WNYC and The Nation. Two peas in a pod? For now, I guess. A somewhat illuminating set of pieces on Gentrification are being peddled as the "There Goes the Neighborhood" series. It's worth noting that the phrase TGtN has been used countless times before, as has their supposedly "refreshing" look at a tired topic. And yet, there are interesting stories here worth hearing. I've been listening as I fall asleep, and that's had the effect of leaving some of the thoughts and stories resonating through the next day.
|Neighbor Kai Wright of The Nation|
|DW Gibson - researcher, writer|
|Your neighbor Janine Nicholson|
Ultimately, the story of neighborhood change in Urban America comes down to a very different scenario for Renters and Owners (what's new?) Renters have relatively few advantages, though they do have some rights here in NYC; owners get the lion's share of advantages AND rights. Owners can tear down a building and then build something bigger (that's kinda been on my mind lately). In buildings with fewer than 6 units, and buildings built after a certain year, they can charge whatever they like and jack it up however much at the very next lease. Capitalism in a nutshell, ever since we "introduced" the concept to the Indians, whose land, by the way, was NOT rent stabilized. Sometimes, the price goes down too (I benefited from this after the recession of the late '80s). As long as a neighborhood's NY TIMES Desirability Rating wasn't too high. rents remained within reach of lower income New Yorkers. Provided, of course, that they were willing to move around when screwed or unstabilized. I never once rented a stabilized place in NYC, btw. Hardly knew about it frankly. I always heard about these wacky rent controlled places renting for, like, $6.50 a month, and wondered who you had to blow to get one. Speaking of the NY Times, do you recall how hard it was to get a copy in this neighborhood back in the early '00s? They didn't really sell it anywhere. Once you started seeing those blue condoms that protect the Old Gray Lady on people's stoop steps, you knew (didn't you?) that it was just a matter of time.
Now to you, Mr. Gentrifier Renter. Have you not already bought into this notion wholeheartedly when you moved here to NYC? You recognized right off the bat, like millions of other New Yorkers, that certain neighborhoods were NOT for you. They were either too expensive or too poor or too something else. You made the decision based on a whole host of factors, not unlike your brethren at other price points. Maybe you weighed schools and shops and crime and vibe. And maybe, let's be honest, you weighed race. Or it was weighed FOR you, by real estate agents hell-bent on maintaining the status-quo, the one where you get steered here, another there, another outa there. Because you, you awful, terrible soulless miscreant thought that renting in the best, most transportation-friendly neighborhood, most comfortable place you could afford was your American birthright. You entitled fiend. Next time take heed when someone (perhaps Janine Nicholson?) says Whitey Go Home. It's rubbish and we all know it is, but it bears repeating. You've done nothing wrong, but you have an obligation not to be a dick. To be warm to neighbors, grateful to those who are kind and helpful, and helpful yourself, looking out for those less fortunate and humbly thankful of the help you receive from those MORE fortunate. It's all such basic human stuff it's a shame, a deep and abiding shame, that it gets so mortally trampled by racial murk and fear.
And if you rented a non-stabilized place, Mr. Gentrifier Renter, like everyone else who is unstable (hah!) you might have to pick up stakes and move on. And your feelings of guilt about having moved into a neighborhood that wasn't "for you" will fade, and you'll just feel pissed and annoyed that NYC is so heartless even as it grows and prospers. And you'll hope and maybe save your shekels to one day "get in." Or you'll move. You have choices, and that's a good thing if you got 'em. Some, of course, have few to no choices, and our choices ultimately effect them most. We don't do it to be mean, and we didn't set the rules. But there are obligations just the same.
Mr. Non-Gentrifier Renter. You are at the bottom of the food chain, and only the "law" protects you even a bit, though not as much as you'd hope, and not enforced with vigor or certainty. On fate of birth, you were relegated to rent only in certain neighborhoods where you were welcomed, or tolerated, and you made the best of things. You raised families and started businesses and prayed and suffered and rejoiced as is your birthright. And yet, since the cards were stacked against you, you probably always knew that your number would eventually come up, as it always does in this country, and you'd be asked, like the original Natives, to move along quietly, or by warrant and musket if necessary. Maybe you can get a few thousand dollars, forty acres and a mule? Or nothing, Nada, zip. The landlord will eventually figure out how to make your life unpleasant enough, or will catch you at a low enough point, that he will succeed. He nearly always does,
Mr. Gentrifier Owner. You, sir, have benefited WAY beyond your talents and deeds. NYC real estate being what it is - limited and generally desirable - you are a winner the moment you "get in," as some like to say. Now that you own, it's your responsibility to act responsibly and learn the culture of the neighborhood and not try to dictate. This is the Q. He is both ashamed at his good fortune and cursed by an insatiable curiosity. Lest you think that real estate is not so much a business as a payday, consider just how much money Donald Trump has made despite enormous fiscal ineptitude. You can't go wrong with real estate!
Mr. Non-Gentrifier Owner. At some point, you or your family set down roots and bought a piece of the American Dream. You are to be commending for holding the neighborhood together, along with the non-gentrifier renters. But you will one day reap enormous financial benefits, or your children will, and for this you are likely incredibly grateful, but perhaps wistful, since it wasn't necessarily going to be like this. The City nearly came apart, and nearly destroyed itself many times.
I'm only writing this to sort my thoughts. I have no idea if it's helpful to you, but it was helpful to me, and sure, I'll keep listening to the podcast. I just wish it wasn't so, um, gentrifiery you know? Ah hell, who gives a damn. It's a good effort and we all benefit from hearing what others are going through, and a slice of the economic incentives that make this all happen.