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The End of Gentrification as we Know It

 [Note: About a year ago, I wrote about the transformation of my city here. This post is a quasi-sequel to that one.]

A Case of Vandalism

The anarchists have vandalized the motorcycle café.

Located at the corner of two “up and coming” streets in Hamilton, Ontario, where I live, the recently-opened motorcycle café has been celebrated in the local media as another harbinger of the “revitalization” of our city. Where once there were dive bars and boarded up storefronts and an ever-present but ill-defined atmosphere of “danger,” or so the story goes, now there are young people from the wealthier city of Toronto coming to launch boutique stores and selling expensive handmade limited-run editions of things like coffee, cupcakes, motorcycle jackets, tee-shirts, and bandanas. These young migrants are feted by the press as a sort of avant garde transforming ours and many other cities across North America with entrepreneurial projects that are quasi-miraculous and quasi-colonialist. It all recalls the French revolutionary’s comment about the English: this is apparently a generation of shopkeepers. Albeit one with a countercultural backlash.

I’m not sure that I have a strong opinion about shops offering $5 donuts or $40 socks or $300 shoes, beyond thinking that I can’t afford them. I have been basically working class my entire life and, almost by definition, these luxury boutiques aren’t meant for working class people. I retain the sensibilities of my upbringing and it still feels like a wasteful extravagance to eat out at a restaurant, much less one offering $70 steaks or $20 “champagne pancakes”. The notion of a high-end “vintage motorcycle lifestyle” store and espresso bar is all too bewildering to be offended. There have long been people with a great deal of expendable cash and a desire to construct their identity via conspicuous consumption. We used to call them “yuppies” but “hipsters” seem to be basically the same thing – like yuppies who found a time machine back to the late nineteenth century. Certainly plenty of other groups have been terminally ridiculous. It hardly seems worthy of vandalism, which is just as bewildering a response.

The defacement, which consists of posters wheat-pasted to the storefront and all lampposts in the vicinity, doesn’t really clarify much. The posters read “Because the new ‘motorcycle café’ is more of a Starbucks half-fat soy Frappucino than Che’s Motorcycle Diaries.” Because what? This reads more like an aesthetic complaint than a political one, aside from the trite reference to Che Guevara, that “Rudolph Valentino of Red Fascism” (in Hakim Bey’s memorable phrase). If the style of the store is simply not to one’s liking, why vandalize it? But, as is so often the case, there are larger wars being waged here. The poster came out of a local anarchist collective’s series of artworks attacking development and gentrification in the city. Not everyone feels welcome in the “new Hamilton”.

The cafe responded with their own cheeky sign reading “You’re going to hate this new store”.

Define Gentrification…

Gentrification is a frustrating topic to discuss. As a friend pointed out recently, we went very quickly in Hamilton from local development boosters claiming “it’s absurd to think that Hamilton is gentrifying” to them claiming “Hamilton is gentrifying and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Nevertheless, when they say that gentrification is inevitable, it’s useful to ask them how they define “gentrification”. Typically, they mean something like decaying buildings being replaced with cupcake boutiques and will then ask “what do you have against cupcakes?” And the standard definition holds that gentrification means remaking an urban area in line with bourgeois tastes by bringing in wealthier residents and pricing out the less affluent – what used to be called “urban renewal”.

However, I have suggested a simpler definition of gentrification as the process of producing wealth by displacing the poor in a particular area. This puts it in line with a more general trend over the last few decades of redistributing wealth and resources upwards in the post-industrialized world via political policies – what has been called “neoliberalism”. We can interpret this however we want, but it seems to be an unmistakable historical trend that wealth has been increasingly concentrated among a smaller subset of the world population over the last three or four decades and that governmental policy has encouraged, rather than slowed, this concentration. Perhaps it’s best to think of “neoliberalism” as the ideological justification of that redistribution of wealth and resources.  But let’s back up a bit…

A Brief History of Hamilton

First, you need to understand a bit more about the history of Hamilton, Ontario. Located roughly 70 kilometers from Toronto (a one-hour drive, more or less), the city has long been defined by its blue-collar industries. While it’s most often called “Steeltown” and once produced the majority of the steel in Canada, everything from bricks to mustard has been produced in this city, which is one of the most industrious in the country. Our local myths are very much tied to visions of raw materials being shaped into goods, a city “wrought from the wilderness”, by men wrought themselves from something like steel.

Here’s a great short film from the 40s, during Hamilton’s heyday:

 

By the 70s, Hamilton also had a fairly lousy reputation across the country as a “lunch-bucket town” and “the armpit of Ontario” due to high levels of industrial pollution and a belief that the city was a cultural wasteland. As an American, none of this meant very much to me when I moved here at age 30; I found it more significant that some of the greatest bands Canada ever produced came from this place. When Toronto friends made fun of Hamilton, I asked how bands as great as Teenage Head or Simply Saucer came from a “cultural wasteland”. But the reputation persists, possibly because much of the country’s media is produced in Toronto. To explain this to my American friends, you probably have a mental image of New Jersey, even if you’ve never been there, and not necessarily a good one. It’s a bit like that. As a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen wrote in 1971: “Poor, poor Hamilton… It must be galling to be ugly and to feel duty-bound to pretend that you’re beautiful.” Ugh.

As you might have surmised, a great deal of Hamilton’s bad reputation reflects more on the unconscious classism of Canadians than anything else. The city has its share of crime and the social pathologies of working poverty, but nothing remotely like what I saw in Baltimore, DC, New Orleans, or any of the large cities in the US. Mostly, Hamilton’s bad reputation is a weird cultural quirk of very status-obsessed people in Southern Ontario. To me, as an outsider moving here, the Toronto/Hamilton resentments felt as meaningful as Springfield versus Shelbyville. Mostly, I found the city to be welcoming and unpretentious. If outsiders avoided Hamilton, I was alright with that.

“The Brooklyn of Canada”

What changed everything was a hyper-inflated housing bubble in Toronto, which suddenly made life in the armpit seem more appealing. Torontonians started moving here in greater numbers, the media took another look at the city, and, most importantly, local politicians, landlords, and developers got sky high hopes for en masse migration. Once that happened, gentrification went from being a myth to an inevitability. And Toronto migrants were suddenly fans of the “grit” and “authenticity” of Hamilton. In fact, the motorcycle café sells slightly overpriced Steeltown tee-shirts to show their love. Other popular clothing items include the “True Hamiltonian” line and the “Hamilton is Home” shirt. The city, meanwhile, has pumped millions of dollars into “attracting” outsiders to move here through commercials, music festivals, real estate tours, and the like. The emphasis, it must be noted, is not on empowering the people that already lived here with the tools to better their community. Small business loans remain very hard to get for “true” Hamiltonians.

On a more concrete level, what this renaissance has meant for me and my friends is increasing difficulty finding and keeping affordable living spaces. The higher-paying jobs remain in Toronto and are still held by the migrants who live here and commute there. But local landlords have caught the scent of money in the water and come up with increasingly aggressive, borderline illegal ways of evicting longtime tenants in order to push up rents. (By an Ontario law, rent increases were capped at 1.8% per year, unless tenants can be removed and “renovations” done.) Perhaps one-half of my friends are currently caught in disputes with their landlords and, were they not self-educated about their rights, would have been evicted already. Looking for an affordable room this summer was something of an ordeal, and has required more patience with my new landlord than I might like. He too has high hopes of moving “some nice couple from Toronto” into the property next to ours. Like many other recent speculation-driven booms, however, the local housing bubble seems to be a disaster in progress.

So, beneath the surface, there are simmering resentments in “the ambitious city” and, to be fair, they go both ways. Plenty of newcomers still think of long-time residents as a benighted lower-class culture and are comfortable being insufferable snobs in public places. By the same token, anger towards motorcycle cafés and gourmet restaurants seems very misplaced. These places are the beneficiaries of decisions made at the political level and will, most likely, close after they cease to be useful, or the bubble bursts, whichever comes first. We need to distinguish between our minor pet peeves towards the hipsters who move in and give working poor residents the stink eye, versus our legitimate anger towards the moneyed interests that are looking to capitalize off the economic desperation of this place – and desperation is becoming our major industry after the decline of the steel industry. The two groups are intertwined, but not identical. They can be wrenched apart.

A few observations in lieu of conclusions

Allow me to make some general observations about gentrification. I spent the first few months of 2016 driving around the eastern United States, spending time in cities like Memphis, Charleston, Baltimore, New York, New Orleans, and Washington, DC. What I found most striking was that, in spite of the very different historical characteristics of these cities, gentrification always looked about the same. There must be a textbook on how to gentrify: establish an “arts district”, label your city a “music destination”, invite developers for walking tours, offer matching funds for selected small businesses, put in bike lanes, et cetera. There are certainly good things here, but the end goal always seems to be to get rid of the working poor and get their real estate. However, the uniformity of gentrification is more a sign of lack of imagination on the part of city governments than any sort of inevitability.

In other words, gentrification is, like so many other “inevitable” trends, the result of specific policy decisions. The “decaying” strip of Hamilton that is now being “revitalized” was, in fact, left to rot for years by absentee landlords holding out for inflated rents by sitting on properties and this, in turn, was made possible due to local laws. The entrepreneurs who have since moved in were favored by policies such as matching funds, which are still unavailable to many small business owners. So, yes, a reservation-only restaurant offering $70 steaks in an impoverished part of the city is gross, but it’s only there because it serves the political interest in bringing in a higher tax bracket of residents.

Similarly, the problems of poverty can be exacerbated or addressed in very different ways depending on policy. While Hamilton has implemented a cruel and futile program in which the police ticket and fine panhandlers, the city has also taken steps towards a “housing first” strategy that is innovative in the nation. This should be celebrated. Toronto has recently implemented a tax on foreign speculators who invest in real estate properties that they don’t inhabit, which will make a difference. Requiring developers to build one affordable housing unit for every four luxury condos would make a huge difference. Educating renters about their rights would make a critical difference. Simply addressing the problems caused by gentrification in a serious way would demonstrate political leadership, which is often sadly lacking.

It would be an exaggeration to call gentrification, as it has generally been implemented, “class war”, but perhaps not by much. When advocates of “revitalization” talk about “cleaning up” urban areas by driving out the “criminal element”, as they invariably do, what they really mean is displacing a population in order to get their real estate. And not necessarily displacing them to anywhere better – when rents increase, homelessness also increases. When homelessness increases, cities all-too-often bus their populations elsewhere. In fact, many of Hamilton’s ever-present homeless first arrived when Toronto bused them here. In an interesting turn of events, a friend recently screen-printed a parody of the “Hamilton is Home” tee-shirts reading “Hamilton is Homeless” and sold them out immediately. Within days, homeless people were coming into our basement art and music space to request their own shirt.


So, I think that far too often gentrification is talked about as something to be “for” or “against”. But the fact that it is so often engineered via specific policies and laws means that it can be made to take very different shapes depending on what a community demands from their political and business leaders, even including those little motorcycle cafes. Instead of talking about how to fight gentrification, we might start asking “what sort of gentrification do you want?”


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Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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147 thoughts on “The End of Gentrification as we Know It

  1. When your above poor and below rich, and city living gets too expensive, you commute. That’s why those guys are moving to Hamilton. City living they can afford. If it was easy to fix, it’d been done already.

    Interesting enough, I wonder about Bmore. My only real experience with rich and poor cities, gentrification, et al, is Baltimore. People I know live in an area where town homes can go for 500-900K (not my peeps-their place is atypical) One of the same block went for 550K and it was beautiful. 3-4 blocks over, you can buy a similar house for 30-50k. It’s, frankly, a shit hole that would require hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix up. Drive along North avenue and see all the boarded up buildings and the remains of buildings that looked fire bombed.

    If you go back decades, even more, the same areas that were “problems” then are now. Not much gentrification there, apparently, so the “nicer” area just increase in price, forcing the middle class to exit.

    But Bmore has two nice new stadiums. Woohoo. *rolls eyes*

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    • I saw that everywhere I went. The “gentrifying” area was one little section and the surrounding areas could be any range of prices. I remember the “gentrified” part of one American city being pointed out to me and best I could tell it was one block with a sushi restaurant on it!

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      • There once was a 50ish couple that was hired into a new job in the area. Rather than buy a suburban house, they decided to live in the city in a newly gentrifying area.

        He was shot in front of his wife during a robber one block from his house. Seems they strayed into the wrong area.

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    • But Bmore has two nice new stadiums. Woohoo. *rolls eyes*

      Camden Yards opened twenty-five years ago, and M & T Bank Stadium nineteen years ago. By “new stadium” standards these are antiques. It is to the credit of the two team owners that they haven’t been complaining and threatening to move.

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      • I feel like Camden, especially, has a shot at becoming one of the few “classic” stadiums that neither will be nor needs to be torn down. It obviously would never have the history of Wrigley/Fenway, but it feels like it could join that category.

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  2. This is sort of the nub of the problem, no?

    The emphasis, it must be noted, is not on empowering the people that already lived here with the tools to better their community. Small business loans remain very hard to get for “true” Hamiltonians.

    Which is counter-intuitive because a biker cafe isn’t something out of reach of true Hamiltonians, in theory; nor are cupcakes stupendously difficult to bake, nor $70 steaks to grill. What seems to be missing is not even the idea of cupcakes, but a certain aesthetic or cultural milieu. Could Hamiltonians even make a cupcake shop that anyone would frequent; and not just anyone, but someone who could make it profitable?

    I don’t have any answers; I’m wondering though if you’re looking at Georgism taxation scheme? I myself have grave misgivings about Georgism… but it does remove a certain amount of landlord squatting that can contribute to a) gentrification and b) blight. Assuming of course that we want c) organic land use.

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    • It seems to be hard to disentangle. How much of the issue is that, basically, marketing an artisanal cupcake shop depends strongly on class-based cultural signals, how much is it that the business model is more likely to occur/appeal to people of a given class, and how much is that being of the right class just makes it easier to get a loan no matter what the business is?

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      • If city leadership can only see the “value” in artisanal cupcake shops, but not in something a that is a better local fit, then they are only going to support artisan shops.

        Which tells me city leadership is A) unimaginative, & B) not going into those areas and talking to the current residents.

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        • I couldn’t tell if the difficulty in getting loans for local Hamiltonians was due to some sort of municipal policy or just who the banks want to loan money to. Then again, maybe it’s less important than all that.

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          • It’s really both. Having this postal code makes a huge difference. Heck, I’d be paying about half what I am on my car insurance if I moved one town over. This is why I get a little irked when people from outside talk about how Hamiltonians never “did anything” with these areas. They did. It was just a lot harder.

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          • If you have an area where banks don’t want to loan money to people in that area, and you are a maker of government policy, you can either encourage outside development and accept the displacement, or offer up grants &/or loan guarantees to locals to boost their own development, while accepting some failure, or the reality that what the locals want to do might not align with your vision of redevelopment.

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    • Well a big part of it is, like you suggest,just getting the funds to start something. Everybody has some dream business it seems, but the people who come here and start a business can either get a loan, have a trust fund, or have a successful businesses elsewhere and can funnel profits into something here. Those things seem to be less accessible for locals.

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      • Yes and no… your example below about matching funds is, of course, very relevant… matching funds make your business plan much easier to hit equilibrium; but is a biker cafe for Hamiltonians anything without Torontinos(?) Torontulas(?).

        This is the catch-22 of gentrification… how do you spread Toronto money to Hamilton rather than Toronto money to Toronto people in Hamilton (or, more likely, still in Toronto)?

        That’s the proverbial structural problem, not, I think, a micro-policy problem. I think you are right that we’re so besotted with Neoliberal economic assumptions, that we can’t imagine either neo-neo solutions or maybe paleo solutions.

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        • Exactly. If the people who are already there could buy enough good stuff, however you define “good stuff,” it wouldn’t be the place it is. Lending money to a true Hamiltonian to make stuff other true Hamiltonians can’t afford to buy — unless they prefer fancy cupcakes to rent or healthcare — isn’t a business model that works. I’m not sure lending money to true Hamiltonians to make stuff true Hamiltonians already can afford to buy moves the ball closer to the goal either.

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          • To be honest, I’m a bit bewildered as to how long the new model is supposed to last. It seems like it’s based on tourists coming to one very narrow part of town to buy gourmet chocolates and donuts. And, hey, Oprah visited! But it seems iffy as to how sustainable it’s going to be in say five years.

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  3. To give an example, I know a family that sunk a lot of their money and time into opening a cafe in a tough area and just couldn’t make it economically feasible. I also know a very successful restaurateur from a wealthier city who considered the same block mainly because he was contacted and offered matching funds by the city, something my friends never got offered.

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  4. There was a time in United States (and possibly Canadian history) when largely white (including white-ethnic) people fled the cities for the suburbs. Many of these people grew up poor. My maternal grandfather grew up poor in NYC (his parents never learned English and he was the only one of four brothers to receive some university education) and bought a modest Cape Cod on Long Island in the late 1950s. That house was occupied by my grandparents until my grandmother died in 2000. They never really did extensive renovations but they kept it clean. Nor did they really buy new furniture.

    A small house in the suburbs must have seemed like a minor miracle to my grandfather.

    The later generation moved up in the chain and bought bigger houses and/or were not content with just living in the same house. When I was born, my parents rented a small house. When I was three, they bought a bigger one, and when I was eleven, a bigger one than that. We had this house until they moved to California in 2011.

    Generation X and the Millennials seem to have significant parts of their cohort that are anti-suburban. We grew up in the suburbs and malls and found them to be aesthetically displeasing and culturally boring. We heard cool stories about downtown art scenes and converted lofts and wanted in. Now that I am an age where many of my cohort have children, it is interesting to see who moves to the suburbs and who does not.

    During the time of my grandparents and parents, cities were relatively to very affordable places for people on the margins of American (and possibly Canadian life). People who could not fit in suburbs or corporate conformity for one or many reasons. Marchmaine hints above that many of these people would never fit into any kind of white-collar organization for a variety of reasons.

    But I think gentrification has been going on a lot longer than people realize. NYC started reviving way back in the late 1970s/early 1980s because of the downtown arts scene and some boomers who did not like the suburbs. I used to work for a couple that lived in a classic UWS apartment. Their view is that the only reason the co-op board approved them in the late 1970s or early 1980s was because of how dire the situation was in NYC and there is no way that they would get approved now. Likewise, this summer I met an older couple that bought their West Village townhouse in the 1970s and believed that they were just in the right place at the right time. Williamsburg in Brooklyn started gentrification in the mid to late 1990s but Brownstone Brooklyn (Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Boreum Hill, Brooklyn Heights) were gentrifying long before that. The beloved Book Court opened in the early 1980s. Some high end cafes opened in the 1980s as well.

    But what has happened over the past few years or decades does seem to be hyper-gentrification. When I lived in Carrol Gardens in the mid 2000s, it was already pretty gentrified. I’ve been back a few years since leaving and it is much more so. The complaints are now from the original and second waves of gentrifiers. People who complain that J.Crew bought the space where a local grocery was. Or that a Barneys opened up on Atlantic Avenue. This was at a time when there were plenty of expensive boutiques on Smith Street anyway.

    I don’t think gentrification is stopable absent some really immoral and totalitarian tactics unfortunately. If young people want to live in cities, they want to live in cities and nothing is going to stop them. You aren’t going to get a kid to not take a job at Google or Facebook or whereever and stay in Kansas City.

    Another issue is how many of these anarchists are middle-class kids themselves. There is a popular anti-gentrification blog called Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York which chronicles every old-time business turned into a sleek corporate something. The problem as people noted is that Jeremiah was a gentrifier himself. He wanted the urban grit and is now complaining that later generations want it to move away. There is also the issue that actual working class people might like having a Cost Co in Spanish Harlem:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2017/08/vanishing_new_york_by_jeremiah_moss_reviewed.html

    Such are the interesting paradoxes that characterize New York City’s past two decades of growth and the general U.S. urban revival underway right now. But Vanishing New York is a polemic, not an epiphany. The closest Moss comes to a personal revelation may be during a nightmarish visit to an East Harlem Costco—one of the chain stores he has decried as representative of homogenous, white suburban life—only to find that the flood of patrons steering oversized shopping carts is mostly Latino. In another such instance, Moss extolls the aura of the city’s older masonry buildings but recognizes that historic preservation groups have little tolerance for the streetwalkers, vendors, and heavy industry that he defends. And this, ultimately, gets to the unanswered questions at the heart of the book. What does it mean to preserve a city? What is being saved, and for whom? Some of Moss’ most painful moments are not the demolition of his favorite dives, but their eerie re-animation as moneyed ghosts of their old selves. One of his most derided targets is the greatest New York preservation victory of this century: the High Line. Moss’ 2012 op-ed in the Times was one of the first forceful critiques of the space and its alchemical effect on the neighborhood.

    Sometimes I wonder if Moss loves the local, the exotic, and the irreverent or just the old. He can be nostalgic for the comfort food of a bygone chain restaurant or offended by a kid mooning a Catholic street parade. In chronicling the sudden impact of astounding sums of money on the commerce and social fabric of a city, Moss has done a service to history. As an analysis, the book suffers from its author’s stubbornness.

    There was an old grocery store on Smith Street called Met Foods. A few years ago this closed down and the rumors were that it was going to be replaced by a shopping mall. My upper-middle class friends decried this because Met Foods was a cheap supermarket where the poorer residents of Carrol Gardens could shop for food (Carrol Gardens is filled with expensive brownstones and a huge public housing complex on Hoyt Street). What my friends did not mention is that the Met Foods on Smith Street was a public-health hazard. You could always find mice and expired goods and uninspired vegetables. So were my friends admitting that affordable food for the poor needs to be bad? Even if inadvertently.

    So there is a certain kind of middle-class person who decides that what they really like is “girt” (TM) and I can’t help but wonder how many in the Anarchist Club are part of this group and all Epartier Le Bourgeois! There is also the kind of middle-class kid who kind of likes places that pose as a gritty but really aren’t.

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    • I always wondered a bit about what young single, hereonormative people did during the hey day of urban blight in the United States. The ones that weren’t really what you would call Bohemian. Did they go straight into the suburbs or venture into the cities or a little anyway. Its not like there really was much of an urban scene unless you had some very specific tastes. What were living patterns like among single people during the period between 1970 and 1990?

      Dominic Sandbrook points out something similar in his books on 1970s Britain. Suburbinzation in Britain really took off during the 1970s and they were popular with people who grew up in the old housing stock for working class people. A lot of Bohemian middle class people brought up these properties and started renovating them in the same way brown stones in Brooklyn were renovated.

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    • I got into a debate on what people actually liked with two old school Marxists yesterday. Arguing from the Frankfurt School perspective, they believed that people in Spanish Harlem only would want a Cost Co because of the homogenizing influences of television and other mass media telling people they want them. They argued that before television and especially before the current mass media explosion, there were more subcultures and less homogenization of desires. I have my doubts about this. Societies tend to enforce conformity within them regardless of television and consumer culture dates from the 1890s at least.

      In this argument I also learned that musical chairs is a way that schools enforce lessons about scarce resources, competition, and the survival of the fittest.

      There argument seems to be that people only want consumer goods and nice housing because American society and mass media tells them that they want these things but without mass media people would be much more content with what they actually have. I think this is trying to get around Marxism’s inability to provide consumer goods or a reasonably high standard of living to people.

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    • What my friends did not mention is that the Met Foods on Smith Street was a public-health hazard. You could always find mice and expired goods and uninspired vegetables. So were my friends admitting that affordable food for the poor needs to be bad?

      I’d have admitted no such thing. Don’you t think that the operator of Met Foods could have maybe cleaned up its act a little bit? Get an exterminator in, a good manager. Prices go up some, but probably not a lot.

      Then again, I’m the guy who shopped at GCM during law school (see below), and I’ve no doubt that plenty of roaches, mice, and who knows what other kinds of critters were living there back in the day. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I want to think deeply about that side of GCM now, even if the service bar at Eggslut looks clean.

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      • I suppose they could have but they did not. All I remember is seeing people complain about developers buying the property even though I am pretty sure that no one who complained shopped there.

        The last I see is that the Met Foods is going to become a TJ Maxx and this news is from December 2016.

        There is a supermarket in the neighborhood but it is bougie. There is also a Trader Joe’s on Court which is affordable but not Met Foods affordable and also a bit of a schlep for the not healthy or aged.

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      • Prices go up some, but probably not a lot.

        I always think back to the Papa John’s whine during the ACA debate about how providing its employees with health care would increase order costs by fifteen to twenty cents. Which was, of course, presented as an apocalyptic catastrophe so dire as to require the bill fail.

        It has caused me to generally incline to your view (as I understand it) that better quality can generally be achieved at no significant cost to the end product, when you’re talking about improvements disconnected from COGS.

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  5. I thought about making jokes about bringing in diversity and the immigrants will discover cures for disease and whatnot but I got to this part:

    What I found most striking was that, in spite of the very different historical characteristics of these cities, gentrification always looked about the same.

    This is something that struck me about the malls in Germany or Qatar.

    In the Food Court areas, you had Chili’s next to McDonald’s next to KFC and, sure, in Germany they were next to a Wienerwald and in Qatar they were next to a Manoushe Street… but take 20 steps out of the food court and you’re in every single mall in the world.

    Well, like the ones that the US had 10-15 years ago before Amazon killed them.

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    • As I pointed out above, the Frankfurt School would argue, and with good cause, that all malls and gentrification looks the same because of the homogenizing influence of global mass media. Every gentrifier is taking their cues from the first cases of gentrification. This means renovated housing, luxury condos, artisanal cafes, craft beer bars, and restaurants featuring farm to table cooking or organic cuisine or something similar. There will probably be some intellectual entertainment for aspirational Bobos like book stores and a concert venue. People aren’t that creative and everybody is attempting to be Portland, Brooklyn, Seattle, and San Francisco.

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  6. Excellent post.

    We need to crowdfund you for a trip through western US cities (that is, Denver and farther west) and get your perspective. The urban history is generally so much different than the eastern cities — the collapsed urban cores mostly didn’t happen, housing for the working poor was/is different, and regional population growth has usually meant gentrification happens rapidly and in broad swaths.

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  7. I see gentrification going on in Los Angeles. Have seen it going on for two decades now.

    I moved to Los Angeles to go to law school in the early 1990’s. At the time, the city’s downtown core was in some danger of collapse. White collar businesses like law firms and accountancy firms and brokerages were by and large looking to locate in other of Los Angeles’ developmental foci (Century City, Warner Center) or in outlying cities (Pasadena, Glendale, Santa Monica). From 5 to 6 at night, the streets were jammed with people fleeing their offices to return to their homes; after about 6:30 the streets were damn near empty. You used to be able to shoot a cannon down Figueroa Street at about 8:00 p.m. on a weeknight and that would have been a pretty safe thing to do.

    Just east of the commercial district, starting around Broadway, and sort of spreading around mainly to the south, was a Latino community, mostly people of Mexican descent with a large sampling of Salvadorenos mixed in. They sold shaved papaya slices and pupusas on street corners, and for the white people they’d use the pupusa grill to cook hot dogs wrapped in bacon, to the periodic distress of the County Department of Public Health. Boxing was kind of a big deal: the young men who didn’t want to run in gangs seemed to look to boxing as a ticket out of bad circumstances and frequented the gyms to spar and train until all hours of the night.

    The change started with the arts community and, I suspect, the bleeding edge of it was going on just as I was arriving to be a student. Artists would buy or rent warehouses or lofts significantly to the east of downtown, where they would live and sculpt or paint or whatever their art was. At the time, there wasn’t much by way of a gallery scene in the center of the city, so they’d exhibit their work elsewhere.

    I don’t know precisely what catalyzed this, and maybe that’s not hugely important. (Unless the artists themselves were the catalyst, more on this in a moment.) One thing I’ve observed, because I’ve been going there off and on for my two and a half decades in and around Los Angeles, is the Grand Central Market. It’s now what people would call a “food hall,” though at the start of this process it was principally a venue for grocers, butchers, and fishmongers. It was the only place in downtown to get produce and other food that had not already been prepared: other than GCM, DTLA was a food desert. As a student, I enjoyed the carnitas tacos available for cheap; as a cook, it was the only place I could get food to prepare for myself back in my apartment.

    So as a young lawyer, when I discovered that a colleague had rented an apartment above the GCM, I thought she was crazy. There was nothing to do in downtown at night. Except for Gorki’s, and she seemed like she was probably a little bit too old for that. (Gorki’s was a Russian food cafe that, of all the bizarre things, brewed its own beer.) I discovered Joe’s Bar, in the warehouse district, perhaps a little bit too late to be hip enough to actually go there. Underground “gritty hipster” place. Then there were the raves — promoters would rent entire four-story buildings, trick them out with a different motif on each floor, get in DJs, and sell what seemed like shockingly expensive drinks after a shockingly huge cover charge. J-Town was still very much a niche thing; white people went there for sushi and came home at night because karaoke night wasn’t yet a big thing. To the east of J-Town was a sea of warehouses ornamented after 5:00 p.m. by Joe’s Bar and the near certainty of being in proximity to, if not directly encountering, encountering violent crime.

    So I was just out of law school by then, making okay but not great money, and after going to a few such venues realized that I wasn’t making nearly enough to make a habit out of downtown nightlife. I wound up fleeing to the western suburbs — Westchester, Playa del Rey, Manhattan Beach — in search of a more affordable, more livable area near other single people my age. Downtown became a place I’d go for work, though I noticed that more and more of the law firms I litigated against either opened up or expanded their downtown offices.

    I was surprised when the Lakers and the Kings announced they were going to move to a to-be-built sports arena downtown, and was skeptical of the location when I saw it announced. (I was unsuprised when the Clippers then announced they’d follow suit; these were the Donald Sterling-era Clippers, perpetual losers and followers wasting whatever talent they could draft and churn.) These days, Staples Center seems like the hub of a significant DTLA development area that I still have a hard time calling “L.A. Live” with a straight face, in part because at the time it was surrounded by seedy rooms-by-the-hour hotels, auto body shops, and boxing gyms. But the building of what became Staples Center was a milepost, a signal that enough money was moving in to DTLA that it was never again going to be the ghost town at night it used to be when I was in school.

    So sometimes I ask “what happened?” And the answer may very well be the artists. Mostly white, educated, coming from monied backgrounds but not having money themselves, and producing what are ultimately best classified as luxuries. That’s not to say they were, or are, bad artists. It’s to say they were brininging in money from outside the existing community and doing something they chose to do rather than something that fit in with the dominant community. The artists found this area as a place where they could move in cheaply, because the rents were very low as the neighborhood was generally considered quite undesirable. So they came in with money from outside — their parents’ money or trust funds or who knows where the money came from. They put vacant floors of buildings to use, raised the local rent.

    They “classed up the place.”

    In so doing, they started a process of displacing the existing locals, who could no longer afford the rent. This created a feedback loop — more artists moved in, opened up their own galleries, and started to want business that they liked. And so the gentrification cycle moved forward. Now, an apartment in a downtown high rise can cost three or four thousand dollars a month. You need to be a movie star or a Silicon Beach tycoon to afford an entire floor; mere lawyers can’t afford this sort of thing anymore. DTLA feels even more crowded during the after-work hours of the week than when people are in the office towers, because everyone comes out to play. And spend what looks like an insane amount of money, coming from where I have no idea.

    Of course, there was a city-funded DTLA development agency masterminding the whole thing, working hand in hand with the existing property owners and major commercial real estate brokerages, manipulating zoning rules and jiggering around with property tax rates. Nor has it been an unvarnished success: Skid Row remains as the gathering point for the most grinding of urban poverty in America and the rows of tents and shopping carts of the homeless are the shame of the city.

    But the blue collar boxing gyms, auto shops, and small affordable apartments are gone. Are they mourned? Frankly, I don’t mourn them; they were not a part of my life. Some mourn them, I’m sure. The young men who used to box to stay off the streets are middle-aged men now, doing all manner of different things; their young adult sons maybe do MMA or culinary or look to the military as ways up and out. DTLA is newer, more glittery, and much more expensive.

    It’s different now. Better? From the city’s perspective, hell yes. There’s less crime and more property taxes. Culturally, it’s more friendly to someone like me, but that seems to have come at the expense of being somewhat bland.

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    • We’ve got a neighborhood here in town that is one of the bad neighborhoods. Occasional murders, occasional dead/overdosed heroin users, regular crimes otherwise.

      Cheap rents, though.

      My suspicion:

      If we could get… oh… 200 college educated (or even “some college”) folks from the other parts of the city to take advantage of the cheap rents in this part of town, I think that we’d pretty quickly see a lot fewer murders, a lot fewer H users, and we’d see rents start to go up PDQ.

      All it would take is for the 200 college educated kids to show up at the same time and move into more-or-less adjacent units.

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      • Find some young people with education and money and drop them in a place where they can get cheap rent. Soon enough some of them will start producing sculpture to sell to law firms and yuppies. Then others will produce cold-brewed coffee and craft beer to sell to the sculptors and then someone has to sell insurance policies to the coffee roasters, and so on and so on….

        Could it really be that simple? Or do you need the city zoning commission getting in bed with the brokers to jigger around with taxes to complete the catalyst?

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        • I think you need the city zoning commission to, somehow, get 200 in there at the same time. If you get 10 to move in there, you’ll soon get 10 moving out.

          Murders. Overdoses. Crime.

          Cheap rent can’t make up for that.

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        • That’s interesting Burt. I think.a lot of places are latecomers to this and try to replicate what happened decades ago in places like L.A. or N.Y. The artists came first and I’m guessing many got priced out. I don’t know how easy it is to find the movie Mondo New York now, but the artists in that all seem to be on the cusp of getting pushed out by the Patrick Batemans of New York in the early 80s.

          Here, once we has a few galleries, there was talk about becoming the “Brooklyn of Canada”. Now the hype is all about restaurants.

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          • Some of those artists are still around. I recognize the names. Others could have been chased out.

            The issue is a serious question of who is a city for. There have always been rich people in cities even during the really bad days. Pacific Heights in SF did not see their mansions broken up into little apartments. Same with other wealthy neighborhoods in cities. But there were more places for misfits and weirdos.

            The relationship between artist and client is odd and adversarial but also necessary. There are a lot of really rich (but secular) conservatives who collect a lot of shocking and controversial art or at least contemporary art. These are artists who are probably more politically closer to me but I can’t afford their art, Eli Broad can or the Saatchi Brothers can. The Saatchi Brothers are high Tories but buy lots of contemporary art by people like Tracey Emin or Kara Walker.

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            • I feel for artists because they get put in a weird position with all of the art boosterism that goes on by cities looking to boost their real estate. Usually, there are a handful of carpetbaggers that make good money doing these arts events and promotions and they aren’t artists. I know with musicians when they decided to promote Hamilton as a music destination (and our musical history is very rich), it usually meant asking bands to play events for free or for a hundred bucks with a “radius clause” for two months, or other such crapola. We have tee shirts here that read “ART IS THE NEW STEEL” and I keep asking what’s the new pension? Because I don’t know of any Hamilton artists who are living off selling art.

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    • I’ve been spending a lot of time in downtown LA recently because of business and it is interesting. My brother’s hotel company bought an abandoned building and turned it around but they are across the street from huge office buildings which are still abandoned and have been abandoned for decades. They are also next to world-class restaurants and apartment buildings where a one bedroom goes for 4000 dollars a month.

      There is still the Golden Gopher with its 1905 Liquor License as still being valid. Though now the Golden Gopher is owned by a lifestyle innovator or some such.

      But the general trend seems to be artists first and then people who want to be near artists and recent college grads and then really rich people.

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    • FWIW, this is my understanding of how, or at least one way, gentrification occurs. The Bohemian crowd is attracted by cheap rents, converting abandoned industrial space into art studios. Once you reach a certain critical mass, the cycle is inevitable until a few years later those warehouses are now condos with investment bankers living in them. The key with the artists is that they are willing to live with inconveniences that those investment bankers would never dream of tolerating, while themselves creating by their very presence conditions more amenable to said investment bankers, or at least to people higher up the economic ladder.

      The interesting question is when gentrification reaches a point where there are no longer places for poor people to live. What then? Who will clean the houses? I gather that some parts of Colorado have reached this point, or close to it, but I don’t know how it plays out.

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      • The answer seems to be that people are willing to do really long commutes. This is what I gather from Loomis in LGM and from some anecdotal stories from friends and people in the news.

        A friend of mine bought a house in Vallejo because it is one of the few areas where housing is still affordable. She won in her bid because she found a couple that wanted their house to be lived in by the owner (irrationality!) But this increases her commute significantly. She needs to get from her house to the Vallejo Ferry and then to her work which isn’t in downtown. Luckily she gets to e-commute a few times a week.

        There was another article about a woman who moved from Alameda to Stockton. The woman makes a good living as a government employee but the Bay Area was out of her reach. The commute requires she get up at an absurd hour and take two trains and maybe a bus too.

        So people put up with these things or they move away to cheaper areas where gentrification is unlikely but economic opportunity is not going anywhere good either.

        The problem is that a lot of cities need to build a lot of housing and do so quickly and this requires upzoning and basically telling established homeowners “fuck you.” Plus people need to get over their priors. The artists or anarchist types just need to deal that yuppies aren’t moving anytime soon and that yuppie housing will be built first.

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        • Yabbut, this is what people with middling high income jobs do. But what about the cleaning lady? Who empties the trash in San Francisco offices? Presumably someone living even further out than Vallejo. Are cleaning lady wages higher in San Francisco to accommodate the cost of the commute? And even if so, at some point the time spent commuting would be prohibitive unless the wages are yet higher. There are, after all, offices to be cleaned in Sacramento, or even Stockton.

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          • My friend is not working as a lawyer but as a white-collar employee for the government. People seem to put up and deal the best they can. People do commute from Sonoma and Solano counties into SF every single day and have done so for years. I think it is insane but there are lots of people who just deal with it or like whatever benefit they get from living in Sonoma.

            Sacramento yes. Stockton, not so much.

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          • The working class types like the cleaning lady live in How the Other Half Live situations. Enterprising land lords convert houses into apartments and really subdivides it or you have an apartment building with units stuff to the gills. That’s what happens in New York at least.

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          • Yep, it is resistance to change and disliking the other. Even if it is odd to think of as investment bankers and lawyers as the other.

            The writer Colson Whitehead noted after 9/11 that everyone wants NYC trapped in amber around the time they move there. This is true enough and probably pertains to other cities.

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            • Everyone wants everything trapped in amber when they buy it. If you bought a new car then walked out into your driveway one day to discover an SUV you would most likely not be pleased. People translate that same desire to buying residences but neighborhoods change.

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            • I saw this in Flagstaff in the early 1990s. Flagstaff (or was: I haven’t been there in years, and can’t say) a very desirable place to live, especially for an outdoorsy type. It is also virtually surrounded by national forests, and in any case its growth is severely constricted by water limitations. There was most definitely a “I just got here–now close the door!” vibe.

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          • Oh, I’m totally cool with change in terms of my income going up, but less so in terms of my rent going up. That’s what I was getting at in the post- most people accept change, but sometimes have very practical reasons to be unhappy with it. I have no real feelings about the expensive food places, since I can’t afford them anyway. I have stronger feelings about strong-arm landlords and developers. And, hey, if the young people who own places like the lifestyle boutiques are feeling the pinch too, then they’re my allies.

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          • One of the major local activist groups calls itself The Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement (BHAAD). “Artwashing” refers to artists, arts organizations, and their corporate sponsors who, unwittingly or not, rebrand and upscale—i.e., gentrify—low-income neighborhoods. (The related term“pinkwashing” refers to gay newcomers to those neighborhoods, who cause wine bars and dog groomers to come snooping for real estate.) BHAAAD was not interested in compromise with their presumptive political comrades. “[A]ll new art galleries [should] immediately leave Boyle Heights,” the group announced on Facebook.“Those buildings should be utilized by our community members the ways we best see fit which may be converting them into emergency housing, shelters, or centers for job training.” Kraus and her sponsors had little choice but to cancel their event.
            In February, the activists also forced the closing of short-lived nonprofit arts space PSSST, despite its claim to have been “by and for a diverse array of underrepresented artists.” PSSST explains that it had to close because “our staff and artists were routinely trolled online and harassed in-person. This persistent targeting, which was often highly personal in nature, was made all the more intolerable because the artists we engaged are queer, women, and/or people of color.” But in late-revolutionary Boyle Heights, these labels no longer automatically command respect. BHAAD demanded “the full decolonization of Boyle Heights,” and called local sympathizers “coconuts”—brown on the outside, white on the inside.
            Another gallery was spray painted “Fuck White Art.” (The LAPD deemed the graffiti a possible hate crime, though gallery owners refused to pursue the charge.) Weird Wave Coffee, a hipster coffee shop whose walls are adorned with work by local artists, has been targeted by protestors carried signs saying “White Wave Coffee,” and “AmeriKKKano to go.”

            Destroying the Neighborhood to Save It

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            • Those buildings should be utilized by our community members the ways we best see fit … centers for job training.

              Yeah, ok, I can agree with that somewhat, as long as the owners are OK with it. And Job training, always a good idea

              which may be converting them into emergency housing, shelters

              And perhaps you are not understanding how redevelopment works, after all, and shouldn’t be given control of such things.

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      • The interesting question is when gentrification reaches a point where there are no longer places for poor people to live. What then? Who will clean the houses? I gather that some parts of Colorado have reached this point, or close to it, but I don’t know how it plays out.

        Immigration. The Mexicans who worked at the restaurant lived 8 people in a 2-bedroom apt. This reduced their rent to exceptionally low amounts, they all brought food home, and their only other expense was weed and utilities. Everything else got sent back home.

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        • Absent immigration wouldn’t demand drive up the price of those services such that Americans could do the work without cramming 8 people into a 2 bedroom apartment to make ends meet?

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          • They’ve done studies demonstrating that very thing.

            But opposing immigration is one of those things that only the lower classes do. As a member of the upper-middle (or higher), I’d like to point out that immigration benefits me directly. I had some concrete work done and it was very cheap, some yardwork done and it was very cheap, and some shingling done and I couldn’t believe how cheap it was.

            On top of that, I get to call people who make points arguing against immigration names like “White Supremacist” even though the people who pay the costs of illegal immigration are African-Americans and the people who see the benefits are mostly of the same demographic as I am.

            It’s win-win for me to support immigration and to attack people who oppose it.

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                  • You mean willing to live 8 in a 2-bedroom apartment thus allowing their employers to undercut other businesses who refuse to hire illegal immigrants and force everybody to lower their prices (in a way not entirely unlike how Uber treats its “contractors”)?

                    YOU BET THEY HAVE THE RIGHT CULTURE!!!!

                    Seriously, you wouldn’t believe the quote I got on my shingling.

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                    • More that some people are fine with immigrants who look one way and not another. Or pray one way and not another. It’s not like working their butts off makes anti-I folks more sympathetic to them. None of this a secret so why ignore it. Well other then it makes over simplified dichotomies harder.

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                          • Erm, I *ANSWERED* your question, Greg.

                            Scroll up. Behold. It’s right there.

                            You asked “do they have the “right” culture?” and I answered “you bet your ass they do!”

                            Seriously. It’s right there.

                            And you didn’t ask a question after that one.

                            Seriously. Look.

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                          • Here’s how I put it a million years ago:

                            the benefits of illegal (and undocumented) immigration (and, for that matter, large influxes of unskilled workers in the first place) are felt by powerful people with powerful lobbies and the costs are felt by schlubs. On top of that, the ideologies line up pretty well… libertarians like immigration because they like open borders. Businesses like immigration because they like cheap labor. Democrats like immigration because they like the voting tendencies of the immigrants once they’ve registered to vote. Heck, just look at a picture of most of the folks in opposition and the arguments against them just write themselves.

                            I am someone who benefits from cheap lower-skilled labor. I benefit out the wazoo. I don’t see the costs to it. The costs are paid by other people.

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                            • Well, if you’re right about who is bearing most of the costs associated with immigration, and how they align themselves politically, it might well be that the people bearing the costs aren’t in solidarity with themselves.

                              That certainly simplifies the question for the rest of us, doesn’t it?

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                            • The “costs” on people here legally are also generally vastly overstated.

                              I suspect if we built a 100% effective border wall tomorrow, the result would be fewer crops planted/harvested, rather than crops planted/harvested at $10/hr (or whatever you would have to pay to actually get people to do a really really hard job reliably).

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                              • No doubt. No doubt.

                                But there’s also stuff like this happening.

                                From the article:

                                But for local African-Americans, the dramatic appearance of federal agents presented an unexpected opportunity. Crider suddenly raised pay at the plant. An advertisement in the weekly Forest-Blade newspaper blared “Increased Wages” at Crider, starting at $7 to $9 an hour — more than a dollar above what the company had paid many immigrant workers. The company began offering free transportation from nearby towns and free rooms in a company-owned dormitory near to the plant. For the first time in years, local officials say, Crider aggressively sought workers from the area’s state-funded employment office — a key avenue for low-skilled workers to find jobs. Of 400 candidates sent to Crider — most of them black — the plant hired about 200.

                                Maybe this isn’t representative.

                                The Swift raids improved wages but also broke up families, for example.

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                    • For the record, and I realize you aren’t saying this but you are making me feel the need to state it, all of our contractors are legal residents of this country and we generally don’t go for the lowest bidder.

                      Also some of them are Hispanics whose families have been in this country longer than yours has, and who have themselves been in this state longer than you have.

                      So you could quit saying that stuff that strongly implies otherwise any time now.

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                • Why not just let the market work as intended? If workers are displaced from their now-gentrified communities because the rents are too damn high, then let demand for low-skill services in the newly upscale neighborhoods drive those folks wages back up.

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                  • Why not just let the market work as intended?

                    This *IS* the market working as intended.

                    Lower-skilled workers who know they aren’t entitled to more than 50 square feet to themselves are pricing out the selfish lower-skilled workers who want separate bedrooms.

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                  • (recognizing this was likely sarcasm)

                    Because markets aren’t efficient, and don’t work the way they teach you in Econ 101. For example, I strongly suspect that the amount I pay for childcare is nowhere near as much higher than normal as the cost of living where I live is higher than normal. And that’s a story that has nothing to do with immigrants but everything to do with the fact the labor market is nothing like the stylized ideal.

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                  • There are a lot of corners to the culture. “Our culture” is anti-union because “we” tend to hire union workers or, when given the choice between buying a garment with the union label or buying a Chinese t-shirt, we choose the one that is 3 for $10.

                    Some of the other corners are pretty pro-union.

                    But I’m not in one of those other corners. I hate the teachers’ union, the police unions, and you wouldn’t *BELIEVE* the contempt I feel for the TSA’s union.

                    (My opinion on private sector unions are more or less “they are really good at shooting themselves in the foot, ain’t they?”)

                    But those other corners? They may have a different culture than the one that “we” have.

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                    • Well, I meant in the sense that we (i.e. America) has essentially broken private sector unions. Wikipedia has it at 6.6%. So I’m wondering if folks who see immigrants as scabs, but also are politically right-to-work inclined, square that circle, care more about the informal “we are here/the right people” union, or something else.

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                      • Well, it’s easy to break unions. Just fail to buy union.

                        Let’s face it, union products are more expensive and if they’re not higher quality (Hi, GM! Why hello there, Safeway!), then the only reason to buy them is solidarity.

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                        • I’m familiar with many reasons that private sector unions are mostly broken (another is that they were pro-democrat and had the effect of transferring money from executives to workers, so are therefore open-season for GOP politicians supported by executive-level donors)

                          But here I’m trying to see if there is anything to tease out of your comment on immigration ASSUMING there are many reasons that private unions are near-extinct.

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                          • Oh, I wasn’t understanding the question.

                            The fragility of unions is one reason they collapsed, but some of the stuff that hit unions in juuuuuuust the right spot were various things championed by “liberalism”.

                            Open borders, for example, hurts unions. I’m sure you’ve read a handful of essays (written by right-wingers) who talk about how Cesar Chavez felt about undocumented dreamers.

                            But one of the weird things is that executive-level donors seemed to switch to donating to Hillary last election and the union guys seemed to jump to Trump.

                            You noticed that, right?

                            If you see it as a class/caste thing, everything is a lot easier to explain.

                            If you are college educated, urban, work white collar, you’re probably a Clinton Supporter (perhaps you ran with Bernie for a bit first).

                            If you are high school educated, rural, work blue collar, you’re probably a Trump Supporter.

                            (Where caste gets into it is when you start adding stuff like “race” to the mix.)

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                            • So that’s a whole different conversation (that is also different from where I was trying to go, but seem not to be able to succeed at).

                              Another simpler way of saying it: if you’re white you probably voted for Trump. If you aren’t, you probably didn’t. I believe that’s even true if you are college educated, urban, and work white collar, though I’m not rapidly finding sufficiently-slice-able data.

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                              • Well, the question that has been eating my brain over the last week or so is pretty much summed up as “with whom do you feel solidarity?”

                                And, of course, what happens when the answer is “me, myself, I”, vs. “oh, I pick my own ‘tribe'” vs. “oh, I have this handful of esoteric values that happen to only coincidentally be championed by my ‘tribe’ (and I disagree with them about some things)”.

                                And, of course, the best way to play an iterated game of virtue one-upping when evil people are playing the game as well.

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        • I read an article not that long ago about parts of New York where they’re having serious problems getting people to work in restaurants because the commute to work is at least an hour and people get out of kitchens sometimes at 2 a.m. I wonder the same thing here- after art, they moved on to hyping us as a foodie destination, but kitchen staff usually makes about minimum wage. On the plus side, Guillermo del Toro is in love with Hamilton and they’re shooting a Crispin Glover movie at my friend’s bar this week, so maybe we’ll be a film-making destination next.

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      • Two answers spring to mind: either the housing restrictionists/affordability advocates manage to create some kind of urban government program that creates a certain limited supply of cheap housing and thus indirectly subsidizes the wealthy by enabling people to live in the area and work for low wages or else there’s no housing and the low wage jobs go unfilled until wages increase until someone is willing to commute in from a lower cost housing area or the higher wage supports living closer in.

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      • There’s plenty of people commuting to Denver from Castle Rock and Colorado Springs. And the communities north of the city are rapidly expanding, too. Do the poor people commute this far? Probably not, but I think Jaybird nails how that works.

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      • I’ll echo ‘s answer.

        I can only speak to the Bay Area, and it has some unique challenges (lots of water meaning no opportunity to expand horizontally; super-hot tech industry leading to particularly ludicrous wealth concentration).

        50-60 years ago, San Francisco was in a lot of ways a blue-collar Irish town that was also a west coast banking center. A lot has changed.

        In the Castro, first it became a refuge for persecuted LGBT folks simply because enough of them came that there was safety in numbers. Then that safety expanded when they made common cause with the union workers (primarily over fighting Coors). Then it became a Thing. Now the Castro is full of super-rich LGBT folks, and is no longer affordable for the young people fleeing hostile situations.

        In the Mission, the evolution was from low-income primarily-hispanic through exactly the gentrification process described above (artists to art buyers to the rich).

        In SoMa, it was flophouses, mechanics, and empty warehouses and was spurred by the Giants’ stadium and tech companies that wanted a recruiting advantage by actually being in the city. Now places like dogpatch are full of startups, coders, etc.

        Only VERY recently have we started to expand real estate vertically (with some massive projects of variable success). The challenge there is that as good liberals we want to require affordable housing, environmental soundness, etc. in our new construction. We also have a hard time pushing through NIMBYism. And, while these are good things, except perhaps the last, they certainly make development harder and less profitable. The result is that many old beat up two-bedroom apartments now sleep four people, and command sky-high rents from even the folks sleeping in the living room. It is unclear to me whether we can build enough new space vertically to relieve pressure (especially when this tech boom eventually slows/stops/diffuses nationally).

        Another problem is, as you note, that folks working good jobs simply can’t afford to live in the city. (For those who own, they can either stay and enjoy super-low property taxes or sell and pocket a huge profit, so the issue is newcomers and those who rented pre-boom.) Most school teachers have hour-long commutes, or more, and the same is true of police/fire/etc. This not only feels wrong, because you’d like people to live in the community they serve (and in many places those types of jobs put you in significant community positions), but leads to situations like last week where my kid’s school was closed, at least in part, because the fires well to our north were personally impacting a ton of school staff.

        Anyway, this stuff is complicated and there is no easy solution (unless “build more capacity” counts, which it does only if you waive away the related challenges)

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        • San Francisco is also hurt because the other cities in the Bay Area are refusing to urbanize. Oakland has fewer people than San Francisco but covers a bigger area. The other cities seem determined to remain single family home oriented. You would expect that the areas around BART stations could be urbanized at least.

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        • There’s a really interesting recent book about San Francisco gentrification and the response of artists called Streetopia that I’ve been meaning to review here. Just need to find the time to finish reading the thing.

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    • I was too old and settled when I moved to Denver (wife, two kids, R&D job out in the ‘burbs) so have only watched Denver’s gentrification at a distance. LoDo started with brewpubs in old industrial buildings, then Coors Field, then the Pepsi Center, then Elitch Gardens, then apartment towers, etc. The club scene expanded out of the edge of downtown along South Broadway, followed by apartment towers. The old Stapleton Airport land is sort of classic new urbanism housing, is adding businesses, and expanding out into the old industrial areas that were near the airport*. RiNo is repeating LoDo only faster — last time I drove by I counted six construction cranes. The Highlands neighborhoods are going upscale with restaurants and clubs in commercial buildings that can be repurposed, apartments in place of commercial buildings that can’t, and upgrades to the older single-family homes surrounding the commercial area. Apartments and townhouses are following the new light rail stuff. My suburb’s light rail line runs through a couple of semi-blighted** old industrial areas that will eventually be something much grander. A lot of the small houses surrounding those areas, particularly on the Denver-Arvada border, are currently working-class Latino neighborhoods, with owners that will probably be priced out eventually.

      * Stapleton is one of the obvious candidates in the metro area for the Amazon HQ2 proposal. Rumor has it that the metro Denver proposal identifies six or eight locations where Amazon could do a half-million square feet, depending on how close to downtown they want to be, or whether they want to go really tall or more spread out.

      ** Semi-blighted by Denver standards. Not a patch on East Coast semi-blighted.

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      • Goodness… Had to drive I-25 through Denver this afternoon. There are more construction cranes in RiNo and LoDo than there were a month ago. In one place, you have to wonder if they need to coordinate movements to keep from banging into each other. Part of me wants to say, with regard to Amazon’s HQ2, if they’re only going to bring in 5,000 people per year for ten years, it’s no big deal.

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  8. There’s two elements to me that leap out of your very fine article to me.

    Firstly there’s the activity that the Hamilton local government is taking to induce development. You say the incentives are available to outside interests but not to locals. If that is the case then it’s bullshit and I’d think the locals could probably have standing to sue and at the very least should pummel the hell out of those politicians come the next elections.

    Secondly there’s the question of gentrification qua gentrification which always rubs me poorly. Everyone, rich or poor, loves a free lunch and it always feels like gentrification opponents are merely demanding some free lunch of their own. Yeah if a neighborhood gets nicer people will move there and that tends to make it get even nicer. For poor land owners wouldn’t this mean they can sell their properties at a fine premium and then get less poor?
    Ah but of course we’re not talking about land owners at all but renters and that rental property issues have either good solutions or cheap solutions but there aren’t any good cheap solutions and people only want good cheap solutions.

    Here’s an alternative tack. Can we think of any urban development that could be held up as an example of good development? Or is it all just evil gentrification; in which case we may as well join the socialcons conservatives standing on the lawn and shouting at clouds.

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    • Sure we can. I think that was what I was getting at towards the end- there are all sorts of urban improvement works that do make life quantitatively better for the residents across the board. And the positive side of gentrification here has absolutely been things like bike lanes and investment in green spaces, transit systems, etc. Actually, I was hoping to reject the notion that gentrification is something that’s either objectively evil or good. It can be quite good, but people have to take part in the discussion.

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      • I agree with that. The problem I have with the people who use the term gentrification as an pejorative (not you necessarily) is that the literal fact of the matter is that if one does anything to a given neighborhood that makes it more pleasant to live in then people will inevitability gravitate more to that given area, prices will rise and poor people will move out. I’m not aware of anti-gentrifiers having any answer to that beyond either “seal it in amber” or “spray money at the problem and never mind the cost or you’re racist”.

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        • Yeah, this. It’s like every stakeholder in the game has a different sweet spot. Poor folks like the increased services and employment opportunities until their rents go up. Established businesses like the increased traffic until their rents go up. Property owners and developers love it just so long as the rents go up.

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          • It’s probably useful to look at why rents go up. Part of it will be land owners looking to make a profit, but what kind of percentage is that, really? How much of the increase is pure profit seeking, and how much is increased property taxes, increased regulatory compliance[1], the costs of repairs and improvements[2], etc.?

            [1] Building inspectors aren’t omnipotent, and rely heavily upon tenant complaints to know where to focus efforts. Tenants who require lower rents are less aware of what is and is not a code violation, and are also less likely to complain about a code violation. As rents go up, the demand for compliance increases as well, which leads directly to…

            [2] Higher rent tenants expect more for their money than 4 walls and a roof. Long neglected repairs and improvements designed to attract higher rent tenants are typically not paid out of petty cash, and require loans that have to be paid. Those loan payments get rolled into rents.

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            • And part of it is that the new people coming in are willing to sweeten the pot a little.

              “I understand that the lease is up at the end of the year and that you’re inclined to renew the lease for your current tenant… but what if I offered you $200 more a month?”

              If you’re a landlord… what would you do? “With whom do you feel solidarity?”

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              • It’s not so often the tenants as outside developers. I’ve got a friend who owns a bar and a building with four or five units attached and he says weekly he gets developers from Toronto coming into the bar with the proverbial suitcase full of money telling him they can buy it immediately, evict everyone quickly enough that they won’t cause any problems, and turn it into something real special. All he has to do is take the money and go on vacation. In his case, it’s his family’s bar, he’s worked there his whole life, and his solidarity is with himself basically. He just tells them to piss off, but I imagine it’s not the same for everyone.

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                  • Ah, he’s a music geek. It’s a bar where music geeks hang out and listen to music, sometimes play gigs, sometimes DJ, and we all drink a lot of beer, eat a lot of tacos, and jawbone till way too late at night. They’re basically asking him to sell his clubhouse where he and all his friends hang out and the building where he lives half the time to cash in on a feeding frenzy that might well be cashed out in a year or two. He’d have to have a serious nervous breakdown first I imagine.

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                  • Wait, that could sound like me trying to get you to doubt your friend. I’m not trying to get you to doubt your friend.

                    I’m just thinking of how much of a siren’s song a suitcase full of money would have on me… and it depends on two things:
                    1. The size of the suitcase
                    2. The crappiness of the last week

                    Some weeks, that suitcase would have to be a moving van.

                    Some weeks, that suitcase could be a carry-on.

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                    • It also has to do with long-term versus short-term goals. There are landlords who were looking to get out of the business anyway and retire to cottage country. We have plenty of landlords who hardly ever set foot in Hamilton. In his case, there’s a family history- his dad ran the bar till he died- and a whole community that he’s thinking of. Plus, he’s planning to do this until he gets old because it’s just fun for him. He’s in his 30s though. Maybe if he was in his 60s, the answer would be different.

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                          • It is, which was my point. As someones personal situation changes, their needs change, along with any desire for money. Having a bar in your thirties is cool and a lot of fun, needing money to buy a new house when a child arrives… Gentrification only matters from a “where is the money coming from” view of things.

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          • Interestingly sometimes businesses complain about too much gentrification. This happened on Smith Street in Brooklyn. The area was originally Brownstones for well to do Brooklynites. For most of the 20th century, the Brownstones were broken up into apartments and it was a working class and sometimes dangerous neighborhood. Starting in the 1970s, people began buying the Brownstones and turning them into single-family homes again.

            Now a lot of local restaurants and bars are complaining that there are too many single-family Brownstones and not enough apartments and this decreases foot traffic.

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  9. New Jersey is a cultural wasteland. All we can offer to refute that is Springsteen, Count Basie, and Whitney Houston. Also this thing called the Institute for Advanced Studies.

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  10. Great article Rufus.

    I remember watching this in Sacramento, from the time I moved to Midtown (as opposed to Downtown or East Sac.) Dive bars, cool old houses, some divided into apts some not, used vinyl and bookstores, old appliance part shops, etc. If you knew the town, you knew which bars to go to get illegal weed or heroin, which one’s Cake or the Deftones hung out at.

    And over the decades I was there, the old houses got bought up (for a pittance) and restored, dazzling knew restaurants went in, the old coffee houses sold to out of town owners, the shops closed (the Beat, one of the best vinyl shops out there lost its lease and became a Liquor Barn, thank god not a Tilted Kilt)

    And my wife and I turned around and looked at each other, and said: “they don’t want us here, for we aren’t the pretty young things anymore.”

    There is even a Motorcycle/scooter pizza/espresso bar!

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  11. I watched the movie last night and I have to admit there is something good or even great when all these mid-level cities with populations in the high five figures to low six figures started to suffer during the second half of the 20th century. These were places big enough to maintain a vibrant local culture and feel but also tied into a national culture and something bigger than themselves. We really do have a lot of hyper-homogenization these days. Yes, I know the film is produced and the reality was a bit more bland probably but I have something of a thing for cities of these sizes.

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