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Summary of Findings 9/18/15: Economic & Cultural Strategies

September 18, 2015

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Researching strategies to keep a place’s vibe, culture and soul alive has been a side hobby-project for me the past year.  My day job in food and farming continues, and yet  – whether I want to or not – I’m continually reminded of the ever-growing gentrification around us and lured to somehow address it.

Gentrification hasn’t always been inherently wrong or bad.  In many cases, it’s the byproduct of economic (re)vitalization efforts that have been wonderfully successful.  Sometimes, they’re neighborhoods that were derelict or ghost towns that are given a new lease on life, becoming clean, safe, thriving business districts with bustling shops, restaurants or nightlife.  Or, they may be small, sleepy towns that become too popular as a bucolic escape from a nearby city.  Or, remote villages here and abroad that used to be poor, and now have an influx of tourism fueling their development and modernization.  So, what goes wrong, or what is the tipping point where growth and prosperity go “too far”?

There isn’t an official metric of “too much gentrification”.  Talking with friends of different income levels, there is a wide threshold of what’s acceptable or not.  Not everyone notices or cares about historic architecture or culture.  Not everyone notices or values economic or ethnic diversity.  Not many understand what it means when service staff that make minimum wage commute 45 minutes to get there.

Looking up the word gentrification in the dictionary, it says “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”

In addition to displacing lower income residents (“lower” can sometimes mean upper-middle class!), gentrification is typically associated with a decrease in many things our society values: a strong local economy, locally-owned businesses, local artists and musicians, ethnic diversity, historic architecture, idiosyncratic “funkiness of place” (new official term ;)), free public spaces, and more…

SDMC 3So, what is being done?  From what I’ve seen, there are two types of strategies (not mutually exclusive):

Economic strategies

  • Affordable housing, housing vouchers, and other tenant rights to minimize displacement of lower income artists, teachers, and other service workers.
  • Tax incentives and other incentives for home owners and property owners to not “sell out” or be forced out.
  • Innovative approval processes for commercial and residential development.
  • Restrictions or regulations on commercial development to restrict formula chain stores, and prioritize locally-owned businesses and smart building/urban planning.
  • Innovative ownership structures of commercial property.
  • Capacity-building and training for small business owners, startups, and lower-income and ethnic residents.

Cultural strategies

  • Designated historic buildings and districts to preserve architecture and historically significant landmarks.
  • Community grants for art, music, sports, and spiritual programs.
  • Community-driven surveys and initiatives to identify and preserve what the people value in their town or neighborhood (e.g., open space, green/sustainability programs, historic structures, arts scene, quiet from car noise, bicycle and pedestrian access, public spaces, funky vibe, anything!).
  • Strategic planning and placement of public spaces to increase face-to-face interaction and decrease car culture.

So, there are some tried-and-true tools that a town or neighborhood can use.  But, do towns and neighborhoods know they exist?  If they do, are they putting them to use quickly enough?  Unfortunately, I think the answers are No and No…at least right now.

Something SpecialThere are a few “islands” of funky coolness in various parts of the States and abroad, but they too are changing fast.  Fairfax, CA, where we live, is one.  It has a pertinacious Green Party government that is determined to “keep Fairfax weird” (one reason why I moved here).  And yet, residents are cautiously observing our neighboring towns slowly attract more and more affluent people from the city, and the look and feel change.  Venice Beach, CA, is another one.  I hardly recognize it from when I went to school in LA a few decades ago, but it still has remnants of its original artsy hippie funkiness.  With Google setting up shop there, the housing prices skyrocketing, and its new sobriquet “Silicon Beach”, will it maintain its coolness over time?

Change is inevitable.  The question is how to accommodate change while still maintaining the vibe, culture, and soul of a place that attracted folks to move there in the first place.

Ultimately, I think it’s a matter of individuals in each community stepping up and organizing before current residents are displaced, or commercial properties are snatched up by formula stores or singularly profit-driven developers.  From this blog, you can probably tell I’m a big fan of the Main Streets Approach.  But, recently, I also learned more about the Heart & Soul approach for community-based surveying to inform local policy and priorities.  It complements the Main Streets framework and could be a great, easier first step to get a community engaged and onboard to protect the things it loves.

I’m curious what other easy-to-implement strategies and tools there are, and how – realistically – to get a community engaged and involved in the process.  It’s incredible how quickly a single new business in an area can accelerate gentrification.  The trick is to get systems set up ahead of time so that necessary changes may happen, but not at the cost of the values and wishes of the community.  To be continued!

Some favorite resources

Links: Commercial Rent Control, Residential High-Rises, Black Gentrifier, Warning Maps, Saving Art & Serving Residents

August 27, 2015
by Admin

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There are so many articles about gentrification lately, here are a few summaries with links:

  • Hypergentrification & the Disappearance of Local Business –
    A need to reinstate commercial rent control that went away in 1963.
  • How Miami Fought Gentrification and Won (for Now) –
    Allowing developers to build high-rises downtown means long-time residents in older buildings don’t get displaced.
  • I’m a Black Gentrifier in Harlem – and it’s not a good feeling – The Guardian
    An African-American “transplant” in Harlem shares how she invisibilizes the displacement of the local community.
  • New Map Tool Can Serve As Gentrification Warning System – Next City
    Researchers use data from the U.S. Census, American Community Survey and others to visualize changes over time, revealing factors like employment density, percentage of renter households, non-white population and change in college-educated adult population.  Neighborhoods that have easy access to rail transit, pre-1950s housing stock and rising housing prices are especially at risk of losing low-income households. And it’s not just low-income communities that are at risk: Higher-income areas with low-income households in the mix are rapidly losing that population.
  • Gentrification in Overdrive on 14th Street (Washington DC) – Washington Post
    Excitement about economic growth and hot new restaurant and bar scene, but what about art galleries and businesses that serve the residents.

Reducing Economic Segregation: Affordable Housing, Job Training & Programs for Mobility

August 18, 2015

We Must Not Give in to Economic Segregation

My first night in Boston, I was picked up at the South End train station by Judy, a gray-haired woman with deep brown eyes and wire-frame glasses. My new neighborhood was swathed in darkness. But the ivy-covered brick buildings still struck me with awe as we walked down Dartmouth Street, my wheeled suitcase bumping over the brick sidewalk like an eager puppy. Nothing looked like what I knew back home in Michigan.

Homes to Homeless Cheaper than Leaving Them on Streets

August 17, 2015


The following Vox article shows that it’s cheaper to fix homelessness by giving homeless people homes to live in than to let the homeless live on the streets and try to deal with the subsequent problems.

The most recent report along these lines was a May Central Florida Commission on Homelessness study indicating that the region spends $31,000 a year per homeless person on “the salaries of law-enforcement officers to arrest and transport homeless individuals — largely for nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or sleeping in parks — as well as the cost of jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalization for medical and psychiatric issues.”


By contrast, getting each homeless person a house and a caseworker to supervise their needs would cost about $10,000 per person. Read more…

Gentrification, Over-Parenting & Stress About Success

August 17, 2015

The following Next City article discusses the correlation between gentrification and the level of stress in a community.

Are You a Helicopter Parent? Blame Gentrification ~ The high cost of living is driving upwardly mobile urban families mad.

By Kathryn Jezer-Morton. Photos by Mercedes La Rosa.

You meet them in gentrifying urban neighborhoods across America. There’s that mom who’s the most conscientious, watchful and opinionated person on the playground. There’s the neighbor who’s always forwarding you emails about product recalls. They hire Mandarin tutors for their offspring before the age of two — because that’s when language acquisition really ramps up. By the time their kids are in grade school, their fast-twitch reflexes around choking hazards are at Olympic table tennis championship level. They’re Rocky going up against Apollo Creed on parent-teacher conference night.

They are helicopter parents.

For all the attention these close-buzzing moms and dads get in the media, helicopter parenting is actually misunderstood. It’s not a set of values. It’s a nervous condition. And one of the chief causes of this widespread malady is the rising cost of being a middle- or upper-middle-class parent in an American city. Read more…

SF’s Rising Rents & A Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund

August 17, 2015

The following Next City article discusses the decreasing Latino population in San Francisco’s Mission district, the exorbitant rising rents, and an interesting Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund.

Is a Community-Minded Business Model Doomed in Gentrifying San Francisco?

According to one longtime Mission District entrepreneur, “the new residents take pictures in front of the murals, but they don’t know the people in the murals.” (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

When Carlos Navarro decided to try his hand at running a karate studio, it was never about the money. He was looking to give neighborhood kids a positive, uplifting activity — an alternative to falling in with gangs or making other harmful life choices. He decided to charge each client a case-by-case price, based on need. It may not be the soundest business model, but Navarro knew when he started that if it could work, it was worth trying, to better his community. That was over 40 years ago.

Since it opened, Navarro’s Academy of Martial Arts & Bodybuilding Gym has been at the same location in San Francisco’s Mission District. In addition to karate, Navarro’s offers classes in Muay Thai kickboxing, Brazilian jujitsu and Eskrima, a traditional Filipino martial art. There’s aerobics too. He still charges students only what they can afford. Read more…

New Worker Co-op Could Shift Queens Gentrification Story

August 6, 2015

A community benefits arrangement connected to the Astoria Cove real estate project (rendering above) sets aside quality jobs for locals. (Credit: Studio V Architects)

Excerpted from The Equity Factor in Next City online.

At the northern tip of Queens lies a peninsula called Halletts Point.  To some it’s an “eyesore” of poverty, but to developers, it’s “one of the most magical, outstanding sites in New York City.”

For many nearby public housing residents, the proposed transformation had all the makings of a familiar script: development and upheaval, followed by wealth and higher-paying jobs open predominantly to newcomers and increased inequality.

However, a pioneering community benefits arrangement— one that sets aside quality jobs for local residents both during and after construction — could see “gentrification” play out differently in Hallets Point. Read more…

Tackling the Problem of Commercial Gentrification

August 3, 2015


Browsing the awesome repository of the Institute of Local Self-Reliance, I came across a great article from…2002!   Maybe now is the time for these strategies to become mainstream.

by Stacy Miller, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Rising commercial rents are generally a good thing; they are an indication of the health of a business district and encourage landlords and banks to invest in building improvements.

But in some communities, commercial rents are rising too far too fast. Often this sudden run-up is driven by chain retailers, which discover the appeal of an area and sweep in by the dozens, offering above-market rents for choice spots and sparking a frenzy of speculation. Landlords raise rents across the board and opt not to renew leases for existing tenants in order to attract a national brand. Banks are often willing to lend building owners more capital at better terms if the lessee is a big-name tenant rather than an independent business, no matter how successful. Read more…

Main Streets: “Minimizing the Effects of Gentrification”, Part II

July 23, 2015


Below is Part 2 in a series written by Alexander M. Padro, founding Board Chair and as Executive Director of  Shaw Main Streets in Washington, DC, since 2003.  Part 1 discusses the strategies their district implemented; Part 2 below describes one case study of a successful Shaw community business owner.

New Arrivals Have Made Shaw More Diverse

There has not been the type of widespread displacement of low and moderate income people of color during Shaw’s revitalization that has been seen in other neighborhoods and cities. Significant efforts on the part of elected officials, nonprofits, and others, and  nine factors and tools—empty lots for new projects, affordability requirements on public land, planned unit developments, tenant protection laws, property tax caps, housing vouchers, historic district designation, and the commitment of nonprofit and faith-based property owners to stay in the neighborhood—made this possible.

There has, however, been a decrease in the percentage of the neighborhood’s overall African American population. In 1990, parts of the neighborhood had over 65% African American residents. These same areas dropped to just over 51% in the 2010 census, paralleling the city’s overall change in demographics. This has primarily been due to an increase in total population resulting from an influx of residents moving into new apartment buildings and condominiums, and new owners of single family homes sold by longtime African American owners who took advantage of once-in-a-lifetime wealth creation opportunities; homes originally purchased for less than $25,000 were sold unrenovated for $500,000. At the same time, residents of rooming houses were displaced when the houses they lived in were sold for conversion into single family homes or multi-family condos. Read more…

Main Streets: “Minimizing the Effects of Gentrification”, Part I

July 21, 2015

Minimizing Gentrification

In a little more than two decades, the Wine Country city of Healdsburg has transformed from the fading buckle on California’s prune belt into a picturesque town square with caviar-tart-serving restaurants, a couple dozen wine tasting venues and $400-per-night hotel rooms that draw international jet-setters.

Healdsburg’s turnaround has been too successful. Its fading affordability has turned this 11,000-person city into a cautionary tale for how a regional economic boom can reshape even the towns on its fringes. Healdsburg leaders are now trying to figure out how to keep the vineyard workers, teachers and waiters that made the city such an attractive food and wine mecca in the first place. (excerpted from SF Chronicle)

While some towns are using the Main Streets approach to become successful, some are using it to actually temper the negative effects of too much success.

The Shaw District in Washington D.C. is a great example of a town (albeit a ~12,000 population neighborhood within a big city) taking a multifaceted approach to protecting the diversity and flavor of their area:
  • availability of empty lots and parking lots for new housing (a minimum of 30% of all units constructed on such parcels are required to meet affordable housing stipulations)
  • affordability requirements on public land
  • planned unit developments (PUD) zoning relief for taller buildings with more units
  • amazingly strong tenant protection laws
  • property tax caps on owner-occupied and senior homes
  • housing vouchers for existing residents to stay in renovated and rebuilt housing
  • historic district designation to prevent demolition of residential homes
  • commitment of nonprofit and faith-based property owners to stay in the neighborhood
  • Read more…