Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gentrification is Global

Gentrification is happening worldwide, as cities around the world seek to survive and grow in the global economy. Global finance invests in our local restaurants and development projects, as well as those in other cities, globalizing gentrification. In studies of this process in different locations around the world, we can see common trends. Writing about European gentrification two years ago, Berg, Kaminer, Schoonderbeek, and Zonnevelt found:
Even though population movement is a common feature of cities, gentrification is specifically the replacement of a less affluent group by a wealthier social group -- a definition which relates gentrification to class. Whether a result of city council policies or real estate pressures, gentrification stands in contrast to earlier attempts to improve deprived neighbourhoods by addressing the built environment, the central objective of urban renewal up until the 1970s. More recently, the betterment of deprived neighbourhoods has taken a completely different form as the improvement of living conditions is no longer considered the task of the state ('to enlighten the masses'), but rather a side effect of the development and emancipation of the higher and middle classes. The state seems to have acknowledged its inability to influence the welfare of its residents directly and has left that task to the workings of the supposedly objective agency of the market. Gentrification has become a means of solving social malaise, not by providing solutions to unemployment, poverty, or broken homes, but by transferring the problem elsewhere, out of sight, and consequently also geographically marginalising the urban poor and ensuring their economic location and political irrelevance.
Through HOPE VI, several DC public housing projects -- like Ward 6's Capper-Carrollsburg -- were dismantled and the residents dispersed. Likely, they were given vouchers, a market-based program in which the voucher holder pays 30% of their income and the rest of the rent is paid by the government. Those who know my research will know that I do not think that markets are necessarily a problem, specific institutions around them are. Several years back, John M. Hartung of HUD and Jeffrey R. Henig, GWU political science professor, looked at the DC-area distribution of those using vouchers. They found that those "with vouchers and certificates most highly concentrated in tracts with residents having a low socioeconomic status (tracts with a higher percentage of persons 25 years of age or older who have no more than a ninth-grade education) and where there is an ample supply of affordable rental housing...market forces cannot be counted upon to spontaneously generate socially desirable ends." It seems that the deconcentration of the poor may have led merely to its reconcentration elsewhere, marginalized outside the center of the city, its amenities (like Metro and jobs), and access to political influence. Who instead benefited from this program? Have they benefited globally?

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