By Devin Chu
“Look around you and take it all in, because a few years from now, all of this is going to change.” As a kid growing up in New York City, my mom used to repeat the same idea of gentrification over and over again to me. Little did I know how everything would change.
When I was in middle school, my only worries consisted of how many hours of video games I could pack into a single school week, and going after my crush. Fast forward to my senior year of high school, and the city has drastically changed as a result of gentrification. Although gentrification is a complex process that leads to a wide range of effects in a community.
Gentrification is the process in which owners renovate residential buildings and stores of urban neighborhoods to attract more affluent and wealthy residents, increasing the value of the neighborhood overall. As a result of gentrification in New York City, real estate prices and rent rates have skyrocketed, low-income residents have been forced out, local businesses in the community for decades have shuttered, and streets have become overcrowded. The bakeries a few blocks over? Most are gone. The local pizza shop on my street? Gone. Those that survived have driven up the price of their products due to a mix of inflation and rising commercial storefront rent. Businesses owners are also expecting further rent increases as New York City’s real estate market grows.
Looking at a study done by NYU’s own Furman Center, which researches housing, neighborhoods, and urban policy in New York City, the median gross rent rose by 18% from 2005 to 2015. From 2000 to 2014, average household rent increased 19% citywide and 30% in gentrifying neighborhoods. Onto measuring congestion, a recent study by the MTA showed that subway delays caused by overcrowding have more than tripled since 2012, resulting in chaotic rush hours on any train line.
Overcrowding is just another signal of gentrification, a trend downtown Manhattan is no longer a stranger to. In fact, the New York Times reported that from 1990 to 2014, Lower Manhattan and Battery Park City experienced over a 255% increase in population, a staggering number considering it only took two decades to reach. Gentrification extends beyond just the sheer numbers as well. A New Yorker on the street does not have to look far before finding more and more buildings under construction every day.
Perhaps one of the biggest impacts of gentrification has been on the city’s school system. In attempt to accommodate one of the fastest growing cities, the Department of Education has opened up eight new schools since 2007 and added more than 5,600 seats to reduce average class sizes in existing schools. A few schools in my lower Manhattan neighborhood and many others around the City already have class sizes that exceed 30 students and according to one study, even go up to as many as 34. Considering that this number comes at the expense of the quality of education students are receiving in elementary, middle, and high schools, this issue of gentrification remains to be one of the most important topics at hand in local politics.
The effects of gentrification are numerous, but not all of them are to the detriment of New Yorkers. In fact, gentrification is a factor that reflects upon the city’s growing economy and housing market. My mother was right about gentrification, and the power it has to change whole communities. For me and the way I view this life-changing process, it’s sad to know that future generations raised in the city will never be able to experience the cultural complexity and tightly-knit community I grew up with.