I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle a while back that proclaimed: "gentrification is no longer a dirty word". It aligned with my attitude towards gentrified neighborhoods, a concept most associated with the displacement of poor residents in an area to make room for an influx of new, high income populations. While this has been historically true, it is not so much the case anymore. I think–dare I say it–that gentrification is actually a good thing.
As the article points out, before neighborhoods went through the "gentrification process", these areas were blighted. Buildings were neglected and dilapidated and crime was high. You’d be a fool to go for a stroll around at night.
Now these gentrified areas sport renovated storefronts, apartments and streetscape improvements to create a bustling, pedstrian-friendly area with a vibrant nightlife. Residents and visitors who flock to these areas feel safer walking the streets at night–the whole safety in numbers concept.
This is evident in major cities such as San Francisco and New York, who have reported lower crime rates in recent years despite growing populations. Even L.A. has countless areas like Silver Lake, a neighborhood that now has its fair share of boutiques, coffeehouses, restaurants, and hipsters. I’ve been to Silver Lake and Bay Area spots such as S.F.’s Mission District countless times at night and have, for the most part, always felt safe.
Last December, I went to New York for a week and stayed in a gentrified part of Brooklyn. A lot of it looks like the industrial area it still is today. But sprinkled throughout the neighborhood are eateries, coffeehouses, bars, markets, and subway stations, all within walking distance of renovated apartment studios and residencies. People could be found walking and bicycling day and night.
The Midtown and Downtown areas in my hometown of Sacramento are also examples of gentrification. Growing up, these areas had weathered buildings and crumbling homes. I was rarely taken to that area because I was told it wasn’t safe. Now Midtown and Downtown have more eating, retail, and entertainment areas that are within the neighborhood of nearby recently-remodeled homes. While there is sadly still crime in Sacramento, a lot of people choose to walk to these amenities.
Some argue that gentrification displaces the poorer residents of the area, which is true. Yes, new housing developments often results in higher rent, making it less likely for low income tenants to live in these areas. But this is typical if you are revitalizing an area. A neighborhood needs to be aesthetically and socially pleasing, and attractive enough for prospective (and financially-stable current) residents to want to maintain a strong sense of community. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt if they had money to support surrounding local businesses. It just makes little sense in attracting the same people who brought the area down in the first place.
Now I am not saying that gentrification should be the go-to solution to revitalizing a neighborhood. Obviously, community meetings could be held first to identify problems and find solutions. But if there is no community left, or no one wishes to participate, gentrification could be the best answer.
Personally, I enjoy the atmosphere of gentrified neighborhoods and the amenities they offer. And if the robust nightlife of these areas are any indication, I am not alone.