Monday, September 09, 2013

Cities and Diversity

The story of how newly emerging populations in cities can be either a narrative about white professionals pushing out other populations (like in San Francisco or New York) or about how a city can attract middle-class diversity to those "up and coming" areas is the subject of a piece in the new Cleveland online magazine Belt. The article identifies the most rapidly gentrifying areas in Cleveland as those that are also building the most diverse set of residents. I wonder if this is because of the number of already existing amenities in those (previously) working class areas, such as bus lines and social service centers, or because the organizers are intentionally adding multiple types of amenities to attract and keep a vibrant multi-cultural population? I would also wonder how (or even if) multi-generational populations can exist in gentrifying areas: it's one thing to encourage new immigrant populations (Millennials probably consider the chance to live among Asians and Africans somewhat cool) but if those areas cannot maintain the balance of needs to keep grandparents and large families there too are they really succeeding? In any case, this piece about Cleveland's West Side (where I grew up) and its new demographics could be an example of a city doing some revitalization right, or it might simply be a case of cheap housing widely available.
Of course the narrative of white infill is the narrative of gentrification, whereby those with means—whites, largely–move into areas inhabited by those without means, whites and non-whites alike. The result is the suburbanization of the city and displacement of existing residents, particularly for coastal, global cities experiencing massive influxes of capital. In the London Review of Books, Rebecca Solnit laments the digerati boomtown that has left San Francisco unaffordable and without its historic cultural edge. Over at Gawker, Chris Tacy is less diplomatic: “Douchebags Like You Are Ruining San Francisco.” Meanwhile, in the Rust Belt, urban infill is playing out differently. It is not a dichotomous narrative. For instance, demographic patterns in Cleveland are unfolding so that “the gentrifying” areas are becoming at once younger, less white, and more minority. That is, Cleveland’s gentrification is not characterized by whites returning to the city. Rather, it is a process of middle class reinvestment into areas that are diversifying.

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