Cities are transforming, and it’s palpable. The reliable no-frills coffeehouse shut down and two months later, there’s an artisan bakery selling baguettes for $6. Your favorite barber tells customers he can no longer afford the rent; meanwhile a chain salon around the corner has an hour wait.
These scenes are all too familiar for the urban dweller, from Philadelphia to Portland, Oregon. On the surface, they’re hallmarks of gentrification. That narrative starts with educated middle-income (and typically white) 20- and 30-somethings moving into a predominantly working-class community for bigger bang for their buck. Other yuppies follow suit. Eventually the neighborhood is made amenable to their palettes and preferences. Property values rise, minorities are displaced, and the public promenades that reflect urban diversity begin to look and feel otherwise.
A spate of mainstream articles, books, and policy papers published in the last decade have warned civic leaders about this “new” form of urbanization. However, gentrification isn’t new — it’s actually baked into the economic forces that have been driving urban development since the 1950s. If we want to address gentrification’s ills, we need to address this force that undergirds it.
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