Developers May Not be the Cause of Gentrification. Maybe It Is the Rich

An interesting perspective on an overlooked factor in gentrification: zoning. Interesting article from Market Urbanism finds that gentrification is caused more by affluent communities with political clout maintaining tight zoning to prevent development in their neighborhoods, forcing development in less affluent communities and….and an interesting conversation with our Mayor.

Quick announcements: There are a raft of coming events listed in the Events & Opportunities page including:

  • Roundhouse Research & Activism meeting next Tuesday (where we will identify key districts and form alliances to strengthen progressive power in those districts)
  • Activist Research Team next Th. (where we will research effective urban and community development that prevent gentrification while strengthening under-served communities…to be applied here in Santa Fe);
  • A Chainbreaker social, educational and fundraising event at Boxcar, July 23; and
  • An opportunity to get informed and then take action at an Open House Activism event focused on immigration rights, July 24.
  • Click here to read more about Chainbreaker’s Equity Summer and while at the page, why not make a $100 contribution as it will be matched with another $150 to create $250 to expand Chainbreaker’s important community organizing efforts.

Our motto is: Engage, educate, activate, organize. If you are reading this post, you are engaged and getting educated, but you are the only one who can really activate. I say it in most we need many more of you involved in the day-to-day research, planning and organizing if we are going to get the community and nation many of us have carried signs for for decades. You won’t regret getting involved, you will make new friends and build a community that cares and acts into the fabric of your life. Click here for more information on these events and volunteer opportunities. By scrolling to the bottom of the link to the events and opportunities page, you will also find opportunities for getting active with Retake.

It’s the Rich People, Stupid

So this post may offend a few of our readers, as I suspect we have quite a few supporters with means.

We want to provide different vantage points on the roots of gentrification as the issue is so complex. And to my mind, gentrification is just our local manifestation of global colonization and oppression, so if we want to change the world, we have to understand the workings of capitalism locally and globally. Market Urbanism presents an interesting perspective. It isn’t developers or the artists and boutique shops are the primary cause gentrification, they are its first tangible symptoms in the communities being gentrified. It is zoning policy that is a critical driver of gentrification. Follow along, please.

Affluent communities are inhabited by people of influence, people who make large donations to contribution coffers, who host house parties for candidates, gathering their other affluent friends to make contributions. Money talks and these people are able to squash efforts to rezone an affluent community to permit more development or to allow denser housing. Market Urbanism cites one example: “Take Chicago’s Lincoln Park for example.  Daniel Hertz points out that the number of housing units there actually decreased 4.1% since 2000 and the neighborhood hasn’t allowed a single unit of affordable housing to be developed in 35 years. The affluent residents of Lincoln Park like their neighborhood the way it is and have the political clout to keep it that way.” The article goes on to describe how, if you can’t build in affluent neighborhoods, you build (and gentrify) lower income communities.  And if you can’t buy a home in an affluent community, you buy in a less affluent community and drive up prices. And so one approach to slowing gentrification is to build higher-density, low-income housing in more affluent communities. Click here for to review this fascinating, brief report.

In my conversation with the Mayor today, an hour-long interview that will air on KSFR 101.1 FM this Saturday from 11am-noon, we spoke a bit about how that might play out in Santa Fe. Let’s just say, that an extraordinarily benevolent developer purchased an acre or two of land in the downtown or in the Railyard area and approached the city about building a high-density mixed income development comprised of 2-3 bedroom apartments and with a mix of 50% low-income units and 50% moderate income units. Not-In-My-Back-Yard (NIMBY) dynamics would instantly kick into gear. Couched in terms of ‘not being consistent with the character of the neighborhood,’ opponents would suggest that a boutique hotel would be more appropriate and would nurture the booming tourist trade. Someone else would favor condos that could be used for short-term vacation rentals. I am sure no one suggest a combination transitional housing for people emerging from homelessness with on-site services–to inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood.

But as part of Retake’s community education and organizing campaign in support of Equity Summer, Retake canvassers, house party hosts, letter to the editor writers, and others are going to attempt to reframe a range of attitudes about what character really means and how The City Different must shift its view on neighborhood and city character if we want to live up to the City Different label.

What if, instead of maximizing profit being the driving force behind Santa Fe development, we showed our deeper moral character and sought to accept less profit and reintegrate our affluent neighborhoods economically and racially, welcoming back to the downtown, Canyon Rd, the Railyard and other more affluent communities, those who have been displaced over the past 40 years?

What if, we welcomed those that have been displaced and in doing so, enriched the character of our community, culturally and economically?

That would be a City Different.

What if?

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne




Categories: Economic justice

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4 replies

  1. It is a safe bet to tie many of societies’ woes to the highly classicist behavior of the wealthy. My first reaction is to remember that one size never fits all. In my career I have encountered developers of many stripes. If they weren’t already rich themselves, it was their main driver. But rich or just a wannabe, they all had to run the same gauntlet all developers do – location, zoning, covenants and restrictions, financing, pre-design and design obstacles, good vs. poor architecture and engineering contractors, builder and sub-contractor quality, bonding, insuring, cost and availability of materials, labor force, union or non-union workforce, access, weather, debt service during construction, silent and/or minor partners, consumer base, marketing and sales, Murphy, etc.

    Real estate in established, gentrified neighborhoods always costs more than outlying parcels. In-fill construction has a much higher burden of obstacles than barren or sparsely occupied land. Add to this the highly tribal nature of humans when it comes to their emotions and how they see themselves inside their own bubble, and you can see what you describe – homogeneity, which some would judge as exclusion of some ‘other’ from their midst.

    To lay the issue of homogeneity in neighborhoods at the feet of the bureaucracy and its political managers, is, I feel, amazingly oversimplified. I have lived in core Santa Fe several times, in neighborhoods that were built 100+ years ago and 50+ years ago. Eras of history design spaces that humans use to live in. What was once the hub of a city changes as outlying areas add to the population. Houses cease to be homes, and are now seen as investments to be turned when appropriate. Structures deteriorate, with or without maintenance. Newcomers arrive, with financial and cultural differences tagging along. They build new, as infill or in new subdivisions, or they gentrify an old home in a once great neighborhood.

    Sure, big money and the people who have it play a big role in who lives where, but this is true across the board due to the failure of our Constitution to change along with the maturation of the citizenry. If you want to eliminate poverty, eliminate wealth. You don’t accomplish that with zoning, zoning commissions, city councils, county commissions, and the like.

    You have to deconstruct the oldest kinks in any system if you want to free up the positive energy of both latent and emerging ideas and needs. Betsy DeVoss is a good example. Rich, a big player, now both a developer AND in charge of the zoning. The problem is now what it has always been – the game is rigged in favor of the takers, who are outnumbered 1000 to 1. I don’t blame a taker for acting out a behavior from which it cannot escape because it has never been challenged by the victim’s of its consequential behavior.

    I do blame takers for being lazy and self-absorbed liars about who they really are – nothing special in the scheme of things.

    MIck Nickel

    • Mick. I must accept my own ignorance but I do not see the relationship between our Secretary of Education and gentrification. Paul. Finally an article about Gentrification that connects dots. It is my view that we need to deconstruct (to use Mikes term) our economic model. Gentrification and the construction of ‘affordable housing’ are just the symptoms or end products of an economic model created to manufacture poverty. We should not accept affordable housing, which is a code term for the construction of cheap and largely unsustainable housing and for the creation of (ugly) neighborhoods with no services mostly built in the worst locations. Affordable housing also ‘promotes’ social stratification and racism. Most of the ills of our society, like our deteriorating public education system, are due to the promotion of an economic model designed for the rich by ‘their’ economists portraying themselves as the spoke people of the ‘science of economics’ and creating terms and ideas for our consumption only just to convince us that it is a natural scientifically supported system and entity and thus impossible to challenge. Yet, Capitalism has been challenged by many economists who have shown that the market is not ‘free’ and that the ‘invisible hand of the market’ is well covered and hidden as the tricks magicians use to deceive the viewers. So, we have been deceived by many decades and it is time for us to proceed to unveil the truth about our economic model, the one that makes us and our environment sick and who exploits us and all other life on earth pretending that the planet is our ‘resource’ and not our partner in living.

      • Hi eduardo. Betsy DeVoss was probably a poor analogy about neighborhoods, except that she exemplifies the rich manipulator gentrifying schools, which used to be in neighborhoods. My apologies. Mick

      • Hi Eduardo, Could I use your full reply as a future post, perhaps Sunday?

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