April 5, 2021

Guess that gentrified neighbourhood (and what comes next)

If you took a quick glance at this (as I did on one of my urban Tumblr feeds), where might you place this image, and when?

Maybe the taxi helps identify it in time and place.  It’s New York City in 1985 – Chelsea to be specific.  28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues to be precise.

But on that quick glance, you might confuse it with Yaletown:

Both had industrial/warehouse city-serving blocks in the decades at the turn of the 19th century, both on the unfashionable sides of town.  That’s changed a lot with gentrification – residential towers and lofts, luxury hotels, chic shopping and restaurants – though it appears that these blocks of Chelsea still constitute the flower district:

If anything, Yaletown has maintained more of its consistent industrial heritage on its few blocks than the much larger Chelsea area.

The issue of gentrification never really played out in Yaletown like it does today in any neighbourhood with pre-existing housing, even that occupied by the initial round of gentrifiers.

That’s the case in SoHo, 3 km south of Chelsea, likewise a 19th-century district of industrial lofts in extraordinary cast-iron buildings occupied illegally by artists and ‘bohemians’ in the 1960s.  Today, another story:

A proposed rezoning would allow 3,200 additional apartments over the next 10 years, including approximately 800 affordable units in an area that had fewer than 8,000 residents in the 2010 census. And by doing so in a place internationally synonymous with affluence and style, it could also become a symbol for racial and economic integration everywhere.

But longtime residents are pushing back against the plan, saying it will bring big retailers and more modern high-rise buildings that will change the character of the neighborhood, known for its 19th-century architecture and cobblestone streets. They say they support increased diversity but contend that city officials are overstating the number of low-cost apartments that would be created, a claim the city disputes. …

And now that the neighborhood has become a bastion of wealth, some current residents and housing rights activists question what preservationists are trying to protect.

“Some will argue that any new housing in SoHo would be out of character with the neighborhood,” said Aaron Carr, the founder of Housing Rights Initiative, “but I’d argue that the neighborhood of SoHo is out of character with New York.” …

Longtime SoHo residents fought for spaces for artists to live and work “and they don’t see them as a benefits or privileges — they see them as hard-won gains, not the status quo,” said Ms. Zukin. She added: “There’s a scale issue of whether the neighborhood controls what’s built, or whether or not there’s a citywide force from the outside. How do you get racial justice in this place?”


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