Friday, July 22, 2011

Is Gentrification Good?

One aspect of New Urbanism that is often discussed is gentrification and the role it supposedly plays in making neglected areas of cities attractive again. However, its danger comes with the fact that it has potential to uproot current residents of the area being gentrified, and to replace current services with ones that will seem to be beneficial to the new residents.

These issues manifest themselves in the way that wealth (and the lack thereof) are personified in American society. Middle and high income residents are likely to be white, and low income residents are likely to be ethnic minorities.

And herein lies the problem. The economic issue of gentrification (middle and high income people moving into an area of investment and displacing the lower income groups who used to live there) is suddenly turned into a racial issue, where white residents are seen as kicking black residents out of their houses and forcing them to move elsewhere, either into other neglected areas or into public housing.

Because of this, gentrification areas and building public or affordable housing can sometimes be opposed along racial lines.  

The solution to this conundrum lies in breaking the perceived link between ethnic minorities and poverty, and thus ethnic minorities and criminal activity.

This can be accomplished through rebuilding an area while maintaining its architectural style and building public housing units interspersed with market rate housing units, allowing public housing units to be distributed to tenants in the form of vouchers. The value of the vouchers would decrease as the residents' income increased until the residents could own the property outright.  

Yet another way to determine whether a unit would be market rate or public housing would be to make every other unit that comes up for sale in a neighborhood public or market rate.

Either way, there should be no architectural differences between the public and market rate units. Doing such would create the opinion that occupants of public housing are by some means inferior to occupants of market rate housing.

Good public housing should not keep the poor in poverty.

Taking the approach of sandwiching public housing between units of market rate or affordable housing would both confer the social benefits of mixed income housing to the lower income residents and eliminate the stereotype of racial groups being predisposed to poverty or crime.

A good way to picture this would be to imagine side streets with rowhouses along them, every other rowhouse on one side of a street would be public housing, and the same for the other side of the street. Main avenues would be bordered by mixed use development with some commercial office space thrown in.

If you take away one thing from this article, it should be the following:

Ethnic minorities do not cause crime, poverty causes crime.

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