It’s become quite trendy these days.
Buy up old homes, unused or underused warehouses, buildings with local small businesses and other lots. Then tear things down or refurbish them. Then put in high-tech companies, hip restaurants and coffee shops serving up single-origin coffee from the likes of Guatemala and Burundi.
It all sounds great. I mean who can argue with posh condos, brick-paved roads, more businesses and better coffee?
That’s until you stop to think about the other side of the story.
Hilton Head, South Carolina provides a historic playbook for how gentrification decimates communities.
In the first part of the 20th century, 90% of Hilton Head’s inhabitants were descendants of slaves. But starting in the mid-1950s, developers turned the island into a tourist destination with high-rise condos and resorts. This caused real estate taxes to go through the roof, which in turn displaced most of the Black families who bought land there in the 1860s to start a new life. Today, Hilton Head is 90% white.
Things haven’t changed much.
Take Denver’s west side, home to many Latino and Orthodox Jewish families, some of whom own homes but many who rent.
Several years ago, wealthy, mostly out-of-town developers began buying up small, older homes and buildings over time, then one by one began knocking them down and putting up high-cost ten-story condominiums, and renting retail space to spinach smoothie shops, local breweries and the like. Five square blocks of the neighborhood are now lined with swanky buildings, modern houses, chiropractic offices and yoga studios.
Everything looks great, except the local, mostly working-class Latino population, which has lived there for several generations, will no longer be able to sustain their community there. Numerous families have been displaced, and new middle- and working-class families can no longer afford to move in.