A Change is Gonna Come

All good things must come to an end. Especially good neighborhoods. Look at some of the neighborhoods in New York City. Greenwich Village was known for its bohemian culture from the mid-nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth. Jackson Pollack and Bob Dylan lived there, pre-fame. The East Village was known for punks like The Ramones and artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat. Williamsburg, Brooklyn was the center of cool when I was living in New York. Even then, it was becoming commercialized and taken over by investment bankers.

But before the I-bankers come, it’s the artists who do the displacement. The East Village was originally home to poor Russians and Ukrainians. Williamsburg was mainly Hasidic Jews and Puerto Ricans. It seems the cycle is that neighborhoods start poor, artist and musicians move in, it becomes hip, the rich move in, it becomes expensive and full of Duane Reades, then everyone who made it hip moves somewhere else. You can see the same trend playing out in Seattle, in Ballard, and more so Capitol Hill. Replace investment bankers with Amazonians.

It also seems that the speed at which neighborhoods change is accelerating. Greenwich Village was cool at least beginning from the 1850’s, when the Hudson River School painters opened shop there, to nearly the end of the twentieth century. The gentrification of Williamsburg took place on a much shorter timeline. Beginning in the mid-1990s, it probably reached peak-hipster in the early to mid 2000’s. Today, signifying full maturity, it has a Whole Foods.

Maybe the main culprit for the acceleration of changing neighborhoods is the ease with which people move around the country. For $54 a promising young coder can take a Greyhound from Detroit to New York City. In cities that have geographical constraints—like Seattle, San Francisco, or NYC—the effects of in-migration are magnified.

When I was an undergrad, I was part of a group that biked across the country to raise money and awareness for people with disabilities. I learned that there are people in need all over the country—and, therefore, jobs to be had. The Federal Government could, for example, spend to create jobs that service the disabled in West Texas. Or to hire more teachers in small town schools. Or to open rural health clinics. This sort of spending would allow people to live in smaller towns across the country. The people would be healthier and the children smarter. The towns would flourish. And maybe eventually they’d open a Duane Reade in Muleshoe, TX, rather than on the corner of 10th and Pike.

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