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Final Blog: Gentrification in New York City

Introduction

Gentrification is the process of gradually pushing residents out of a low-income neighborhood in favor of attracting wealthier residents and new businesses. Gentrification is especially an issue in New York City. This issue is particularly striking in New York City, where neighborhoods like Bushwick in Brooklyn and Washington Heights in Manhattan are prime examples. These neighborhoods are predominantly home to Black and Hispanic residents, where housing is affordable and most businesses are locally owned. In my own neighborhood, I have noticed many warning signs of gentrification. From the opening of new Starbucks and Chipotle, to the influx of non-native, white newcomers. While some argue that gentrification actually improves communities that have been historically crime-ridden, this perspective overlooks the harm of pushing out tenants who can only afford to live in such neighborhoods. The goal of this blog is to shed light on this rapidly increasing problem and its impact on thousands of residents across the city. By examining historical context, current trends, and my own personal experiences, we can better understand this complex and nuanced issue. 

Historical Background

Before diving into the discussion, we first need to understand the historical context of gentrification and how it has evolved over time. The word was first coined in the 60s by British sociologist, Ruth Glass. She first used the word to describe the displacement of lower income residents in London to wealthier newcomers. While the term was first used to simply describe social class and culture, in the United States,  there is an inherently racial aspect to gentrification. Typically, gentrification displaces communities that are primarily people of color. Dating back to the 1940s, housing discrimination was legal in the United States. Policies such as redlining and blockbusting systematically denied Black and Hispanic people access to housing opportunities, confining them to specific urban communities. These discriminatory practices have established the socioeconomic disparities that exist amongst minorities that render them more vulnerable to gentrification today. 

What Causes Gentrification? 

Gentrification is driven by many complex factors such as social, political, and economic. One factor is the housing market and real estate investors hoping to capitalize on underdeveloped urban communities. By raising property values and rental prices, they’re able to attract wealthier residents who displace the current population. Rapid job growth also plays a crucial role that contributes to the problem. The influx of high-paying jobs attracts more workforce that intensifies the housing demand, elevating the costs. Socially, when the demographics shift, the neighborhood’s cultural and lifestyle changes dramatically. Politically, rules and regulations tend to favor big development projects, giving them many perks to improve the area, which speeds up the whole gentrification process. Furthermore, targeted public-sector policies, such as tax incentives, housing plans, and more, encourage middle and high-income families to move into neglected communities or prompt original residents to upgrade their homes. This multifaceted exchange of social, political, and economic forces perpetuates a cycle of displacement, pushing out the people who’ve been here the longest, all in the name of making the neighborhood ‘better.’

Impact on Communities 

The impact of gentrification on communities is profound and has both positive and negative consequences. Overall crime rates decrease and public safety increases. Enhanced infrastructure includes brand new buildings, sidewalks and streets, community parks, and a cleaner and more accessible neighborhood. Education and public transportation are also more likely to improve as the government invests more money and resources into projects. These changes may attract investment and create more job opportunities, stimulating economic growth. However, displacement of long-term residents is the biggest pressing issue regarding gentrification. Affordable housing and an increased cost of living force people to leave their homes or, in the worst-case scenario, become homeless. Additionally, the influx of new businesses leads to a loss of small, locally owned businesses that can no longer compete with upscale establishments. As a result, there is reduced diversity and a loss of the neighborhood’s cultural identity. 

Case Studies 

Washington Heights and several neighborhoods in Brooklyn including Bushwick and Williamsburg, provide distinctive examples of gentrification. The Heights, a historically Dominican neighborhood, has encountered gentrification. Throughout the 2000s, the New York University Furman Center found that rent in Washington Heights and Inwood increased by a whopping 29.3% between 1990 and 2014. The arrival of wealthier residents had led to significant changes, including a high demand in housing. Brookyln’s Williamsburg and Bushwick share a similar story. Renovated, high-rise, luxury apartments and lofts have replaced small business causing the demographics of these neighborhoods to change drastically. Brooklyn is now considered to be the most gentrified borough in New York City, revealing the broader issue. New York’s priorities are twisted. Instead of addressing the needs of native residents who are struggling to get by, the city would rather cater to wealthy tourists, gentrifiers, or recent migrants.  

Possible Solutions

Addressing this issue requires various approaches that balance the interests of the state and the needs of residents. One possible solution is the implementation of stronger policies regarding rent control. These policies could help avoid the displacement of long-term residents by preserving affordable housing and ensuring rights for renters. Investing in social foundations like education, healthcare, public transportation, and more. This would bring about new job opportunities that can encourage residents to participate more in local economic development without fearing displacement. Finally, organizing and protesting are great ways to raise awareness and advocate for your rights. This benefits all community members rather than the few people of privilege. In conclusion, by applying stronger approaches, we can work towards creating more equitable neighborhoods where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. 

References: 

  1. https://ncrc.org/gentrification/
  1. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/gentrification/
  1. https://theunitedfrontagainstdisplacement.org/dispatches-against-displacement/a-brief-history-of-gentrification/
  1. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/gentrification.asp#:~:text=Causes%20of%20gentrification%20can%20include,amenities%2C%20and%20increased%20traffic%20congestion.
  1. https://robertsmith.com/blog/gentrification-pros-and-cons/

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