Gentrification and Its Discontents

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Benjamin Schwartz looks at the untenable ideal of the authentic urban neighborhood and what it means when gentrification changes the city.

His article "Gentrification and Its Discontents" appears in the June issue of the Atlantic.


Benjamin Schwartz

Comments [19]

Gene from NYC

If you're trying to pump up the value of The Atlantic as a promotional gift, it would be wise to choose an article/author of value. This is nothing.

The complexities of urban nostalgia are worthy of examination, but are hardly touched in Schwartz's article. And certainly he has no idea of the dynamics of the Greenwich Village real estate market; he apparently consulted with no one about it. He just seems to opine away. As a book review, you allow a bit of shooting from the hip, but this article purports to be something more.

Sure, until the mid-late 80s, GV was expensive only in comparison to the massive number of low-income neighborhoods of the day: Hell's Kitchen, East Village, Chelsea, anything south of Houston, anything north of 96st St., etc.

From the 60s-80s, Murray Hill and the East Side were much more expensive. The Village then was on a par with the lower-middle class Upper West Side. ("You're going to the Upper West Side??" one East Side mother screamed at my gf. "No! You'll get killed!")

Today, there are very few low-rent areas left in Manhattan at all. Most of Manhattan below 125 St. is unaffordable.

So, taking into account its unaffordable surroundings, the West Village--whose housing stock has been decimated by the massive expansion of NYU--becomes super-unaffordable.

Worse, you can't ignore the economic realities of society as a whole. GV's real estate has shot up in relation to average income just as the buying power of the super-rich has shot up in relation to average income. These market-warpers flock to the "desirable" areas of seacoasts, mountains, and cities, driving up values until only those of their own class can afford to live there.

Not to end on such a bitter note, the prime requisites of a great place are fulfilled in other locales. I love DC. Portland, OR. Places in the country. Anywhere that offers healthy options, fulfilling work, great friends and family. That's what's important.

May. 19 2010 02:45 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Poughkeepsie? Really? I live here, housing is very expensive and not for the "struggling" artist. The art scene here is not like what you would find in Brooklyn. Poughkeepsie is still very old world and old school and not in a good way.

Vassar and Marist add very little to what could be an awesome college town--like New Paltz.

May. 19 2010 01:45 PM
Rick Bruner from Williamsburg

One thing I think is missing from the discussion is that I'd assume you have many more college educated people in society today than you did in whenever was this gilded age of the 50s or 60s or whatever.

How about taking all the crime back from the 70s and 80s while we're at it, too?

I can't afford to live in the white-bread town where I grew up, Ridgewood, NY, where my parents bought our huge house in the late '60s for $40,000, and in 18 years they never paid off the mortgage, while that home probably goes for $1 million to $2 million. So I rent in Williamsburg.

I moved recently from Harlem. That's half of Manhattan, and it is not hip, and it is overwhelmingly black and Latino. It's also no longer filled with Dutch and Irish immigrants.

I find this whole debate tiresome. Times change. Mostly for the better. I know plenty of starving artists in NYC. Better to live in Bushwick and commute 45 minutes than Detroit. Seriously.

What does the song say, "If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere." This was never a town for the weak.

May. 19 2010 01:30 PM

Poughkeepsie? Really? I live here, housing is very expensive and not for the "struggling" artist. The art scene here is not like what you would find in Brooklyn. Poughkeepsie is still very old world and old school and not in a good way.

Vassar and Marist add very little to what could be an awesome college town--like New Paltz.

May. 19 2010 01:30 PM
Suzi from Austin (formerly NYC)

When we lived in Sunnyside (south side of the Blvd.), my teenage stepson asked us: "When will our neighborhood be gentrified?" Our answer: "Uh...when we moved in."
A few years later we got priced out, and moved to Texas.

May. 19 2010 01:29 PM
Ralph Lewis Gurkin from Bowery

And Mike, you also get the eye from others because you are an interloper. If you had grown up in that area, you can be as white as you please and no one would question you. It's not about your color, it's because you are an outsider. You did nothing to earn a place at their table.... yet.

May. 19 2010 01:27 PM

Manhattan is over. Forget it, unless you have a trust or good paying, steady corporate gig.

It's still easy to make things work in Brooklyn, just get roommates.

I've lived in Williamsburg-Greenpoint area for 4 years now and paid between 600 and 850 a month and that includes having amenities such as a private backyard a block from McCarren Park in Greenpoint and being only 2 blocks from the Graham L.

May. 19 2010 01:26 PM

There are still plenty of struggling artists in New York. They work as waiters and in coffee shops. They live with roommates in cheap apartments in Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, and Queens. Dear Leonard and dear contributor, you just don't know these exotic young people, but that doesn't mean they aren't there.

May. 19 2010 01:26 PM
lynn from NYC

I love your show, but I don't know if this guest is really qualified on the topic. Is he an urban planner/demographer? Has he even ever been to Detroit?

May. 19 2010 01:25 PM
Aanne from Atlanta/NY

Mike, you are way off base again, it is about economics, rich and poor. Face facts you are a poor white boy and just because you chose, again YOU CHOSE to live in a lower income neighborhood that happens to be predominately Black opposed to a white lower income neighborhood does NOT make it a racist situation. Sorry not this time.

May. 19 2010 01:23 PM
Mike from Atlanta


OK...You make a good point. It probably more about class but you can't underestimate that is also about race as well.

May. 19 2010 01:21 PM
Gene from NYC

Anyone talking about the destruction of the Villages without addressing the massive depredations of NYU is just plain not paying attention.

May. 19 2010 01:20 PM
Anne from Brooklyn

Isn't there still plenty of "gritty", "authentic" urban essence around Port Authority? Bed-Stuy? Harlem? Not sure what he's looking for.

New York City is pretty diverse compared to other places. Travel outside of the city into small, American towns... now *that's* too homogenous. It's creepy when everyone looks the same.

May. 19 2010 01:20 PM

Hey this is really a silly discussion - look at most of manhattan - it has been utterly sterilized! The soul has left - many moved to bklyn. No we have unbridled capitalism that destroys communities and most recently the real estate bubble - soho was full of creative people repurposing - ADAPTING to survive - bourgeois types used to be scared of Soho

May. 19 2010 01:16 PM
Tracy from Bklyn

I don't think everyone is nostaglic to go back to the past so much as we want to see the city move forward while the people who have always been here can afford to enjoy some of the changes for the better rather than being priced out by new residents. Why can't we blend with the new communities that are developing rather than beign replaced by them?

May. 19 2010 01:15 PM
Ralph Lewis Gurkin from Bowery

Mike, it's not Racist; it's Classist. We disguise so much Classism in Racist talk and it's just wrong.

We'd have many fewer problems if we'd get the difference correct.

Gentrification will displace poor whites just the same as it would poor blacks, asians, or hispanics.

May. 19 2010 01:13 PM
Mike from Atlanta

It is racist when local congressman and other pundits say things such as we need to stop Gentrification, in other words, we need to stop white people from moving in. I've heard this many many times. It code words, just like when Faux news uses code words to be anti-black.

May. 19 2010 01:10 PM
Aanne from Atlanta

Mike, nothing you describe is racist, it's about dollars and cents or the lack of, you are living where you're budget dictates and who is racist? Has a Black person in Flatbush made a comment to you that you are "the bad guy"? Surely not, but this is how stereotypes are born.

May. 19 2010 01:01 PM
Mike from Atlanta

I find the concept of Gentrification to be racist. I'm from Bay Ridge but could not afford anything there. I had to settle in Flatbush instead. I feel that the racist activist that come on these shows depict me, the white guy in a black neighborhood as the bad guy, the guy causing prices to skyrocket. Am I the bad guy because I paid my way though undergrad and grad school via the GI Bill and still can't afford anything in my old neighborhood? I've never committed a crime and have always treated my neighbors with respect and shopped locally in Flatbush. I feel that I am and was no different than 99% of the people in that neighboorhood. I am no longer in NY due to the high cost of living.

May. 19 2010 12:38 PM

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