Article Argues Greater Local Land Use Control Answer to Gentrification

In planning circles, an ongoing topic of debate is the revitalization and redevelopment of neighborhoods versus the “gentrification” or displacement of existing residents and businesses during the redevelopment process. A recent New York Times article discussed the challenges posed to San Francisco by an influx of technology companies and workers. However, an Atlantic City Lab article (2016-03-11) disputed the Times article and alleged that the real challenge facing the City is a lack of housing caused by a “not in my backyard” mentality by some San Francisco residents. The article calls for greater local government and regional planning authority and less ability of citizen to defeat certain kinds of development.

Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan has a wake-up call for San Francisco: Responding to David Streitfeld’s story in the Times, Nolan says that tech isn’t the problem, at least not the way that the Times paints it. The problem is that San Francisco won’t build housing, and making matters worse, residents work tirelessly to prevent more housing from being built. …

The housing crisis is both a regional and local problem. Looking at it two ways leads to two different conclusions about gentrification and displacement. From a regional perspective, any and every city in a metro area could be building more. Any and every new housing unit adds to the supply and lets out some pressure.

But from a neighborhood perspective, the view is different. Neighborhoods that build less than others are sometimes given a pass, because they are beautiful or historic or wealthy or powerful (and often all of these things). The lack of new construction in wealthier neighborhoods puts pressure on less wealthy neighborhoods. (“You can build new things in other places.”) This pressure builds up until it explodes in distressed neighborhoods.

The article analyzed the small housing increases of San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Minneapolis, and Washington DC from 2005 to 2015, relative to their regional areas, concluding that the demand for housing in high-cost, high-demand neighborhoods that reject any new housing is instead pushed into proximate lower wealth areas, leading to gentrification and displacement. The article proposed a solution to this problem:

The answer is to build….But the answer is also to zone: To take away land-use decisions from neighborhoods and hand them over to cities. And for cities to act in concert with other cities toward regional goals for new market-rate and affordable units everywhere. Not just where developers can get away with it, but where incumbent residents have already soldered shut the gate behind them.

Useful Links

New York Times Article on San Francisco Tech Industry Challenges (2016-03-08)