For the past day or so, I’ve been thinking about gentrification. I believe that I currently work in an area which is undergoing gentrification, and it’s really making me think.
Gentrification is one of those hot-button issues to which there appear to be two sides, and no real middle-ground. But the question which I cannot seem to fully reconcile, is whether it is, in fact, always a bad thing.
I recently read this post on the fabulous blog, Feministing, in which gentrification is most certainly argued to be a very bad thing. Wikipedia’s article states that opponents to gentrification have proposed that it solves no problems, that the crime is not solved, but simply moved to a different area of the city. Perhaps.
If gentrification is the raising of property values – and thus, the value of a neighbourhood as a whole – could it not be argued that going about “cleaning up” an urban area is a form of gentrification, perhaps the first step to an all-out gentrified neighbourhood? How, then, do we account for the results of NYC’s implementation of Catherine Coles and George L. Kelling’s criminology and urban sociology theories, and the positive results that were effected (I know, I know, another Wikipedia link…I’m at work, I don’t have time to search for links)? When petty and serious crime rates drop, property values climb, and when property values climb, so do housing rates, and we see…gentrification! But can we really argue that reducing crime rates is a bad thing? No! Of course not!
All that said, though, lower-income people, people on disability, on EI, on Social Assistance, sometimes the newly immigrated, or the mentally handicapped need affordable housing, and often need it to be in the city centre (where the highest density of jobs can be found, and public transit is ample).
So how do we balance these? And how am I supposed to feel when I look out of my Bronson Ave. former-Immaculata-High-School office window into the backyards of a row of tidy townhouse condo’s, circa approx. 2002? When I walk past the other 80 or so that can be found on the nearby streets? The buildings torn down to allow the space for these new houses were quite possibly old, run-down, abandoned, unsafe, or highly damaged by vandals. And it isn’t as though these townhouses are huge, sprawling manors, just little two- and three-story homes, suitable for an average-sized family.
Someone scraping by on EI and food shelters isn’t going to be able to afford to live there. But I feel much more comfortable walking to the bus down those streets, than the streets that have not received the same attention. What does that say about me?