Thursday, March 14, 2013

Gentrification: A Double-Edged Sword

Over the years, I've seen undesirable neighborhoods in San Francisco, Sacramento, Berlin, and New York City transform because of gentrification; yet, gentrification is a double-edged sword--improvement versus displacement.

Affordable housing advocates often view gentrification as a foe while developers see it as an opportunity to make money and improve a decaying neighborhood. Gut Renovation, a new documentary about gentrification in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) is a case in point. I wish I could recommend Gut Renovation since affordable housing is an issue that needs serious discussion and not just lip service. Unfortunately, Gut Renovation is a one-sided documentary that paints a negative picture of gentrification without offering any workable solutions to the affordable housing crisis.   

Until very recently, Williamsburg was a dirty, crime ridden neighborhood filled with unsavory characters. Today, people are flocking to Williamsburg and displacing the established residents. For better or worse, gentrification has improved the quality of life in Williamsburg: crime is down, public services have improved, and more businesses have moved into the neighborhood. Sure, developers have prospered (what's wrong with making a buck) and some long-time residents have moved, but change is inevitable. Neighborhoods prosper and others decline. It's all part of the economic cycle of real estate. Rather than lament the loss of the "old" Williamsburg, Gut Renovation should have focused on finding tenable solutions to a very serious problem facing American cities. 

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