Thinking about gentrification and preserving neighborhoods

Megan McArdle discusses gentrification and whether “hip” (my term) or diverse urban neighborhoods can remain that way.

In reality, most neighborhoods (urban or suburban) change over time. This can happen quite rapidly in urban neighborhoods: new people move and businesses move in or out and places can be transformed in a decade or two. Gentrifying neighborhoods are always teetering on an edge where they recently were poorer but are now hip but soon could be more stodgy middle- to upper-class enclaves. It is probably rare that neighborhoods can stay in a perpetual state of gentrification because there are numerous forces pushing a neighborhood one way or another.

I wonder if arguments about wanting to preserve diverse urban neighborhoods are not that different from suburban NIMBY arguments. In each case, people who have moved into the neighborhood see something they like: perhaps good schools in the suburbs, a “hip” and diverse scene in the urban neighborhood. But then the goal can become to freeze that neighborhood in time, to resist outside forces, to try to keep the neighborhood in the state in which it was originally found. The mindset can be “I found this neighborhood and I don’t want anyone else to come in and change it from what I fell in love with.” In both contexts, this is difficult to do: time passes, the people in the neighborhood change, outside forces influence the neighborhood, and so on.

Perhaps one way to get around these sort of arguments is to suggest that the act of moving into a neighborhood (by a resident or a business) is an act with consequences: moving in necessarily contributes to changing the neighborhood. By living in a neighborhood and interacting with residents and others, the new member of the community helps push the neighborhood in a new direction. Whether this new direction is good or bad, moral or immoral, is another issue.

h/t Instapundit

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