".

Basically, the gentrifiers spend a lot of time arguing in favor of new bars and restaurants; the current residents spend a lot of time arguing that they aren't needed.  Both sides argue--and may even genuinely believe--that this is a purely principled argument over, say, the procedural mechanisms for distributing liquor licenses, but this is pretty transparently not the actual motivation.  In my own neighborhood, many of the people who had argued forcefully in favor of licensing Shaw's Tavern seem to have neatly switched sides when the applicant was Full Yum Carryout, a sort of Chinese-hybrid takeout place that caters almost exclusively to the area's black residents.

(Before you ask, I am against liquor licenses on principle, but if we must have such a regime, I believe that the regime should follow the "shall issue" principle that governs dog tags and fishing licenses.)

If you follow these debates long enough, you end up hearing a lot of the anti-gentrifiers argue that they too, want services--just not bars and restaurants, or so many bars and restaurants.  This has always struck me as a little bit odd because they're sort of vague on what services they do want.  Grocery stores are a big favorite--but my neighborhood, Eckington, now has two large, well stocked supermarkets, and I doubt that the density would support much more than that.  Everyone seems to love dry cleaners, and drugstores (but we have a fair number of those, too).  Beyond that, it's not been clear to me what people had in mind when they complained that all the bars and restaurants would prevent the development of needed retail.
It actually goes on to talk about those neighborhoods that were decimated by 1968 riots - that is the riots that erupted after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That's true of plenty of neighborhoods around the nation not just Washington, DC and not just Chicago. The article made note of how many people who no longer have the old bricks and mortar retail in some neighborhoods are more likely to rely on or other online retailers to be able to procure their goods and services.

You might ask how would this relate to our neighborhoods on the south side of town. Well in Chatham specifically I have noticed a lack of cohesiveness as far as businesses that they wish to attract. Still some comments seems strictly rejecting but without noting what businesses they would like to attract.

Perhaps the dynamics in DC is a little different than here, but the rejection is certainly there! Do you have any thoughts on this?

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