Urban Renewal Does Not Have to Mean Gentrification

This Tuesday and Wednesday I went to a conference for Smart Growth in Pittsburgh.  At the conference, a local documentary filmmaker – Chris Ivey – presented a few clips of his documentary series: East of Liberty

East of Liberty covers some raw topics that developers interested in urban renewal don’t like to talk about much: gentrification and low-income residents.  As plenty of post-industrial Great Lakes cities (not just Pittsburgh – where East of Liberty was shot) draw up plans for revitalizing their urban cores, we must take into account the current residents of those spaces.

Here’s a promo for the film:

Why does gentrification hurt communities? 

While it may seem that bringing in new businesses and nicer apartment buildings is good for these cities, they often raise realty prices and property taxes, pushing low- and moderate-income residents out of the newly developed spaces.  Often, no alternatives or quality low-income housing arrangments are made for these urban refugees.

What are solutions?

Urban renewal does not have to mean gentrification.  Low- and moderate-income people deserve safe and family-friendly neighborhoods as much as anyone else.  If we want to re-develop existing communities, then we should engage the people who live there in the planning process and offer low-income housing options in those developments.

In areas where developers work on integrating housing of different price ranges (think of the west side of Cleveland), there can be a rich diversity that renders vibrant neighborhoods.

And if you’re worried about safety, then invest in a quality police force that will protect all of the residents who live there.


5 thoughts on “Urban Renewal Does Not Have to Mean Gentrification

  1. I can only speak for Cleveland and this is the mindset that has continually failed us in the past.

    I believe that this only works in cities that already have areas that are completely gentrified and unavailable to lower incomes. After you have that established tax base and safety bubble within your city, then you can start doing things like this in the surrounding neighborhoods, but without that core richy area of a city where people feel completely safe and carefree-urban with their dining and shopping then you don’t have enough of a draw to bring people in that otherwise wouldn’t really desire (or be willing to deal with) a little economic and social diversity. The small segment of people (of which I am one) that do desire that type of diversity are already living in the city.

    • Interesting point, Keith; thanks for reading & commenting. What are some ways that we could avoid this sort of development in the future?

      Does it need to be that way? Are people capable of building and living in socio-economically diverse neighborhoods without taking the middle step of gentrification?

      I think it must come into the hands of urban planners (who can collaborate with local CDCs and other organizations to reach out to the current residents) and policy makers (who can change rules about realty pricing/taxes).

      Let me know if you think of any good potential solutions or examples of communities where it has worked,

  2. I grew up right next the neighborhood of East Liberty in Pittsburgh and I have told this story many times. Gentrification is a tricky issue but the issue here is that local government and agencies made decisions without addressing the people of these neighborhoods. This is all happening in a domino effect, the city build a new arena, which displaced people, which caused over crowding, which led the city to constructing housing projects, and all of this was done without the support of residents. Yes we need more viable businesses, Yes we need to increase tax revenues, but it needs to be done with residents, not against them. If gentrification happens in response to residents of a community empowering themselves, then it is a good thing. Gentrification is negative, when residents are forced out without their voices being heard. The solution is empowering residents from within, helping to create small business owned by local residents, who will hire local residents and where local residents will do their business. It will not be easy, but it is the only solution.

  3. Nothing here notes the issue of people’s comfortability level when in close proximity to other races. While much of the U.S. has progressed to at least being comfortable with their own socioeconomic circles, that does not ring true for most of the Gen-Yers I have met from the Midwest. I thought Richmond, Va was segregated until I stepped foot into the Cleveland area and realized we were the double-A team of segregation, comparatively (I do realize we are 1/3 the size of C-town).

    Successful revitalization will, inevitably, bring about some gentrification. Greatest/silent/boomer generations of whites fled the cities in droves, and with the return of educated white people, there will be some neighborhoods that cease to provide affordable housing and diversity. However, some neighborhoods will probably be able to sustain mixed socioeconomic and racial makeups. This kind of gentrification/revitalization takes a willing population to generate an organic and sustainable renewal. It cannot be forced.

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