Monday, August 11, 2008

I Wondered About This

Ever since Katrina, I've wondered what it means to take a large, poor population and eject it from a city's center. Turns out that gentrification is doing this on a large scale.
In the past three decades, Chicago has undergone changes that are routinely described as gentrification, but are in fact more complicated and more profound than the process that term suggests. A better description would be "demographic inversion." Chicago is gradually coming to resemble a traditional European city--Vienna or Paris in the nineteenth century, or, for that matter, Paris today. The poor and the newcomers are living on the outskirts. The people who live near the center--some of them black or Hispanic but most of them white--are those who can afford to do so.

Developments like this rarely occur in one city at a time, and indeed demographic inversion is taking place, albeit more slowly than in Chicago, in metropolitan areas throughout the country. The national press has paid very little attention to it. While we have been focusing on Baghdad and Kabul, our own cities have been changing right in front of us.
I've noticed the same forces in Austin. The changing skyline will soon be populated with mixed-use condos, all of which are too pricey to allow the poor to live near the city center.

Maybe this is a good thing. But with American municipalities loath to spend on public transportation infrastructure, this seems like another turn of the screw on the poor. First we dry up most of the low-skill jobs. Now we price them out of their homes while at the same time ensuring that their ability to travel to what few jobs are left is further compromised. Something's got to give pretty soon.

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