In the Sun-Times

Some maps of mine are in the print edition of the Sun-Times, accompanying an op-ed by the Metropolitan Planning Council‘s Marisa Novara. The piece is called “Poverty, not gentrification, is Chicago neighborhood scourge,” and it argues…well, you know. But it’s worth reading the whole thing!

(I’d also point out that the headline, as ever, is slightly unfair to the actual argument, which acknowledges that in some places, gentrification and displacement are actually problems.)

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The maps themselves are simplified, grayscale versions of these. But since the Sun-Times didn’t include them in the online version of the article, I thought I’d post them here, in case anyone was curious.


What is neoliberalism? Three possibilities

On Twitter the other day, I asked a question:

If you spend much time in left-leaning precincts of the urban policy world, “neoliberal” and “neoliberalism” are words you hear an awful lot. Notably, they are only ever used by people who do not believe that the word applies to them: “neoliberal” always refers to someone else, and is almost always a term of accusation. Sometimes, but rarely, there is a definition attached. The rest of the time, the reader is assumed to already understand what “neoliberal” means. But the word is applied in so many situations, and so broadly, that I’ve heard more than a few jokes along these lines:

But I think it merits taking slightly more seriously than that. (Not that I’m picking on Ted here, since he followed up on his joke by offering a real attempt at a definition.) So I asked Twitter for help.

Mostly, I didn’t get a huge number of replies – maybe ten, several of which were communicated to me privately through email or direct messages. From that, I take some combination of: a) I don’t actually have that many followers; b) most people aren’t that interested in defining abstract terms; c) people aren’t really sure what “neoliberal” means.

But still, I’m going to take a stab at a few possibilities. I don’t mean this at all to be comprehensive or definitive; I’m thinking of it mainly as another way to attract some feedback.

1. Laissez-faire economics

In one sense, this is the most obvious definition. Most sources that speak to the origins of the term seem to agree that the “liberal” in “neoliberal” refers to classical liberal economics. (Though even some of these acknowledge that pinning down an exact meaning is difficult.)


Hayek: Neoliberal?

On the other hand, it’s hard to square this definition with the actual use of the term in urban contexts. I think it’s fair to say, for example, that mayors Rahm Emanuel in Chicago and Michael Bloomberg in New York have become poster children for neoliberalism in American local government. But while both of them have pursued some policies that would fit the free-market bill – privatization of public services, an emphasis on business-friendly deregulation – they’ve also embraced aggressive, and expensive, intervention in the private market. In Chicago, which I’m more familiar with, spending hundreds of millions of TIF dollars on building subsidies, infrastructure investments, and business incentives basically is Mayor Emanuel’s economic development program.

It isn’t necessary to judge the merits of those policies to see that they’re quite far from a Friedmanite, don’t-pick-winners approach to government. If neoliberalism is all about free markets, then either Emanuel isn’t a neoliberal, or he’s a very selective one.

2. A theory of politics

In poking around the Internet on this question, I came across this piece by Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber. Farrell has an interpretation of neoliberalism that I haven’t seen explicitly espoused elsewhere, but which I think hits some important notes. For Farrell, neoliberalism isn’t about free markets – it isn’t even really about any principles or policy commitments that are different from standard left liberalism. It’s about a theory of politics:

A theory of politics is a necessary condition for thinking about the relationship between policy measures and politics. A proposed policy measure that seems desirable in principle (because e.g. it is cheaper than another alternative) may not be so desirable if it has malign political consequences (it materially strengthens interest groups who have malign long term objectives)….

Lefties have a clearly discernible theory of politics, which has to do with collective action, and the building and sustenance of mobilizing organizations…. But neo-liberals – not so much, apart from a historical belief in the power of technocratic discussion to reshape politics. This not only means that they are less effective than they should be, but that they may push for policies that do long term political damage.

I’m not quite sure how to evaluate the accuracy of this argument, but it certainly resonates with some of the criticisms of neoliberal politicians and writers that you hear even from people who clearly do have major differences with what they perceive as neoliberal principles and policies. In particular, the accusation that neoliberals are somehow out of touch with real people – with communities – in a way that goes beyond policy disagreements. To go back to Ted Whalen for a second:

For me, the “market economics toolbox” implies a lot more than an inclination towards laissez-faire. It implies an approach to human behavior ruled by rational choice theory, and a policy approach that tends to treat people as free-floating individuals who desire to satisfy any number of preferences with regards to schools, public safety, and jobs, but aren’t super picky about how those preferences get satisfied. In other words, it suggests an inability to understand community, identity, respect, justice, or other values that often get short shrift in rational choice models. It suggests policymakers who may not realize, for example, how upsetting the loss of community resulting from a neighborhood school closure might be – even if your kid ends up going to a somewhat better school as a result.

In this reading, then, the leftist critique of neoliberalism is about a failure to understand the nature of power, and, as a result, the need for people- and community-centered organizing, rather than technocratic tinkering. This failure, moreover, may not be accidental, or simple naivete, but the result of a analytic “toolbox” that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to understanding power struggles in that way.

Or not.

This seems, I think, like an important piece of the puzzle. But it suggests nothing about the motivations or interests of “neoliberals.” Which brings me to…

3. The growth coalition

This, to be honest, has been my fuzzy interpretation of the term for a while. The people and policies identified as neoliberal seem to reflect less any ideological commitment to markets, or naivete over how politics works, than the priorities of the good old-fashioned urban civic and business elites who have been ruling cities like Chicago and New York for decades. If you’re new to the terms “growth coalition” or “growth machine,” this is a very brief overview, and this is a somewhat longer one. But the basic idea is that the urban governing coalitions are driven mainly by a desire to grow the value of their property by, among other things, improving infrastructure and intensifying land use.

This explains both (laissez-faire-seeming) disinvestment in social services and aggressively interventionist economic development policy. On the other hand, if neoliberalism is just growth machine politics, then what, exactly, is new about it? Most leftist writers, after all, seem to take the position that this neoliberalism is a relatively new, or at least newly influential, force in American local politics. Is that really the case? Or is there something that differentiates the growth coalition of, for example, Rahm Emanuel from that of Richard J. Daley?

Daley: neoliberal?

Daley: Neoliberal?

When has housing supply ever kept rents down?

Credit: Bill Dickinson on Flickr

Credit: Bill Dickinson on Flickr

A short Friday post. Mostly, I am eager to no longer have the word “Zirin” in my most recent headline here.

Anyway, something that people frequently ask when I (or others) talk about the beneficial effects of building more homes for housing affordability is: When has that ever worked?

This is sometimes an earnest question, and sometimes not, because the person assumes that if no examples immediately come to their mind, then it has never happened.

For a long time, I thought that maybe the best way to respond was to point to rigorous quantitative studies – by both market-friendly people like Ed Glaeser and people mainly known as academic warriors against racial and economic inequality – that are even better than a single example: they show that, nationwide, less building, and stricter zoning, is associated with higher housing prices and more segregation!

But people keep asking for examples.

So: okay! Here are a few.

1. Rich white landlord says he’s happy he owns buildings on the North Side of Chicago, where nothing’s being built, rather than downtown, where lots is being built, because he has “freedom to raise rents.”

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2. In Washington, a glut of apartments has led to zero or negative rent growth.

From the Washington Post

From the Washington Post

An unprecedented number of new apartment units (about 24,000) have arrived in the area in the past two years, increasing the total apartment inventory by roughly 5 percent.

That new supply wave cut rents for four- and five-star apartments even further, even as rents at three-start apartments continued to outperform. But the narrowing may be slowing as the wave of supply takes its toll on three-star rents as well, working in renters’ favor.

3. Austin sees growth in average rents fall almost to zero after massive building boom.

The 10,000 new units added last year in the region, which stretches from Georgetown to San Marcos, marked the largest increase Heimsath has recorded since he began tracking the numbers in 1991. The influx expands the region’s apartment inventory by 6 percent, to 180,280 units in all.

With all those new units entering the market, supply is catching up to demand. And that means apartment rents are stabilizing after rising rapidly — sometimes as much as 7 percent per year — from 2010 through 2013. The average rent in the metro area was $1,107 a month in December — an all-time high, but an increase of only $8 from the average rent for June, Heimsath said.

4. Average rents in Chicago fall, thanks in part to lots of construction.

Real estate data firm Zillow said Friday that rents have fallen 0.5 percent in the Chicago area over the past year.

“Chicago did a whole lot of overbuilding during the housing boom,” said Svenja Gudell, director of economic research at Zillow, noting that some select downtown neighborhoods in the Windy City still have prices rising at or above the national average.

Zillow said prices increased a seasonally-adjusted 3.3 percent in January compared with 12 months earlier. But some major cities are finding themselves with an excessive supply of apartments and houses, reducing price pressures for renters.

5. Rental-backed securities are losing fans because new housing supply means rents will stop rising so fast in cities around the country.

But in the last month, investors and analysts have cooled to the sector. REIT [real estate investment trusts] total returns are a negative-1.7% so far in February, with apartments stocks returning a negative-1.1%. A handful of analysts have downgraded the apartment sector on fears it is overvalued and won’t generate the growth in revenue it posted last year….

There is also talk of an oversupply of apartments in markets where there hasn’t been enough job growth to support demand. Washington, D.C., has seen a huge uptick in supply over the last three years, while in the Texas oil belt the falling price of oil has sparked fears that jobs will dry up….

Builders in the past six months have started construction on new multifamily apartments at an average pace of 357,000 units a year, 26% more than the 30-year average, according to Evercore ISI. The investment bank predicts negative demand, or a rise in vacancy rates, for apartments over the next year for Houston, Washington, Charlotte and Austin, Texas.

“Overbuilding concerns will remain a focal point for REIT investors over the next few years given the current pace of permit activity and new starts,” says Steve Sakwa, an Evercore REIT analyst.

As ever, none of this will be enough to fix the housing affordability problem on its own, for reasons that I’ve gone into before. (People don’t have enough money to afford even the cost of building maintenance; in places like Washington, or parts of Chicago, rents are so high that they’d have to do way more than stop growing to be affordable to lower-income people; etc.) We still need all the non-market housing we can get, particularly in very high-demand neighborhoods.

But the bottom line is that slow, zero, or negative cost-of-housing growth is better than fast cost-of-housing growth. (At least, that is, in high-cost neighborhoods/metropolitan areas.) The vast majority of low- and moderate-income people live, and will continue for the foreseeable future to live, in non-subsidized housing. Even in New York, which has held on to its public housing better than most other large expensive cities, it only makes up something like 7% of all units. That means that it’s exactly these kinds of market trends – consistently large rent hikes, year after year, in mid-ish market housing – that makes a neighborhood, or city, or metropolitan area, eventually unaffordable to working- and middle-class people.

And it turns out that construction booms arrest that sort of pattern, or prevent its continuation, all the time.

Dave Zirin can’t recognize a photo of JRW neighborhood, but he’s quite confident he can diagnose their problems from DC anyway

So yesterday Deadspin was nice enough to republish a (slightly different) version of my Jackie Robinson/gentrification post. Just a few hours later, Dave Zirin, who wrote the original article, which was entitled “Gentrification is the Real Scandal Surrounding Jackie Robinson West,” chimed in to scold me for having the “grotesque” audacity to accuse him of thinking that there was some gentrification around Jackie Robinson West.

I’ll take him at his word that he meant no such thing. That leaves me unclear as to what, exactly, gentrification had to do with JRW, or why it was in his headline, or what he meant when he wrote: “The fact that the adults in charge of JRW felt the need to breach this rule perhaps has something to do with the fact that today’s urban landscape supports baseball about as well as concrete makes proper soil for orchids…. This is because twenty-first-century neoliberal cities have gentrified urban baseball to death.” But life is full of mysteries.

I have a lot of feelings about the rest of his piece, which I mostly found kind of bizarre and flailing. I think it’s probably unproductive to continue this conversation any further, though, so I’ll leave them unblogged.

Except for one thing, because I’m not quite that virtuous. At the bottom of my post, I had included an image of a street a few blocks from Jackie Robinson Park, to illustrate the point that many of the children on the team came from relatively stable, middle-class neighborhoods, and to refer to them as “flowers growing in concrete” (as Zirin did) was to perpetuate the damaging myth that black communities on the South Side are all ravaged and destitute.

Zirin, however, didn’t recognize the photo, calling it a “suburban home,” and calling my contention that we should acknowledge the real diversity of black neighborhoods on the South Side “kind of gross.”

Having had it pointed out to him on Twitter and in the comments that the homes he called suburban were actually in the city neighborhoods he had been confidently pontificating about this entire time, he had Deadspin quietly edit the line. It now reads “suburban-looking.”

I suppose that shouldn’t be shocking, given that when I asked him if he had ever been to the places he was being paid to analyze for a national audience, he told me that he had once “lived on the South Side for a summer.” He didn’t specify when he had done that, or indicate whether his South Side neighborhood was anywhere near the JRW neighborhoods.

I guess now we know.

Edit: Uh, Deadspin‘s Albert Burneko did my job for me and wrote an actual non-snarky explanation of why Zirin’s response was so confusing/unsatisfying. Thanks, Albert.

JRW: Not a story about gentrification

I like The Nation. I like Dave Zirin! But this column by Dave Zirin in The Nation is very, very bad.

The column is entitled: “Gentrification is the Real Scandal Surrounding Jackie Robinson West.” This is a very bad title. But I’ve felt misrepresented by a good number of headline writers in my day, so I tried to withhold judgment until I actually read the piece.

But no: in this case, it turns out that the headline is pretty fair.

The fact that the adults in charge of JRW felt the need to breach this rule perhaps has something to do with the fact that today’s urban landscape supports baseball about as well as concrete makes proper soil for orchids… This is because twenty-first-century neoliberal cities have gentrified urban black baseball to death. Boys and Girls Clubs have become bistros. Baseball fields are condos and in many cities, Little League is non-existent. The public funds for the infrastructure that baseball demands simply do not exist, but the land required for diamonds are the crown jewels of urban real estate.

There are levels to this.

On a nitty-gritty level, I would be interested if Dave Zirin can think of a single example on the South Side of Chicago of a) Boys and Girls Clubs that are now bistros, or b) public baseball diamonds that are now condos. Actually, I’m not that interested, because I know the answer, which is No, because a) those things did not happen and b) Dave Zirin made them up.

One reason I know that Dave Zirin made them up is that black neighborhoods in Chicago, particularly on the South Side, almost never gentrify. I know that they don’t gentrify partly because I live in Chicago, and I pay a lot of attention to neighborhoods and neighborhood change here, and I go places, and talk to people, and I see and hear that they don’t gentrify. I also know that they don’t gentrify because literally less than six months ago there was a widely-reported study by a very well-respected urban sociologist that documented, in rigorous detail, that black neighborhoods in Chicago don’t gentrify.

I also know that if you were to ask people to list black neighborhoods on the South Side that were maybe inching towards gentrification, they would list places like Bronzeville, Kenwood, and Woodlawn. Roseland, Washington Heights, and Morgan Park – the heart of JRW territory, and several miles further south – would not be on that list.

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Which means that Dave Zirin didn’t just make up some fictional – but poignant! – events to more effectively illustrate a real phenomenon. He made up the entire phenomenon. Why did he do that? I don’t really know. I can observe, however, that this seems to be one of the more extreme examples of a different phenomenon, which is people who cannot discuss issues of urban inequality without using the lens of gentrification. Even where – as in the JRW neighborhoods – the fact that gentrification is completely and utterly nonexistent has already been made a national news story.

What’s unfortunate about all this is that there is an urban inequality story to tell here. Many stories, in fact. Zirin mentions the issue of school closure, and the demographic shift of African-Americans from the South Side into the south suburbs. That shift is certainly driven, in part, by the city’s failure to provide basic services and amenities to many of these neighborhoods. Many of them still appear to be losing population, and income, and jobs, and stores.

But that is not what “gentrification” means.

Moreover, Zirin’s column becomes episode one million of national (and local!) media deciding that a story about black boys from the South Side of Chicago must also, and straightforwardly, be a story about deprivation and poverty. But of course, as Pete Saunders and others have pointed out, many of these boys come from places – like Morgan Park – that are strongly middle class. The narrative of black South Side neighborhood pathology, though – the narrative that underlies the shunning of these places and the people who live there – demands their erasure, and writers on both the left and right are more than happy to oblige for their own ideological purposes.


JRW territory: Pretty scary, huh?


The transit mindset

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A story about MARTA from Atlanta Magazine accidentally stumbles on the secret to transit ridership (emphasis is mine):

Parker and MARTA supporters need to re-engineer a mindset that’s prevailed for more than a half century. In many major cities—New York, Chicago, and Paris, for instance—transit is considered the smart, efficient way to get around town. Everyone rides the subways or buses because they’re faster and cheaper than any alternative. But in car-centric places like Atlanta, Houston, or Los Angeles, transit has been treated as the travel mode of last resort. Consider: 30 percent of people who live in the New York region commute by mass transit, compared with just 3 percent in metro Atlanta. Here, the thinking has been, you take MARTA if you can’t afford a car, if congestion is high (a Braves game!), or if you want to avoid hassles, like parking at the AJC Decatur Book Festival.

Atlanta – and, apparently, MARTA’s new CEO – frame that last sentence as a negative “mindset” that Atlantans need to get over if they’re going to join the transit-friendly ranks of “New York, Chicago, and Paris.”¹ But the reason that people in New York, Chicago, and Paris take transit has everything to do with saving money and avoiding congestion, parking, and other driving-related hassles.

In other words, the difference between Atlanta and New York isn’t mindset; it’s that the same cost-benefit calculation about money, time, and comfort comes up with very different answers in each city. Transit isn’t “considered the smart, efficient way to get around town” in places like New York or Chicago – it’s is actually more efficient for many trips.

Job Accessibility by Transit in Atlanta and Chicago

(from the University of Minnesota’s Access Across America report)

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On the one hand, that sort of seems like good news: Atlantans aren’t just culturally predisposed to hate taking the bus or train. (To be fair, research suggests that culture does have some impact. People who move to transit-friendly cities from car-dependent places are more likely to have cars than people who move from other transit-friendly cities. But they’re still way more likely to give up their car than if they hadn’t moved.) On the other hand, it suggests that the solution to Atlanta’s low transit ridership is a) to increase the hassle of driving there, which is not exactly a platform for re-election, and b) to make transit more efficient for everyday trips, which can be pretty expensive.

Of course, it’s a little harder to be sympathetic about money problems when MARTA the city of Atlanta [update: readers have pointed out that none of the funding for this project came from MARTA, although they have provided technical assistance, for which they were compensated] just used $100 million to build a 2.7-mile streetcar that will serve only a few thousand people a day and is slower than walking. Meanwhile, for about one-eighth of the cost of the Atlanta streetcar, Milwaukee is launching three new bus lines, each long enough to reach from the central city to the suburbs, and designed not to shuttle people around a handful of downtown precincts, but to connect them with otherwise-inaccessible jobs.

We do!

We do.

¹ World Business Chicago’s collective hearts just went pitter-patter.

Power and Interests

A few days ago, Pete Saunders wrote a post on “gentrification management”:

I’ve come to the belief that gentrification can be managed.  Its benefits can be harnessed; its costs can be mitigated….

Some six months ago I detailed the efforts of Oak Park, IL, an inner ring suburb adjacent to Chicago’s West Side, as it was faced with racial transition and resegregation during the 1950s and ‘60s.  Unlike the vast majority of communities that warily accepted its fate in the face of changing conditions, Oak Park sought to directly confront the issue….

Perhaps Oak Park’s experience can be a template for a gentrification management program.

Perhaps! But, since Pete asks for comments, I will give a few, and they are mostly pessimistic.

My pessimism comes from two things: power, and interests.

Oak Park is miraculously integrated. Credit:

Oak Park is miraculously integrated. Credit:

The white middle-class and affluent residents of Oak Park had much more power over their situation than the lower- and working-class, generally non-white residents of gentrifying neighborhoods do today. More to the point, Oak Parkers had more power than the people who wanted to move into Oak Park, which is the opposite of the dynamic in gentrifying areas. To start with the obvious, Oak Parkers had more money, which is useful if you’re going to launch a campaign that will require many, many person-hours of work. The fact that Oak Parkers had money also meant they weren’t in danger of being priced out of their neighborhood; the challenge, rather, was to keep their neighborhoods the kind of places they would choose to live, so as to avoid voluntary mass exodus.

Second, Oak Parkers had the kind of social capital that allowed them to do things like set up equity insurance programs to protect homeowners from potentially falling real estate prices during integration. The social power that came with their racial background also allowed them to get away with “encouraging African American dispersion” throughout Oak Park to avoid ghettoization. Imagine the response of middle-class whites being told by some Pilsen neighborhood council that they would be instructed as to which apartments they were allowed to rent so as to avoid too much white clustering: it would not be pretty.

Anti-gentrifiers can make posters. Chicago Tribune.

Anti-gentrifiers can make posters. Chicago Tribune.

Third, Oak Parkers had the advantage of their own government. Unlike, say, Logan Square, which is governed by a city whose constituents include both longtime Logan Square residents and many of the wealthier potential gentrifiers, Oak Park’s municipal government was responsive only to the interests of a small, relatively homogenous group of educated, liberal whites with, apparently, broad agreement about what the future of their suburb should look like.

Finally, Oak Parkers had the benefit of policy levers that could accomplish what they wanted to accomplish. Without downplaying the real risks they took, and the real novelty of a white neighborhood successfully implementing planned integration in the mid 20th century, by that time American cities had been managing the residential movement of black people, and lower-income people, for many generations. If part of Oak Park’s goal involved making sure the inflow of black families wasn’t too fast, and that it didn’t create new segregated clusters, they had reason to believe that was, if not exactly a slam dunk, definitely achievable. On the flip side, there are no policy levers I’m aware of that can keep relatively wealthier people out of a low-priced neighborhood that don’t also have serious negative consequences for the existing residents of that neighborhood.

What makes this power differential even more important is that the interests of the more powerful party in each situation – that is, existing Oak Park residents and gentrifying newcomers – are very different. Oak Park residents were interested mostly in maintaining their neighborhoods’ “stability”: keeping racial change slow, and keeping property values at their already-high levels. Once an all-out fight against any black in-migration had been ruled out – because they thought it wouldn’t work, or because they thought it would be too costly, or because it offended their political ideals – both their social and financial interests pointed towards slow, controlled integration.

Conversely, gentrifiers have little incentive to promote “stability,” in the sense of minimal change in their new neighborhood’s demographics and real estate values. Even if they have an abstract commitment to “diversity,” gentrifiers are primarily interested in living as close as possible to the middle-class social networks, jobs, and amenities they want access to, while staying within their budgets. (This is obviously not something I can really prove. But A. I have a lot of experience moving in gentrifiers’ circles, and B. the pattern of gentrification in Chicago, clearly moving out from the largest hubs of those social networks, jobs, and amenities, gives a pretty strong indication of what people are trying to get.) That means they will move to the working-class neighborhoods on the edge of more affluent regions of the city.

Importantly, each individual college-educated white twentysomething may prefer that other white twentysomethings stay out of those neighborhoods, but they have every reason to want to move there themselves. If they were kept out, after all, they very likely would be farther from their friends; face longer commutes (or maybe not be able to get to their preferred jobs at all); have worse access to public transit and grocery stores; pay much more for housing and/or transportation; and/or face a much higher risk of crime. This is why Adam Hengels’ point that gentrifiers move where they do because those represent the “best” neighborhoods they can afford is so crucial: it suggests that you can’t get them to stop moving in without seriously diminishing their quality of life. And people rarely, if ever, voluntarily diminish their own quality of life.

And, to close the circle, the residents of gentrifying neighborhoods don’t have the power to force them to do so. Which is why I’m pessimistic that, absent major housing policy reform, gentrification can be successfully managed.

Quick thoughts on the Market Urbanism approach to gentrification

Over at Market Urbanism, Adam Hengels has written a mini-manifesto on gentrification. (In which, by the way, he graciously cites this blog. Thanks!) It’s a strong articulation of why anti-gentrification politics centered on opposing new development can’t work, though I think Adam is a bit too hasty in presenting zoning deregulation as a complete fix, or the only possible approach.

Anyway, this is his Twitter-friendly takeaway:

Adam Hengels, Market Urbanism.

Adam Hengels, Market Urbanism.

In the interest of time (my own and yours), in bullet points:

  • The battlefield is both in the gentrifying neighborhoods and in the wealthy neighborhoods. The battle is also, for that matter, in the poor neighborhoods that are not being gentrified, since their gradual or rapid disinvestment sets the stage for reinvestment later on. (See the rent gap theory.) In a narrower sense, Adam is right that the engine of gentrification – that is, growing demand for housing in a system that will only accommodate that demand through rising prices – is churning both in Logan Square and Lincoln Park (or Bed-Stuy and Greenwich Village, to use a New York example). We focus on Logan Square and Bed-Stuy because they are going through a process not only of rising rents, but of dramatically transitioning social networks, from generally lower-income, mostly blue-collar people of color, to generally higher-income, mostly white-collar white people. That represents a shifting of some of the most important social-spatial boundaries that exist in American cities, and so is extremely notable. But Lincoln Park and Greenwich Village have also been changing over the past, say, 15 years – it’s just that the shift from upper-middle-class white professionals to even wealthier white professionals is a less dramatic redistricting of social geography.

    Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s productive to tell the residents of Logan Square and Bed-Stuy that their observations about the changing character of their neighborhoods aren’t valid. The fact that the outcome of the Logan Square battle depends on the outcomes of other battles around the city doesn’t mean it’s not a battle.

  • I think this is basically right, if by “enemy” you mean “the people with the power to change what you don’t like.” That said, again, I think it’s worth acknowledging that for people who are opposed to gentrification for reasons of culture or community, gentrifiers can be the people who are directly undermining the things you wish to preserve. Moreover, the fact that they are moving next door to you only because they can’t afford the trendier neighborhood two subway stops closer to downtown doesn’t mean that they won’t also be inconsiderate neighbors. And even if they’re considerate neighbors, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t undermining what you value just by their very presence. Which, as I’ve said before, is not necessarily a problem with a solution.
  • This seems like it’s leaving some stuff out. Zoning is one really big reason why shifts in demand translate into big changes in prices, as opposed to changes in the amount of housing stock. The things that drive the shifts in demand are different. Another reason, potentially, is that housing is priced by the market to begin with. Many New York City neighborhoods have bulwarks of economic and racial diversity in the form of non-market housing, which makes up something like half the city’s units (combining public housing, subsidized housing, and rent-controlled or stabilized units).
  • Again, this is one approach. Another would be nationalization (insert tongue-in-cheek emoji), or at least the large-scale removal of housing units from the market. That said, a quick evaluation of our political and financial situation suggests that such a removal is not really possible at anything like the scale that would be required. So yes, zoning deregulation really ought to happen. But that’s not exactly politically popular either, even if it doesn’t come with anything like the financial requirements of creating non-market housing. Which is to say: we need both as much zoning deregulation as possible, and as much non-market housing as possible, because we’re not likely to get anywhere close to solving the problem with either of them.
  • Yes. Yes! The greatest insight of a market-based analysis of gentrification is that the actors who are given agency, who are treated as first movers in virtually all narratives about this kind of neighborhood change, are in fact pawns. They may be pawns of greater means than some other pawns, but at bottom their choices are also about constraints: Where can I be closest to my friends, potential employers, and the amenities I want, while staying within my budget? Which is why Adam’s first point, even if incomplete, is still important. In a real sense, the battle begins outside the “gentrifying” neighborhood. Mangling the old line about immigration, a gentrifier might say: We are here because they [richer people] are there [in the neighborhood where I’d rather live].