Bronx Boro Prez Ruben Diaz Jr Needs A Lesson On What Gentrification Means

Tompkins Square Riot, New York City, 1988, Ángel Franco/The New York Times
Tompkins Square Riot, New York City, 1988, Ángel Franco/The New York Times

Bronx BP Disses Anarchists and Gives a New View on Gentrification – That was the headline that caught my eye.

I’m really no longer shocked that our borough president simply does not understand the word gentrification and what it means.  It’s not the first time he’s tried to redefine the word.

According to the above article, CityLimits writes on how our BP doesn’t see gentrification for what it is:

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. doesn’t see it that way. 

For him, new development—even of subsidized housing open only to people with relatively high incomes—is about retaining an incumbent population of professionals in the Bronx who now live in apartments that are cheaper than they need because they lack other options in the borough.

And it’s also about slapping “anarchists” around. At least that’s how Diaz pitched it to a room of housing advocates and developers at the New York Housing Conference’s annual symposium on Wednesday.

Wait what?  So professional Bronxites who are enjoying relatively low rents don’t belong in those apartments?  Last I checked The Bronx is also replete with plenty of housing options for professionals in various neighborhoods like Riverdale, Morris Park, Parkchester, Fordham, The Grand Concourse and well pretty much anywhere in The Bronx.

Let’s get something clear.   The Bronx has room for everyone but this kind of reckless dialogue by our BP opens our borough to development that will lead to displacement.  He really just doesn’t seem to get it.  In the above article Diaz talks about when folks are brought to the table they say nothing but that’s just the problem, the community is rarely if NEVER brought to the proverbial table.

I’m all for development in The Bronx and making sure that it remains a place for ALL INCOME LEVELS without displacement, however, our BP would rather insult the people who are fighting for their lives, fighting for the right to live without having to pay rents that make our borough the most overburdened in the city. People who are working on solutions and working together to try and change the very policies which have been destroying communities across our city and country.

Mr Borough President, have you not seen what was done to Harlem? What’s being done to El Barrio? What was done to Williamsburg? What happened in Chelsea?

No one wants to keep our beautiful Bronx in the 1990s.  The Bronx is beautiful and we have done quite well in changing things around but change cannot happen at the expense of those that are here and have remained here for so long.

Why not require developers to build or fund centers where current residents can get the necessary skills and know-how to be able to get better paying jobs? Why are we not focusing on uplifting our residents but instead trying to be a copycat borough and trying to emulate Brooklyn?  Brooklyn is a carcass of what it used to be. Once upon a time The Bronx and Brooklyn were very similar.  Both had neighborhoods for all income levels.  Now Brooklyn has become a husk of its former self and the poor keep being pushed out further and further away.

Affordable housing, unfortunately isn’t the sole and only answer. Heck, it’s not even the answer since the affordability protections of such housing expires.  What about the fact that we’re the most rent-burdened borough? How will your definition of gentrification help that out?

Mr Borough President, I highly recommend you red the following, perhaps, just perhaps it will help you understand what you are pushing for.

Benjamin Grant, a writer as well as a city planner and urban designer who lives in the San Francisco area wrote on last year the following:

What is Gentrification?

Gentrification is a general term for the arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district, a related increase in rents and property values, and changes in the district’s character and culture. The term is often used negatively, suggesting the displacement of poor communities by rich outsiders. But the effects of gentrification are complex and contradictory, and its real impact varies.

Many aspects of the gentrification process are desirable. Who wouldn’t want to see reduced crime, new investment in buildings and infrastructure, and increased economic activity in their neighborhoods? Unfortunately, the benefits of these changes are often enjoyed disproportionately by the new arrivals, while the established residents find themselves economically and socially marginalized.

Gentrification has been the cause of painful conflict in many American cities, often along racial and economic fault lines. Neighborhood change is often viewed as a miscarriage of social justice, in which wealthy, usually white, newcomers are congratulated for “improving” a neighborhood whose poor, minority residents are displaced by skyrocketing rents and economic change.

Although there is not a clear-cut technical definition of gentrification, it is characterized by several changes.

  • Demographics: An increase in median income, a decline in the proportion of racial minorities, and a reduction in household size, as low-income families are replaced by young singles and couples.
  • Real Estate Markets: Large increases in rents and home prices, increases in the number of evictions, conversion of rental units to ownership (condos) and new development of luxury housing.
  • Land Use: A decline in industrial uses, an increase in office or multimedia uses, the development of live-work “lofts” and high-end housing, retail, and restaurants.
  • Culture and Character: New ideas about what is desirable and attractive, including standards (either informal or legal) for architecture, landscaping, public behavior, noise, and nuisance.

How does it happen?

America’s renewed interest in city life has put a premium on urban neighborhoods, few of which have been built since World War II. If people are flocking to new jobs in a region where housing is scarce, pressure builds on areas once considered undesirable.

Gentrification tends to occur in districts with particular qualities that make them desirable and ripe for change. The convenience, diversity, and vitality of urban neighborhoods are major draws, as is the availability of cheap housing, especially if the buildings are distinctive and appealing. Old houses or industrial buildings often attract people looking for “fixer-uppers” as investment opportunities.

Gentrification works by accretion — gathering momentum like a snowball. Few people are willing to move into an unfamiliar neighborhood across class and racial lines¹. Once a few familiar faces are present, more people are willing to make the move. Word travels that an attractive neighborhood has been “discovered” and the pace of change accelerates rapidly.

Consequences of Gentrification

In certain respects, a neighborhood that is gentrified can become a “victim of its own success.” The upward spiral of desirability and increasing rents and property values often erodes the very qualities that began attracting new people in the first place. When success comes to a neighborhood, it does not always come to its established residents, and the displacement of that community is gentrification’s most troubling effect.

No one is more vulnerable to the effects of gentrification than renters. When prices go up, tenants are pushed out, whether through natural turnover, rent hikes, or evictions. When buildings are sold, buyers often evict the existing tenants to move in themselves, combine several units, or bring in new tenants at a higher rate. When residents own their homes, they are less vulnerable, and may opt to “cash them in” and move elsewhere. Their options may be limited if there is a regional housing shortage, however, and cash does not always compensate for less tangible losses.

The economic effects of gentrification vary widely, but the arrival of new investment, new spending power, and a new tax base usually result in significant increased economic activity. Rehabilitation, housing development, new shops and restaurants, and new, higher-wage jobs are often part of the picture. Previous residents may benefit from some of this development, particularly in the form of service sector and construction jobs, but much of it may be out of reach to all but the well-educated newcomers. Some local economic activity may also be forced out — either by rising rents or shifting sensibilities. Industrial activities that employ local workers may be viewed as a nuisance or environmental hazard by new arrivals. Local shops may lose their leases under pressure from posh boutiques and restaurants.

Physical changes also accompany gentrification. Older buildings are rehabilitated and new construction occurs. Public improvements — to streets, parks, and infrastructure — may accompany government revitalization efforts or occur as new residents organize to demand public services. New arrivals often push hard to improve the district aesthetically, and may codify new standards through design guidelines, historic preservation legislation, and the use of blight and nuisance laws.

The social, economic, and physical impacts of gentrification often result in serious political conflict, exacerbated by differences in race, class, and culture. Earlier residents may feel embattled, ignored, and excluded from their own communities. New arrivals are often mystified by accusations that their efforts to improve local conditions are perceived as hostile or even racist.

Change — in fortunes, in populations, in the physical fabric of communities — is an abiding feature of urban life. But change nearly always involves winners and losers, and low-income people are rarely the winners. The effects of gentrification vary widely with the particular local circumstances. Residents, community development corporations, and city governments across the country are struggling to manage these inevitable changes to create a win-win situation for everyone involved.

You say that people aren’t coming up with visions but you would know that if you actually listened to the people and go to the meetings where people are coming up with solutions, talking about the problems.  Be the Bronx Borough President that ushers in a renaissance for its people not the BP that ushers in gentrification and destroys what The Bronx has been for so many people.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.