22 Nov 2017

The winners and losers of skyrocketing rent

Geerte writes*

Two months ago, citizens of the Amsterdam Kinker-neighborhood called for a protest against the enormous gentrification within their area: ‘bring musical instruments like whistles and honks, so we can make as much noise as those tourists always do.’’ Upon hearing such stories, Kay Hymowitz’ claim that ‘“gentrification” has become an increasingly dirty word' is not very surprising. Hasn’t the on-going growth of coffee bean stores and cocktail bars taken over neighborhoods like the Kinkerbuurt, transforming them from a working-class neighborhood into an overpriced hipster paradise?

Yes. However, like most urban processes the story of gentrification is not merely one-sided. It is a sign of economic growth, with several positive impacts on the urban environment. Citizens of newly improved neighborhoods tend to be economically better off than before gentrification, ‘live with less violence, and have better educational options for their children.’ Logically, these impacts benefit some, and leave others behind. As a result, gentrification is also severely impacting Amsterdam’s demographic environment, with many families finding themselves unable to afford the ever-rising rent. A recent research shows that of the families in Amsterdam who welcomed their first child in 2012, 40% had left the city by 2017.

Following these developments, Hymowitz presents her main argument: at least ‘gentrification has winners and losers. Urban decline makes losers out of everyone.’ Yet this statement seems a bit too easy. Naturally, if gentrification versus urban decline really is a binary choice, no one will try to make a strong case for the second option. But there is a lot of middle ground to be discovered. Thankfully, the world has provided the Amsterdam government and its citizens with several examples of protests, policies, or patron saints to slow down gentrification.

New York, US: Citizen Protests

Referring to New York’s government as ‘engines of gentrification,’ the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN) organised a march in September this year, targeting ‘gentrification, racism, and police violence.’ Many people attended, yet both participants and bystanders wondered whether a protest was the most effective way to fight for their cause. For as a 23 year old man observed: ‘money talks, they can protest all they want.’‘‘

Berlin, Germany: Policy Protection

Another way of slowing down gentrification is an implementation of certain government policies. The Berlin government has designed ‘mileuschutz laws,’ that should prevent landlords from imposing ‘expensive renovations that would effectively price out the current tenants.’ Over 30 areas in Berlin are now protected by the mileuschutz law, but it didn’t take landlords long to find a way to creep through its judicial holes. In response, Ms. Werner, a tenant association member, ups the stakes: ‘we think the transition from rental to condos should be forbidden totally.”’

Mexico City, Mexico: Patron Saint

As New York and Berlin show, the anti-gentrification movement is in desperate need of stronger material. Hence, In Mexico City, in an area ‘bounded by muffler shops on one end and a craft beer garden/gourmet food court on the other’ stands a small altar. Inside resides Santa Mari La Juaricua, a ‘patron saint of resisting gentrification.’ Created by artists Sandra Valenzuela and Jorge Baca, Santa Mari La Juaricua has her own prayer:

‘Blessed mother, saint, and daughter
Save me from eviction, from rising rents and property tax
Save me from greedy landlords and corrupt developers
Save me from gentrification’


No one can be sure of the exact effects of Santa Mari La Juaricua’s prayer on gentrification, but several people strongly believe in her powers: ‘some even swear that the saint has performed miracles.’

Which anti-gentrification attempt would fit the Kinkerbuurt best? It's up to you, Amsterdam.

Bottom line: Kay Hymowitz argues that, unlike its alternative of urban decline, gentrification at least produces losers and winners. It often positively impacts many aspects of the urban environment (education options, safety, economic vitality), yet simultaneously leaves many citizens behind. In New York, Berlin, and Mexico City, people are trying to limit its speed in several ways. Perhaps they can inspire Amsterdam’s frustrated citizens.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

5 comments:

  1. Another perspective: In contrast to gentrification that pushes inhabitants away due to price hikes, ghettoisation represents an area where most of their inhabitants would not live in if they were able to choose. Overall, we see a constant pattern of prosperity and displacement that appears to be a phenomenon not limited to the 21st century. Through gentrification, we develop a new community of the lower-middle class that somewhat counters ghettoisation and can enrich other people’s lives as well, which appears to have been Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg in Berlin or Mexico city at some point in time. It can also be seen as a generational response, such that older inhabitants do not “recognise” the city they’ve lived in due to gentrification usually existing of mainstreaming and making the current generation’s lifestyles more accessible.

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    1. Thanks for your feedback! (and definitely more constructive than the 'you smell like fish bro' of last class ;) ) Anyway, I agree with your first part, the second I don't entirely understand. Or do you mean that the lower-middle class creates a community because they are pushed away? And generational response is probably definitely true, but I'd say its causes aren't limited to gentrification alone, right? Some cool insights though, so thank you!

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  2. Hi Geerte, a very well written post. You write: "Logically, these impacts benefit some, and leave others behind." I agree with the general statement that gentrification produces some winners and some losers, however, locally there are far more losers. Rich companies buy entire building complexes for renovation and sell or rent them out. The local people usually cannot afford the higher rents and are forced to move away. Usually they are replaced by foreigners instead of other local people. Of course, there might be a number of people moving in from other areas of the city in question but most people, are in fact, foreigners. People from other cities, even countries, and in some cases rich foreigners who are looking for a summer residence in another big European city. In that case, the apartment then stays empty for the majority of the year because practicality forbids renting out the newly purchased apartment. So the bottom line here would be that yes, gentrification does have winners and losers but more losers than winners by far.

    Best, Julia

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    1. Hi Julia, thanks for your reply! Let's try to find a solution then :)

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    2. @Julia -- you need to check your statements ("most people are foreigners") as 4x as many Dutch are coming than foreigners...

      https://www.ois.amsterdam.nl/pdf/2016%20jaarboek%20amsterdam%20in%20cijfers.pdf

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