Struggling to be an equitable city (with update)

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


One of the most frustrating realities of urban revitalization is the economic slope that’s created when a place gets hot. 
Some people call this gentrification. That’s a loaded word whose meaning isn’t accurate anyway. Where there is no nobility there is no gentry.
But there’s a word for what’s wrong with letting the market dictate who lives where — exclusion. Cities have done a pretty good job of figuring out, at least in recent years, how to ensure that people who have less money can remain in the mix.
The problem is, there are more people with less money and fewer properties in the mix.
An article by Sarah Goodyear in Atlantic Cities“What We Haven’t Figured Out Is the Question of Gentrification” addresses this issue.
Amanda Burden, director of planning for New York City, is quoted in the article: “I have never, since I had this job, come up with a satisfactory answer of how to make sure everyone benefits. It’s a question I would welcome more answers as to how to make this a more equitable city. Because that’s how we continue to attract people from all over the world, is people perceive the city as an equitable city, and a city with opportunity for all. It’s not just those poetic words. But I really wonder how we can do it.”
We can do it if we appreciate neighbors for what they contribute that's of real value instead of money. 
Here's a link to another story for thought food on where we are headed.
I ran into a low-income housing advocate in a neighborhood bar the other night and we talked about the discouraging circumstances that have created two sides of residents in the Central Northside neighborhood — those who want an expanded Mexican War Streets historic district and those who don't, fearing that historic standards will drive their future home repairs beyond their means to stay in the neighborhood.
Not that there’s a problem with two sides of a discussion. But this is a discussion begging for some kind of compromise. Compromise is why we have rent-control when the market would otherwise lick its chops and let the poor be damned. Compromise is why something gets done that might not get done without it.
What many people tend to forget as soon as they reach their comfort zone is that the poor are every kind of people in the world, not just a static “element” that could be better off if they would just try. Van Gogh, whose effort spoke for itself, died poor.
Most of our great-greats came here from other countries with $4 in their pockets. OK, mine had $5 but still.
Who isn’t struggling now might be struggling next year. It might be me or you and we sure would love to stay in the homes we love. I’d like to think the neighbors would want us to stay, too.


Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.