Twenty-some odd years ago, in my social science classes, we used the term beautification to mean the cleaning up and reviving of old neighborhoods. These days I hear the term gentrification. It appears to me the two terms are interchangeable, with the exception that gentrification also brings in the hipsters and their artisan… everything.
So, is there a difference, or does one have to beautify before they gentrify?
Rather than hipsters, gentrification is mostly despised because it brings in the accountants and money market people, financially the middle middle class; pushing out the natives in their striving for cheap property.
These are not the sort of people you want to make a village with.
In my experience they mean totally different things. Beautification is what it sounds like, prettying up the place. Adding flower boxes, removing graffiti, putting in a park. Gentrification is a shift to a wealthier demographic in a poorer neighborhood reflected in fancier stores and restaurants, higher rent/condo development and the like. When the Dollar Store closes and gets replaced with a Pottery Barn, you might be getting gentrified.
Beautification just means tidying up: haul off the burned out cars, demolish abandoned buildings, plant some grass and flowers. Businesses won’t change much, and housing prices won’t rise (much), but it’ll be a nicer place to live.
How can you avoid “gentrification,” though? If you make a place nicer to live, and more people want to live there, property values will go up. 'cos right now that’s a fight in the city of Detroit. Because you can’t make a place more desirable to live in yet prevent people from moving there. “Give us money to make it better, but stay out!” isn’t a winning strategy.
I’ve heard people refer to themselves as pioneers/homesteaders. They are the first to take the gamble of buying distressed property and investing money to fix it up.
The hope is others will follow and eventually new businesses will arrive. Transforming the neighborhood into a thriving community.
If that doesn’t happen the original homesteaders lose their investment. They are also at risk of violent crime during the transition.
That is gentrification.
Beautification is a superficial tidying up of the area. The gang graffiti quickly returns. The new park becomes crime ridden and a place for prostitutes and drug dealers to ply their trade. Beautification doesn’t have a lasting effect.
To some extent gentrification is a natural process. As housing costs rise in the more desirable areas, so the middle income groups will move away to the cheaper areas. They first set about improving the housing stock and then start leaning on the local authority to beatify the area. Where these people live, Starbucks et al want shops, so they push out the old low rent businesses - and so it goes on.
It can work the other way, when the big houses once occupied by one wealthy family get divided up into student flats - students, having little or no interest in the area drag it down.
I doubt beautification itself is enough to lead to gentrification. It might be a factor (and it might happen because of gentrification). But I think gentrification requires some other stimulants as well. Maybe there is a trend where young people like living in the city more. Maybe even higher prices elsewhere is pushing even upper middle class people into new neighborhoods. But I doubt an area experiencing none of this pressure will suddenly start just because you clean up the litter.
An area can certainly get some general TLC (cleaner common areas, repaved roads, previous posters have mentioned graffiti removal…) without skyrocketing real estate values or tax base.
Gentrification is the demolishing or at least dramatic reconstruction of swaths of a neighborhood that dramatically shift its makeup to more affluent residents and retail.
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Gentrification improves property values in that area.
I live in a neighborhood that has started declining. My house would easily be worth 30% more in a better part of town.
It’s distressing to see the homes and yards around me neglected. Especially because I knew the original elderly owners that took great pride in their homes. They get turned into rent houses after the original owners move or die.
I’d love to see my neighborhood improved. Houses painted, yards sodded, and pride restored in owning property.
I’d also love seeing the value of my home increase. I’ve spent far more on remodeling than the house will ever be worth.
A lot of urban homesteaders are featured on HGTV and DIY. They are regular families willing to invest in a neglected property. They don’t tear it down.
Instead they strive to restore the home to it’s former glory. It might be a 1920’s craftsman, a Victorian, maybe a 50’s ranch. They want it restored and plan to live there. They do a lot of the work themselves.
One by one the houses on the street are restored.
That’s how I understand gentrification.
There is also a movement to tear down properties and build newer, larger property. That’s different from homesteading.
Ok, here’s the real problem. Beautification/urban renewal is fine. It’s a good thing. That part of the city is now much nicer, more productive (or at least better paid) people now live there, the quality of the shops and amenities goes up, the city gets to collect more taxes, and so on.
It would be an especially good thing if it came about because the general pool of Americans on average started making more money.
Unfortunately, that’s not what is actually happening. What really happens is that less and less Americans have good jobs at all, so gentrification is about very limited and specific urban areas suddenly becoming very hot because they are near areas where good jobs are now available. The average American doesn’t get to share in the trend, they aren’t young enough or didn’t get to go to the elite colleges or don’t have specific rare tech talents or skills.
So that’s problem 1. But ok, not everyone ‘deserves’ to ride the rising tide. Problem 2 is that the cities where this is happening have de facto banned creation of new, high density dwellings elsewhere in the city. This is because the city government is easily bribed by local wealthy landowners who don’t want to have their holdings decline in value. So there’s no where for the poorer residents of the gentrified area to go. The city’s blue collar laborers have nowhere to live that is remotely affordable within a reasonable commute of their jobs. People on fixed incomes are even worse off, and will be forced to leave their home city entirely.
And in turn, this limitation on urban density is why the area is getting gentrified. The reason the city’s elites are buying up that broken down neighborhood and flooding it with money to improve it back to functional condition is because they can’t just demolish the place and replace it all with high rise condos and office buildings. Or they would - that makes far more economic sense.
Yet better to live in ruins than be pushed out to make room for the wealthier. There are so many millions of places people with money can go, why move to where the poor exist ? What becomes of the brokenhearted ?