A Gentrification Cycle


Eric Peterson considers the role of gentrification in pro-biking campaigns:

[T]he rise in urban biking in the past few years is directly correlated with the return of upper middle class whites to the city, and a direct appeal on the part of municipal governments to attract more of them. While many, such as [New York City Mayor] Bloomberg, have rationalized the implementation of bike infrastructure as a way of supplementing public transit, it’s not hard to find an ulterior motive. As the urban planning blogger Surly Urbanist has argued recently, there is a direct connection between bike infrastructure and gentrification: “Bicycling’s growing popularity over the past decade or so is due to the fact that a preferred demographic has now pushed for it.”

In an interview about his city’s bikeshare program, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said his biggest priority for the project was attracting members of the “creative class,” seeing it as an asset in competing for them with cities like Austin and Seattle. Melody Hoffmann, who completed a dissertation on bikes and gentrification, found that multiple bikeshare programs in US cities have, at least initially, avoided low-income and minority neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are, of course, often the same neighborhoods with limited access to public transit.

(Photo by Jon Niola)

Racism And Richard Cohen’s Reality, Ctd

More readers talk about overcoming their discomfort of neighbors of a different race:

I’d like to add my $.02 to the thread, from personal experience.  Years ago, I was assaulted in my apartment in L.A.  At least ten of my white friends either assumed or asked if my attacker was black. I told them no – the only black guy around was my big, scary-looking neighbor who rushed to my rescue when he heard me screaming.  When the attacker was caught, he turned out to be (a) a serial rapist, suspected in hundreds of crimes and (b) a white, married Mormon.  I hadn’t thought much about racism up to that time, but the lesson couldn’t have been more clear, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Another reader:

A few years ago, I lived in and around NYC jumping from sublet to sublet with two travel suitcases and one condition: $500 rent. This brought me to a plethora of places I had never experienced in college: Harlem, the Bronx, Queens, etc. And my Mom was terrified. And honestly, I was too. A child of the ’80s, I had grown up with the firmly held belief that New York was a war zone. This was on top of the fact that I lived in closet spaces that had a curtain (or hung up sheet) in place of a door.

But money was tight, so I just buckled up. And after a few months, it barely even registered. I felt safe – safer than I had ever been. At first, I wrote my parents off as paranoid, but over time I began to realize that things just used to be a lot worse.

Having said that, I’ve never erased the dread that seeps in when I find myself on an empty street – late at night – with a stranger my brain identifies as poor, male, and non-white. But there’s a difference between having that fear and acting on it – and certainly institutionalizing it. I could concede to Cohen that his idealized version of racial profiling could reduce even more crime, but like terrorism, there is a point where pure, practical security infringes upon liberty and justice for all.


I currently live in Crown Heights, a notable, new and exciting (and “gentrifying” – wink, wink) part of Brooklyn.

There’s still lots of black people here, and I hope it stays that way. There’s some tension in that regard, but I like to think the twenties to thirties-something white folk (and rough white equivalents – Asians/Indians like myself) and the black folk of all ages get along pretty well. There’s one bar in particular around here that’s known as a very mixed spot and it’s always a great time and no one – white or black, Asian or Jew – fears being shot. New York’s gun laws must help – so too, I will admit, the city’s policing tactics. NYPD is everywhere, but not in a very conspicuous way. It’s very smart, and I honestly admire their tactics, in this regard at least.

Some of the black people in my neighborhood are undoubtedly “thuggish” to the outside world. Sometimes they stand in groups of 8-10 dudes, maybe a few chicks, and they are not dressed in corporate attire. I’m not going to pretend some uneasiness didn’t cross my mind the first few times I walked through such groups of people. But I got over those feelings very quickly and now it’s like whatever. Sometimes I hear echoes of those feelings whenever my parents ask me if living in Brooklyn is safe, which makes me cringe every time I hear it. Granted, I’m a tall brown dude myself. But all the white girls I know, including my roommates, travel pretty long distances on foot at night without any trouble.

So I understand the feeling Richard Cohen is describing, but so do most people, and we all got over the feeling very quickly. That’s why Ta-Neishi is so spot on with calling it banal racism. Yes, we all sometimes feel afraid around people who are unlike us. That’s almost the most uninteresting point ever made. The interesting part comes in learning to overcome that feeling.


There is a video that has been making the rounds lately, and if memory services, The Dish featured it [we did]. It’s of Dustin Hoffman being interviewed about his role in Tootsie. He makes the point that society’s stereotypes about what a woman should be had “brainwashed” him into cutting himself off from meeting many, many interesting people. That idea also applies to race.

In the past two weeks in Denver, I have been checking out at a grocery store and a Target, and black ladies were the checkers. They were warm and I just felt that they were very loving people. When I was younger I had a lot of black male and female friends, mostly acquired by playing sports. I loved being around these friends. I don’t know what it was, but they were just warm and full of heart and funny. Not that my other white friends weren’t also, but it was different.

Now that I am a middle-aged white guy with a family, I find that the opportunities for those friendships are simply not as easy. It’s like after school – high school and college – my path just does not cross with blacks. And I really miss them and that opportunity.

Racism And Richard Cohen’s Reality, Ctd

A reader writes:

Your comments struck a chord with me, because it really does seem that a lot of older white folks are stuck in the ’80s. I’m a young white guy living in DC, and every time I go home for the holidays or a party with extended family, after the usual small talk it always comes up: “How do you deal with the crime?” It’s honestly a question that drives me crazy. I’ve lived here five years and all I’ve ever witnessed is someone stealing something from CVS. I do know of friends of friends who have been mugged and such, but still … it’s far from a war zone. When I commented that I had recently moved to nearby Arlington, they said, “Well, of course – I mean, you can’t live in DC, really.” It’s apparent to me that despite my denials, my aunts and uncles are convinced that DC and other urban areas of the US are something akin to Baghdad. They just don’t seem to believe me when I tell them that, yes, there are a lot of black men around (“sketchy people”, in their words), and, no, they do not bother me. They are convinced there is mortal danger around every corner, just like Richard Cohen is.

Another DC resident:

Just this morning I reflected on the Metro that I hardly notice race anymore. I am trying not to sound like Stephen Colbert as I type that, but what I mean is that I am far less race-conscious than I used to be.

I am white, and I moved to DC several years ago, after living in smaller cities. It isn’t like I never interacted with minorities in other cities, but in a big city like DC it is harder to segregate oneself. In other cities, I lived in mostly white neighborhoods and so I mostly interacted with other white people when not at work. The people of color I worked with were well-educated professionals. I rarely ran into young black men in hoodies, but in DC, I see all kinds of people just on my commute before I even get to work or to lunch or whatever.

I promise I wasn’t an overt racist before moving to DC, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t have some unconscious prejudice before (and still now, of course). If I had been alone on the street with a young black man in a hoodie, I might have been suspicious for no good reason other than I didn’t recognize the guy. I am not proud of that, but it’s true.

It is different now. The increased interaction with all kinds of different people here in DC makes me able to recognize when to steer clear of a person or group, and race is really not a factor. A black guy in a hoodie isn’t notable. A guy eyeing my phone? Maybe. A guy walking back from 7/11 talking on his phone? Probably not a problem. Very few people commit robberies while on the phone.

I point this out only because for people like George Zimmerman who lived in a gated suburban community (and possibly Richard Cohen – not sure we’re he lives), the lack of exposure to black men in hoodies is what leads to the fear of a black man in a hoodie. I know this because I used to be much closer to their thinking than I am now, and I get where they’re coming from, to a degree. But what it reveals is not some “reality” of an intelligently honed fear of young black men as Cohen suggests. It reveals that we are still a segregated country in many ways and that Cohen doesn’t often interact with young black men.

The Guilt Of The Gentrifier

Evan Hughes looks at the first stirrings of discomfort about New York’s gentrification:

The Hal Ashby film The Landlord, the L. J. Davis novel A Meaningful Life, and the Paula Fox novel Desperate Characters, all dating from 1970 through ’71, paint a strikingly consistent portrait of Brooklyn at a low ebb. Though widely divergent in tone, they all depict the bleak conditions that held sway at the time, despite being set in what are now high-rent districts. Cars are stripped to the axles in minutes, rocks get hurled through windows, and bums heckle passersby from the shadows.

The protagonists in Ashby, Davis, and Fox, who dive into this mess, are the forerunners of contemporary Brooklyn’s bourgeois and bohemian crowd. They’re the shock troops of gentrification, a word that barely existed at the time. They are well-educated newcomers bucking the larger trend of an ongoing middle-class exodus. They are also, notably, all white. Their neighbors, as a rule, are not. It’s odd to reflect on the fact that the writers behind these works had no idea how this social experiment would turn out. About the prospects of the would-be gentrifier, in fact, they seemed decidedly pessimistic.

Hughes, noting that “in 2010, for the first time in a hundred years, Brooklyn was whiter than it had been a decade before,” reflects on the resulting white liberal guilt:

Whatever your intentions, to be a member of the new, more privileged wave of residents in a gentrifying neighborhood is to be a part of a process that is displacing families who have lived there for decades, even generations. You have to be something of a moral idiot not to feel some queasiness about this. Although it is rarely discussed directly, I suspect that for a lot of who are, broadly speaking, on the advantaged side in this turf war, just walking around brings regular stings of class guilt. Obviously it is worse to be on the disadvantaged side; that’s why the advantaged feel bad about feeling bad, and therefore avoid talking about it.

What the advantaged do instead is pick apart all the failings and hypocrisies of our own team. That way we align ourselves, so we imagine, with the other team, the team that seems to have justice on its side: If I’m part of something bad, at least I have the right attitude about it.

Implicated in an uncomfortable reality, we resort to a bit of psychological jujitsu to fight off the shame. Feeling the heat of the spotlight, we swing it on a fellow gentrifier who’s going about it all wrong. I’m white and raised in suburbia, but I don’t wear khakis and clog restaurants with my stroller at brunch. Or perhaps: At least I’m not this guy here on the park bench, with his beanie and flip-flops. I mean, really. Look at this fucking hipster.

Spreading The Starbucks Around


Jim Davenport visualized "how we are distributed around Starbucks," noting that the farthest point from one of their coffee shops is about 170 miles. What does that say about our living habits?

There are ~311 million people living in the USA, with 82% living in urbanized areas. One might define urbanization in the modern era as the distance to the nearest Starbucks. An "urban" environment would therefore be anyplace within a 20 mile radius. Yes, more than 80% of the USA (that's 250,000,000 people) live within 20 miles of a Starbucks.

Nicola Twilley focuses on the class issues at play:

Certainly, Starbucks density is often used as a gauge of economic vitality: Davenport links to research showing that in London, “for every 0.5 km a property is located from a Starbucks, the rent falls by an average of 20 percent up to 2.5km away,” and earlier posts on Edible Geography have discussed Magic Johnson’s seemingly successful Urban Coffee Opportunities initiative to seed underserved communities with Starbucks stores as a tool of urban regeneration.

The Gentrification In Our Guts

A new study compared the intestinal microbes of people in the US, Malawi, and a remote Amazonian part of Venezuela:

[Researcher Jeffery Gordon] found adults in the U.S. have a rather uniform collection of microbes living in them, compared to people in rural Malawi or the Amazon forests of Venezuela. Gordon can only speculate about the reasons why — it could be because the U.S. uses more antibiotics, or perhaps because people in Malawi and Amazonia are exposed to more microbe-rich environments.

Ed Yong worries:

As many parts of the world shift towards a western lifestyle, there’s a risk that we might lose important reservoirs of bacterial diversity. The microbiomes of the world are becoming increasingly gentrified, and we need to study them while we still can.

What Gentrification Leaves Behind

Stephen Smith elaborates on the unexpected hazards of rich people sprucing up the hood:

[O]nce a neighborhood has its amenities, new development grinds to a halt. Wealthier new residents have more political savvy than the old ones, and they use this to impose a protective NIMBY shield around the neighborhood…the fact that new residents are more likely to own property and have a stake in keeping the price of housing high can’t help. It’s at this point that the cutting edge of gentrification marches onward, with the cycle repeating itself in neighborhoods farther afield. You can sugarcoat this process by talking about "spreading the wealth around," but at the end of the day most of the poor will be priced out, and those lucky enough to own their homes or have rent-regulated leases won’t value the upper-class amenities as much as they valued their old neighborhoods.

TNC On Anti-Gentrification

In response to NYT articles decrying the influx of white people into black neighborhoods, he develops a plan to combat gentrification:

It occurs to me that we really need a world with more murders, more failing schools, more grocery stores with rotting vegetables, more bodegas with old milk, more teen-pregnancy, more homeless, more crack, more heroin, more fathers on the lam, more disease, more joblessness, and generally, more death. And we need to concentrate every one of those those ills in black neighborhoods.

We have seen the enemy, and it is change. Clearly the only way to preserve black neighborhoods from the scourge of white people is to render them as post-Apocalyptic as possible. It's not even enough to roll them back to the days of Jim Crow–that would mean an actual black middle class in Bed-Stuy and Columbia Heights, and great jazz clubs in Harlem. 

No. We need complete cultural and social depredation, a total breakdown of black humanity until our neighborhoods resemble something out of 28 Days Later.

“South Brooklyn” To “South Slope”

Screen shot 2011-07-24 at 7.25.50 PM

Anthony Paletta reviews Suleiman Osman's The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York:

One of the best studies of gentrification yet written, Osman’s book picks up where the Robert-Moses-versus-Jane-Jacobs story leaves off, looking past the no-longer-imperiled neighborhood of Greenwich Village to Brooklyn, where transplants began to forge new neighborhoods.

An important moment arrived in 1964, when the controversial Cadman Plaza West tower development, which had faced political pressure for years, finally went forward after the city government took steps to protect Brooklyn Heights’ adjoining blocks. These became New York’s first designated historic district the following year. Residents with an appetite for renovation (and renaming) began to fill Brooklyn Heights. They spread south of the formidable Atlantic Avenue, which Truman Capote once described as a street where “seedy hangouts, beer-sour bars, and bitter candy stores mingle among the eroding houses.” There they began overhauling real estate and coining new names—Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens—fashioned largely out of historical wishfulness.

One of those "seedy hangouts", the famous Prohibition bar Freddy's, recently located to one of brownstone Brooklyn's newest neighborhoods, South Slope, after it was forced out by the Atlantic Yards, a high-rise development project with a sports arena.

(Map via The Brooklyn Politics, in a post on the recent efforts of Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries to punish real estate agents for inventing neighborhood names like ProCro and BoCoCa.)

Can Gentrification Be Understood In A Chart?


TNC revisits what he's written about gentrification over the years:

I think it's really easy to become the sort of writer who reads reports from Brookings and analyzes charts and graphs, without ever having to talk to the people captured in the numbers. People are scary in a way that think tanks are not.

Yglesias thinks charts can help:

When I speak to people in the city (which in fact does happen, since I do live here, reporting aside), they often see the fact that new development occurs in the same places at times when housing costs are spiking. Consequently, they often reach the conclusion that new development is causing price increases and that the best way to moderate price increases is to moderate the pace of new development. These charts indicate, I think, that this is a mistake. That both new construction and higher prices are caused by higher demand for housing, and that DC is experiencing an above-average rate of housing cost increases because we’re experiencing a below-average rate of issuing permits for new construction.