Can We Control Gentrification ?
First come the techies, then the cranes. As the kamikaze pilots of urban renewal begin, developers will follow, rents will rise, the creators will move on, and the pre-existing community will be kicked out with them.
Such is the accepted narrative of gentrification, a term first coined more than 50 years ago by the German-born British sociologist Ruth Glass to describe changes she observed in north London — but it is a phenomenon that has been at the heart of how cities evolve for centuries.
Gentrification is a slippery and divisive word, vilified by many for the displacement of the poor, influx of speculative investors, the destruction of neighborhood authenticity; praised by others for the improvement in school standards and public safety, the fall in crime rates, and the arrival of better infrastructure.
Many people, including myself, often wonder if there is a way to find a happy medium between the two oppositions.
Recently, The New York Times reported that Berlin is trying to regulate what has elsewhere proved to be unstoppable: gentrification. Over the past decade, people have poured into Berlin, attracted by its affordability, cultural wealth and free-spirit. This is a similar phenomenon in San Francisco, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, and many more cities across the United States.
Berlin underwent very similar housing spikes as America as well. Recent figures released by the German Property Federate show that prices on residential real estate in Berlin grew by 94% from 2010 to 2017, while rents increased by only 40 %. This gap seems to be widening, but Berlin’s grass-roots resistance and government intervention are making a difference. A new regulation will actually create an undue burden on property owners and give everyone the opportunity to live there. One of the most effective are the milieuschutz laws, which translates to “social environmental protection.” It is meant to prevent landlords from imposing expensive renovations that would effectively price out current tenants. Today, there are more than 30 milieuschutz zones in Berlin, and more on the way. When grass-roots organizations and the government work together to tackle gentrification, good can be done.
This research changed my perspective on what can be done to tackle the negative outcomes of gentrification. It is not tangible or just to keep people from moving in, but it is important to work together to create housing that doesn’t displace current residents and culture. If we can do that, maybe in some time gentrification won’t carry such a divisive connotation.