An op-ed by high school student Jonah Pierce.
Gentrification— It is a word that is tossed around venomously at the first sign of development.
A new restaurant is built in a low-income neighborhood? Gentrification. An old crumbling building is torn down to make way for a fresh modern one? Gentrification.
A derelict neighborhood is revitalized by corporate investment? Gentrification. The term carries such negative connotations with it that any positive aspects of urban redevelopment are overshadowed by the images of low-income residents being evicted from their homes in droves, historical landmarks being demolished, and living prices skyrocketing.
However, this exaggerated caricature of gentrification as a malevolent force that tears families from their homes and drains the rich cultural heritage from neighborhoods is far from the truth.
One of gentrification’s most well-known effects is its impact on property values. Often touted as one of its flaws, it is actually one of its greatest benefits.
To fully understand what rising property values entail, we must examine the entire picture. When property values rise, property taxes rise with them. These taxes fund a myriad of city services, from public transportation to homeless shelter initiatives. With rising property values, the City of Austin’s various public services will receive an influx of revenue and become more robust and well-funded.
Then there is the question of preexisting residents.
Will they be forced from their properties, wrenched from their homes by the claws of gentrification?
The answer is complicated. Yes, displacement can be a side effect of gentrification, but in many cases, the transition is fairly painless.
In fact, many homeowners are able to sell their properties at higher profits thanks to increased property values, with some even able to remain in their neighborhoods, enjoying the influx of development.
Renters, on the other hand, are often not as fortunate. With rising prices, they have no choice but to pay or leave, a choice which sometimes ends up costing them their home.
While this is regrettable, it is seldom on the scale that opponents of gentrification would lead you to believe. A 2005 study from the University of Columbia found that the probability that a household would be displaced in a gentrifying neighborhood was 1.3 percent, a number that is unremarkable when considering the natural fluctuation of property ownership.
Meanwhile, another argument that is often leveraged against gentrification is the removal of historical sites.
Opponents of gentrification rush to defend neighborhoods that are rich in history and heritage as cultural landmarks; however, what they fail to acknowledge is that change is a prerequisite for progress; we cannot transition to the new without sacrificing some of the old.
We should not be idolizing the past when it is the future that demands our immediate attention. To halt the march of progress and hold an entire neighborhood in stasis simply for the idea of preservation is a ridiculous and backward way of thinking.
Heritage and culture are abstractions—values, beliefs, and traditions that we share with others. They are not buildings nor lots to be bought and sold, and to suggest that the value of a culture is comparable to that of a single neighborhood is insulting to those who live there.
A culture is far more than the space it occupies, but opponents of gentrification see fit to prop up false narratives to serve their obstinate stand against progress. Keeping a neighborhood rooted in the past is a counterproductive endeavor and detrimental to the community as a whole.
All factors considered, gentrification is a far cry from the malicious tide of displacement and cultural destruction that many make it out to be. Its meaning has become conflated with a plethora of negative connotations, but many of these “drawbacks” are greatly exaggerated or completely baseless. Gentrification has proven time and again to be an instrument of progress, bringing development and economic prosperity to the communities it touches.
Overall, gentrification is by no means the villain it is made out to be.