Gentrification or Fear of Change


By Stella Burke

Whether you use the term “gentrification” or “urban renewal” many people are more than displeased by the idea of change. It does not matter the intention when one mentions an idea of change to people who are set in their ways, they will revolt– this itself is a common stance by someone using ethos appeals to show their disagreement. Usually, the one who argues for the change is the one who it benefits, in this case the average fresh out of financial support from their parents, newly house owner who just moved into a historically low income yet up and coming neighborhood. The people behind this opinion will argue that it is their right to move where they want, “America is a free country” they might add, simultaneously exposing the lack of progressive and open opposers they might face. While either those opposing or in favor of gentrification, people will also argue that it does not exist, plain and simple. That whatever you want to call it is just a way to avoid people discovering that coffee shop you love so much.

There is no doubt that the common ideas of gentrification include tech workers invading San Francisco, however, there is an underlying belief provided by journalists, such as Conor Friedersdorf. They support that Gentrification is a fictitious concept used to create false problems as an excuse for the historical residents to keep things the way they want them to be; a low rent, traffic free environment where no tourists will ask them the directions to anywhere. These writers do not blame tech workers at all, in fact they view them as the scapegoats for long term homeowners and renters refusing to accept the probable and beneficial modifications in their area.

These are legitimate reasons to disagree with as the anti “Nimbys” (Not In My Backyard-ers) might put it. In fact they use strong logic to support it in specific cases, however, most arguments are filled with ad hominem attacks. Those who fear change should neither be ignored or indulged, just because of who they are. That being said, sometimes it is just as simple as that, people just do not accept change and adapt.

The anti ”Nimbys” who notice the increasing trend of displacement are often able to see both sides of the argument. They do not agree with either, however, their acknowledgement is just a key to their viewpoints. Recognizing the truths to displacement and economical advancement makes the anti ”Nimbys” opinion appeal to people without the first hand information to make their own evaluation of the issue.

For example, in reference to San Francisco, journalist Michael Kimmelman explains in his New York Times article Urban Renewal, No Bulldozer, “there’s a long history of environmental, preservation and social justice movements fighting private developments that displaced countless thousands of poor, black, Asian and Latino households”, however, he continues, “a city supervisor, Jane Kim, whose district includes SoMA and Mid-Market, has just introduced an ordinance mandating that at least 30 percent of housing in the district remain below market rate”,  He concludes that gentrification, may or may not be an actual issue right now but that it will not continue to be a problem as long as residents do not oppose the city’s objective to keep housing its current residents.

Similarly, Conor Friedersdorf, in response to a rather shocking children’s play about the greedy, evil corporate CEO’s of San Francisco planning to rid the city of poor people

states that he believes that this is an invalid representation of what actually happens and that again it is the people who do not want to pay more for their painted ladies  “The homeowner’s see themselves as upright “preservationists,” protecting the character of their city even as they turn it into a time-capsule for the old and rich. In my propaganda play, they would be sympathetic with the plight of the working class, but would not value them nearly as much as living amidst refurbished Victorians.” He believes it is not an issue of what the city is doing, but what the city is being allowed to do. “Don’t get me wrong. Corporations do lots of evil things!” exclaims Friedersdorf, but he does not believe that displacing lower class residents is one of them.

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“Homeowners have a strong economic incentive to restrict supply because it supports price appreciation of their own homes” blatantly states journalist, Kim-Mai Cutler, after a thorough research into San Francisco’s housing crisis. She does not discredit the idea of gentrification, as she simply puts “Who are we to judge who can come into this city and who can not? Gentrification is not going to go away.” The real problem, to her, are the Nimbys who will not allow new housing to be built.

All of these people have done their research, it is not an obstinate opinion– it is opposing just that. Without proof or close analyzation, their argument would be thought of as a joke but with their strong use of logic, that without more housing for a large and demanding population like the one in San Francisco, how can city or even a neighborhood avoid residential displacement without places to house the population?

Though their viewpoints are a part of a controversial topic they come from a place of reason. San Francisco, a center for cultures from all over the world, has developed a reputation for itself, when it comes to displacement, re-development, and all things gentrification. Known for both its corrupt techies commuting to Silicon Valley and its left leaning city hall lurkers, San Francisco cannot seem to keep all of its residents under a roof for less than an average monthly cost of approximately $2,900 according to Rent Jungle.

Many believe that this is because of the additions being made to the city, but as Scott Beyer of Forbes points out, “The Golden State Warriors…want to build an arena in San Francisco. For several years, the team’s owners meticulously crafted a plan that would bring the city unbridled benefits…But NIMBY opposition forced the Warriors to cancel plans for its initial site, and a new activist group might keep it from a second location.” He explains that local residents did not want the noise, traffic, pollution, or visual obstacle of the bay that the new arena would bring. They did not care that the arena would include a pier renovation or make more pedestrian paths.

This would not be an issue if protecting the neighborhood was the truly Nimbys agenda but according to Beyer, “the Warriors decided to move the 18,000-seat project a bit further south. … The location is be more reasonable” and is in a quieter area long eyed for redevelopment.” This is evidence of their Nimbyism. As long as it’s not their neighborhood with noise, traffic, pollution, or visual obstacle of the bay, they would enjoy the Warriors moving to San Francisco, but they’re not willing to sacrifice what they consider to be their beloved culture to make things happen.

These viewpoints are relatively new, before people either support urban renewal or claimed to be anti gentrifiers. But people who recognize aspects of both narratives are becoming more and more common. It makes sense, if there was a clear right and wrong, the issue of gentrification would at least have ideas around it’s resolution.

For now a larger, all-incorporating view is what makes sense for the constant change in urban communities and may be further into future as well. No matter what the solution to Gentrification is, the definite answer according to this perspective, is not Nimby-ism.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Amanda Levin says:

    Really interesting approach to a complicated subject Stella. It seems like such a complicated way for people to justify their own self-interest, but not terribly surprising.


  2. Qasas says:

    Can I ask you something, If there is a neighborhood that is horrible and has been for the past 10 years, we are talking black on black violence, drug selling etc. Do you think gentrification is the best way to go about it ? And if not what is ?


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