I realized the area I’d moved into was further along in gentrification than my old neighborhood when I went out to get some food and quickly came across a smart-looking cafe with only two items on its menu: soup and grilled cheese. This is probably a good thing; personally (the soup/grilled cheese combo was quite tasty) but also ethically. As a white guy who doesn’t have a huge income but has quite a lot of, for want of a better term, social capital, gentrification is my essence, quite independent of my will in the matter; so, better to live somewhere that’s already pretty much gentrified, rather than assist in kicking off the process in some new area.
I say “ethically” rather than “politically,” because centering your analysis around anti-gentrification leads to moralism and bad politics. I was reminded indirectly of this today reading an article in the SFBG about Tesco opening stores in poor areas of San Francisco that don’t accept payment from the WIC program. This is a legitimate thing to complain about, but the article not only makes a bizarre attempt to defend WIC as different from “welfare,” it doesn’t mention the larger scandal that the US, disgustingly, provides food aid to the poor in the form of dehumanizing vouchers, rather than money. See also the title of this post, “Are Bike Lanes Expressways to Gentrification” which is a good entry in the annals of “headlines to which the answer is obviously ‘no.'” The post itself is good, though, seeing bike lanes as a symptom, rather than a cause, of the fact that race and class effect municipal spending priorities and planning decisions. Indeed, the post gets rather closer to the heart of the issue, which is that gentrification is itself a symptom, pointing out that “there must be serious consideration of alternative housing models that reduce the displacement of low-income communities” and suggesting “commons-based housing models such as limited equity cooperative housing and community land trusts.”
The problem with anti-gentrification campaigns is that if they limit themselves to campaigning against gentrification, they are necessarily defensive. Such defensive campaigns are often necessary, of course, and many on-the-ground anti-gentrification campaigns do have broader visions of alternative housing models, but the limitations of just opposing gentrification often seems to get forgotten in internet discussions. Anti-gentrification supports the status quo, which is no doubt better than being kicked out of your house, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the status quo is fucking terrible. Anti-gentrification campaigns are campaigns for the right of poor people to pay slumlords exorbitant rents to live in neighborhoods with no resources. What we should be campaigning for is for public provision of cheap, good quality housing. Then the hipsters can do what they like.
I was also recently reminded of an example of the sort of housing project we need more of, the ASH coop in Cambridge