Greater Greater Washington

True urbanism must come with a big tent

Urbanists in the District and elsewhere often find themselves at odds with longtime elderly and working class residents who challenge our positions on transportation and planning. This unnecessary animosity is caused by a narrow-minded concept of urbanism that antagonizes families, the elderly and long-term residents.


Photo by brownpau on Flickr.

Many urbanists seek greater density by revitalizing the built environment. These urbanists advocate for multi-use, human scale developments and multimodal transportation options, taking for granted that the in-migration and density that follow are good.

While density by itself naturally appeals to younger, more footloose residents, such architectural determinism casts a blind eye to those excluded from the benefits of city life when nothing changes but the built environment.

The recent news that the District's black majority is rapidly slipping away has raised the anxiety many feel about such "hipster urbanism."

Progressive ideas about cities would command a larger constituency if we instead practiced a big tent urbanism, starting from the premise that cities aren't just denser suburbs.

Rather, cities are organisms that function fundamentally differently, expanding the range of real freedoms available to their citizens. Prominent amongst these are the freedom to interact with people of diverse backgrounds, the freedom to participate in culturally rich and deep communities, and the freedom to meet everyday needs in the safety and convenience of your community.

Density in and of itself doesn't necessarily generate these benefits, as the early 20th century experience in U.S. cities demonstrates. The Achilles heel of hipster urbanism is architectural determinism which assumes that changes to the built environment lead to a better life for all residents.

Big tent urbanism seeks revitalized urban spaces, but only as a means, not an end. The end is to ensure that the people living in cities are actually experiencing the real freedoms that should follow from urban revitalization.

The Animosity is There

The division between "hipster urbanists" and their discontents is clearly evident, manifesting itself primarily in concerns about gentrification.

Two days after Vincent Gray defeated Adrian Fenty in the Democratic primary for DC Mayor last year, Post columnist Courtland Milloy castigated the "newly arrived creative class" that largely supported Fenty:

Watch them at the chic new eateries, Fenty's hip newly arrived "creative class" firing up their "social media" networks whenever he's under attack: Why should the mayor have to stop his work just to meet with some old biddies, they tweet. Who cares if the mayor is arrogant as long as he gets the job done? Myopic little twits.
While online commenters pushed back hard against Milloy, DC Councilmember Tommy Wells tweeted, "Courtland Milloy's column should be read and re-read."

I've read Milloy's column several times, and have come to agree with Wells' plea that Milloy not be dismissed. Milloy's raw characterization of those most inclined to support Fenty's urbanist policies raises unavoidable questions for those of us who identify as urbanists, particularly those who belong to the "hipster" demographic.

Of all the posts I've written for GGW, the two that triggered the most comments (mostly negative) advocated for unfolded strollers on Circulator buses and for Georgetown University to develop more on-campus housing to preserve the multi-generational character of the community.

Now, I may have been wrong in my positions, but it's noteworthy that the two positions of mine that GGW commenters most resisted advocated for the interests of those other than childless young singles and couples.

How can we broaden the tent of urbanism? By broadening our view of urbanism itself.

Hipster Urbanism

For many, urbanism can be reduced to support for density irrespective of the consequences for communities. And they see these density increases as being enabled by free housing markets, denser residential and commercial developments, and more transportation options.

When NPR ran a story about gentrification in Anacostia, 5 GGW contributors, all of whom I respect immensely, wrote 2 articles dismissing the story. One contributor questioned whether what looks like gentrification isn't really "just a family making a decision to sell and another family making a decision to buy".

Another lauded the newcomers into Anacostia: "good for them for believing in a neighborhood in spite of its challenges, and for meeting its hurdles head on and its new amenities with a sense of excitement."

While these fellow GGW contributors make the important point that the newcomers are middle and upper-class black just as often as they are white, recasting the issue as one of class just brings into sharper focus whose interests we appear to be advocating for.

Urbanists' lack of concern for the effects of large-scale migration in cities, whether it is young middle-class professionals moving into Anacostia or students moving into Georgetown group homes, undermines the credibility of their ideas.

This lack of concern makes urbanism look to many like a front for the interests of the most footloose and unrooted in society - professional, childless singles and couples.

While this segment of society has always existed, over the past couple decades it has become a major demographic phenomenon. Manning Up: How the Rise of Women has Turned Men into Boys describes the effects of millions of twenty- and thirty-somethings' decisions to delay marriage and children.


ACS data reported by Pew Research Center

The delay of marriage and childbearing is particularly profound in the District of Columbia. No state has as high a median age of first marriage as the District, and no state has seen a larger increase in the median age of first birth (5.5 years) from 1970-2006.

Is urbanism's recent success nothing more than the historic growth of this transient demographic? To Milloy and many others, it certainly appears that way.

Big Tent Urbanism

Urbanism can and should command a broader constituency, including families, the elderly and the poor and working-class. But this requires urbanism to aim for more than in-migration and density for their own sake, regardless of the consequences.

It's critical to note that the leading urbanist thinkers associate urbanism with particular benefits of density, secured through smart planning and development, not with density itself. Prominent amongst the benefits that flow from density plus proper planning and development are the freedom to participate in diverse communities of cultural depth and richness.

Kunstler, Duany and Jacobs bemoan the damage done to cultural institutions sustained by cities as a result of suburban sprawl. Yet urbanists in DC don't bemoan the loss of communities and cultural memory when neighborhoods turnover their residents - it's just the free market at work.

These same authors praise the generational and socioeconomic diversity that is possible in cities. Jacobs writes that "cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody."

Urbanism at its core argues that cities aren't just denser suburbs. They are an organism that fundamentally functions differently and is able to expand the range of options and real freedoms available to people.

But when urbanist policies for enabling such cities are limited to the built environment, they commit the sin of architectural determinism which limits those options and reduces freedom. This myopic view of development has steamrolled communities, and thus undermined urbanism, ever since Baron Haussmann's 19th century renovation of Paris displaced poor and working-class Parisians to the outskirts of the city.

Development that focuses on people, not places, employs all tools of development in order to expand the real options available to people. Revitalizing the built environment for greater density is very important as a means to expanding the freedoms available to people, but it is not the end itself.

If other tools of development aren't employed, then the diversity of culturally deep communities available to urban residents is quickly lost and the range of people who can benefit from revitalized spaces is reduced to a lucky few.

This broader, people-centered view of development was articulated by Amartya Sen in his Development as Freedom, which has become a landmark in development theory. Sen argues:

If freedom is what development advances, then there is a major argument for concentrating on that overarching objective, rather than on some particular means, or some specially chosen list of instruments.
Any self-identified urbanist in the District who has nothing to say to its 30% of children in poverty, or the 30% of out-of-work Ward 8 residents, cannot rightly claim the mantle of urbanism and deserves any backlash he or she receives.

Smart-growth policies must benefit all residents, or else be they will be rightfully viewed as the tyranny of one class of people over another. We should stop supporting change that does not benefit all residents, as the heart of urbanism is the expansion of the real freedoms made possible by cities.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 

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Ah, nothing like narrative directing terminology. Therefore "Hipster Urbanism". After all, who doesn't find hipsters annoying?

In keeping with that, I would like laud Ken's advocacy of "Welfare Urbanism"! Two can play that game.

by John on Apr 18, 2011 1:16 pm • linkreport

Ken,

I think you fundamentally misunderstand why many of us advocate for density:

Yet urbanists in DC don't bemoan the loss of communities and cultural memory when neighborhoods turnover their residents - it's just the free market at work.

There's nothing free about the current marketplace. Real Estate is heavily regulated. Moreover, the exact kinds of knee-jerk reactions against density under the guise of preserving 'the community' only serve to restrict supply and actually increase the pace of gentrification, not slow it.

It's interesting that just before this piece popped on my RSS reader, I read this one from Chris Bradford:

http://www.austincontrarian.com/austincontrarian/2011/04/urban-planners-and-urban-economics.html#tpe-action-posted-6a00d8341d04dc53ef014e610790d4970c

If you want to argue that 'urbanism' should be big-tent, that's great - I doubt anyone would disagree. I do, however, think that the analysis you've undertaken to reach that conclusion is deeply flawed.

Speaking for myself, I advocate for greater density because that's what makes cities work.

When I hear people complain about the large scale migrations you describe, I don't think those complaints are dismissed because the urbanists don't care about those peoples' feelings, but rather because those complaints are not focused at the real root problems.

by Alex B. on Apr 18, 2011 1:20 pm • linkreport

Ken, I apologize for quibbling, but if you want to make the point that both men and women are marrying later, and having children later, than people used to in the last 50 years or so, you don't have to quote from an author who thinks that Judd Apatow movies are an accurate reflection of real life and that the "archetypal life plot...deeply rooted in our biological natures" for women is bringing up babies and for men is protecting and providing for wives and babies. There are real actual demographic data you can use! (As, indeed, you proceed to do.)

by Miriam on Apr 18, 2011 1:34 pm • linkreport

very smart article ken, very smart.

by Tim on Apr 18, 2011 1:45 pm • linkreport

I can't seem to find the post now... but there was one months back where Ken Archer argued if you eat out instead of cooking dinner at home you are irresponsible person who is ruining the city for working class and poor people.

by Jason on Apr 18, 2011 1:52 pm • linkreport

No it's not just density, but that's a big part of the equation.

But there's an inherent problem in "big tent" policy making: in trying to please (or appease) as many people as possible, nothing gets done. The players running the game board push and shove, hem and haw, reconstitute and dilute until any policy that emerges is, at best, watered-down or, at worst, a complete waste of time and money.

What I gather from this, Ken, is that the so-called "Hipster Urbanists" should get the same reception that newcomers get from the entrenched political machine in DC: a basic message of "y'all need to pay your dues and wait your turn." That's not helpful at all.

by Rudi on Apr 18, 2011 1:54 pm • linkreport

Yeah, I think you're kind of poisoning the well a bit here with the "hipster urbanism" thing. Why not "Douchebag Urbanism"?

But really, the crux of your argument is distilled in that last sentence: "We should stop supporting change that does not benefit all residents, as the heart of urbanism is the expansion of the real freedoms made possible by cities."

Two things: first, maybe I'm misinterpreting, but it seems to me that the idea that we should reject any change unless all residents immediately agree that it benefits them is a profoundly wrong one. While I see quite a few working class folks using bike lanes and dog parks, they're obviously more popular with younger, more middle-class residents. I'd speculate that a majority of elderly and working-class residents see no personal benefit in them--furthermore that they're responsible for a pernicious eroding of "real DC" culture. But is that an irrational fear of change--something that's universal in all communities and cultures?

Secondly, and generally following on the previous point, the question seems to be, "Is the return of a middle-class in DC a net positive?" Is it generally positive that middle-class residents--of all races--are returning to the city? Because that's really what this whole gentrification debate seems to be about. And the use of terms like "expansion of real freedoms" (compared to what?) strikes me as a kabuki of euphemisms designed to enable us to not actually address that fundamental question.

At the beginning of the piece, you've identified the two groups who might be negatively affected by the demographic changes in the city: the working-poor, and the elderly. But while you point out that these two groups feel alienated, you fail to really identify what it is that they're alienated *about*: Fear of change; and general cultural resentment. Laying aside general cultural curmudgeonliness, having a new generation of young tax-payers who will support the wide array of services that they elderly require is a benefit to the elderly. Funding things like dogparks, bike-sharing, playgrounds, etc... attract middle-class taxpayers, and perhaps reverse the rate at which they leave the city for the suburbs. Just to underline the obvious: a larger middle-class taxbase is a net benefit to low-revenue generating / high service-consuming groups like the elderly and very poor. Obviously, that's not the most diplomatic thing ever said, but it has the benefit of being unassailably true.

I agree with Wells that Milloy's piece should be read and re-read. It's important to understand that there are very real cultural fears and resentments going on. But the fundamental lesson of Milloy's piece is that those very real fears are bound up with some very chimerical issues. The piece's pure cultural resentment backed by no rational complaint--that, for example, myopic hipster doofuses tweeting at cafes are stealing TANF funds from poor children so that they can build dog parks--is obviously a lesson we should all take to heart. But it calls for a change of rhetoric--not a change in the concrete changes we support.

by oboe on Apr 18, 2011 1:56 pm • linkreport

Jason: Yes, it's the same Ken. Sigh.

by John on Apr 18, 2011 1:56 pm • linkreport

Pet peeve: Don't use the word "Hipster" when making any sort of serious argument. It's incredibly ambiguous, especially in the context in which it's used in DC.

by andrew on Apr 18, 2011 1:57 pm • linkreport

@Rudi--you've hit the nail on the head. If I know one thing about D.C. it's that there is no way to please everyone. It's not hard to see why someone once thought of the control board. This town has a track record of making poor and self-destructive choices.

Having said that, I agree that we can all do a better job of including more people in the revitalization. But, Ken, you glaze over the fact that there are MANY people who are diametrically opposed to revitalization, or gentrification or whatever you want to call it. No point in making the tent too big if some people simply refuse to come inside.

by MJ on Apr 18, 2011 1:59 pm • linkreport

If I know one thing about D.C. it's that there is no way to please everyone. It's not hard to see why someone once thought of the control board. This town has a track record of making poor and self-destructive choices.

You say this at the risk--well, with the guarantee--of charges of "elitism", but--absolutely--sometimes folks don't act in their best interests. Complicating this, is that urbanist policies can be somewhat counterintuitive, and at odds with general "common sense" ideas of what's in the public interest. So, yes, getting a 100% consensus buy-in from all stakeholders, etc, etc... is the optimal path to change. But sometimes you just need to get a simple majority, push through the policies, and let the chips fall where they may.

Obviously, the counter-argument is a political one: will the backlash prevent the continuation of those policies? But that's not a critique of the policies, it's a critique of the politics. And if we're going to argue pure politics--and set aside issues of diplomacy--frankly the elderly vote in DC has built-in limitations to its numbers.

by oboe on Apr 18, 2011 2:07 pm • linkreport

Problems I see with hipster urbanism:

1) It's not scalable: works for a few cities where young people cluster, but not a model nationwide, and particularly bad in rejenuvating dying cities (cleveland, baltimore, detroit)

2) Bringing in a lot of young people right now is a net positive if you can capture them via real estate and income taxes. Again, that is not really scalable since at some point young people are priced out the market. DC is pretty near that level right now.

3) School, schools, schools.

4) How did Ken Archer manage write an article like this without mentioning gay people.

5) or crime....

by charlie on Apr 18, 2011 2:10 pm • linkreport

I agree that all areas of the city should make sure that "urbanist" development is "inclusive", just like Ken says!

Therefore, I have requested we start fixing old errors by eminent domaining Ken's Georgetown home for a homeless shelter. Since Ken is so committed to this cause, and I'm sure he agrees that G-town is woefully monotone in the nature of it's socio-economics, this makes perfect sense.

by John on Apr 18, 2011 2:15 pm • linkreport

Yet urbanists in DC don't bemoan the loss of communities and cultural memory when neighborhoods turnover their residents

I am lost here. I am a city-dweller, and I certainly bemoan this loss. Does that mean I am not an "urbanist"? When does one become what type of person?

by goldfish on Apr 18, 2011 2:20 pm • linkreport

that is not really scalable since at some point young people are priced out the market. DC is pretty near that level right now.

Not really sure this is correct. There's a latching effect that happens: the cliche is that gays and artists move in, then young people, then the older childless and empty-nesters.

The real question is whether DCPS & charters will continue to improve as the student population trends wealthier.

by oboe on Apr 18, 2011 2:20 pm • linkreport

@Oboe: I think your last point is very interesting in that it lays exactly what just happened. Fenty's policies were pushed through with a "simple majority", so to speak. Then there was a backlash.

Leaving behind a discussion of what "should" happen in D.C., I would posit that the most likely path for growth and revitalization is really a cycle of unpopular policies followed by a backlash. Think about it--Fenty upset slightly over half the city. His lost to Gray because people voted against Fenty, not necessarily out of some overwhelming enthusiasm about Gray. It was a protest vote. However, Gray has done nothing dramatic to reverse Fenty policies. The image of a steep incline followed by a plateau comes to mind. I expect (unfortunately) that this will be the cycle for a least another 15 years in D.C.

And, Ken, as others have mentioned, attaching the word "hipster" to anything you intend to be taken seriously is a bad idea. In fact it reinforces some false assumptions about growth in D.C.

by MJ on Apr 18, 2011 2:26 pm • linkreport

And, Ken: "the sin of architectural determinism" ?? That's a real gem! Aspiring despots around the world are now eyeing architecture school.

by MJ on Apr 18, 2011 2:32 pm • linkreport

Whatever point you were trying to make with this piece was lost amidst its one-sidedness. You don't advocate for a big tent while calling half the population snobs and excusing xenophobia in the other half.

Also, if you think massive homogeneous condo buildings are all the urbanist crowd here stands for, then you have woefully misjudged us.

by Ballston Guy on Apr 18, 2011 2:38 pm • linkreport

Frankly, I think we should focus more on public safety, education, and how to improve both in the face of seemingly-intractable urban poverty.

It's easy to brush aside concerns about density when you don't have kids, but safe neighborhoods and good schools are the main concern of a huge portion of Americans who want to ensure their children have a good shot at success.

That's why people move to the suburbs. They make the calculation that a brutal commute is worth enduring for their childrens' sake, and they quite reasonably want nothing to do with "urbanism" because they see cities as dangerous and full of bad public schools and expensive private schools.

Unjustified? Prejudiced? In some ways. But it is these concerns urbanists must address. We must find ways to rehabilitate the image of the city as we find solutions to America's ridiculous violent crime rate and struggling schools.

by EJ on Apr 18, 2011 2:40 pm • linkreport

Most of what I see in negative comments in response to articles on GGW or elsewhere that regard longtime residents (of which I am one) and people with children in the city seem to stem less from an attack on these lifestyles or peoples than on what they view as their ideal urban form. We read GGW with a view of how we would like our city to be, and bringing in the real world sometimes is just not that convenient. I think that sometimes, people see GGW as a place to air their idealist sentiments, and while we may value longtime residents and regard families as the future of our cities on paper, in reality we may not really understand that truly valuing these people or families is rather difficult. You sometimes have to get to that point in your life before you can begin to understand their points of view. For a lucky few, it is easier to place themselves in other peoples' shoes to understand or feel the effects of a specific policy or project from many angles.

I think that some people might treat DC (using GGW) as a place that is at a point of totally redeveloping itself from scratch, and it's not. GGW and other sites and sources let us air our ideas out in the open, but with limited experience throughout the city, many of the commenters cannot accurately predict how these ideas would translate. It is a problem that I think your "bigger tent" idea begins to address, but it is up to the individuals who are newer to this area and to the city specifically to take up the cause on a personal level.

by Eric on Apr 18, 2011 2:58 pm • linkreport

I think Ken needs to 'read and reread' Oboe's comments. Urbanism is not about pleasing all the people all the time, but actually improving the city to improve quality of life for all. The article doesn't make this distinction - that people can benefit from something even if they don't like it or understand it - but Oboe's follow up does. One of the best quotes I've ever heard on urbanism is from Enrique Penalosa, who suggests that we should plan cities for children, as they are an 'indicator species,' and if children are happy, safe and thriving, then other groups will be, too. I think Ken is actually trying to get there in this article, but his ambiguous terminology and split screen view of the world (that you're either a hipster urbanist or a low income black resident) does not serve the discussion well.

I'm an urban designer/planner - call me an urbanist if you want - and though I am young and middle class I'm not a 'hipster' by any stretch of the imagination. Lumping together urbanists with a demographic group that doesn't necessarily promote urban values (beyond liking coffee shops and bikes, I suppose) is disingenous.

I'd like to hear more from those whose professions are urban-related - any DC planners, transportation professionals and others who can weigh in? Because their jobs are, in fact, to make the city better for everyone. Including those 'working class' people whose lives would be greatly improved if they biked to work - even if they currently hate bike lanes.

by Allison on Apr 18, 2011 3:09 pm • linkreport

Of all the posts I've written for GGW, the two that triggered the most comments (mostly negative) advocated for unfolded strollers on Circulator buses and for Georgetown University to develop more on-campus housing to preserve the multi-generational character of the community.

Now, I may have been wrong in my positions, but it's noteworthy that the two positions of mine that GGW commenters most resisted advocated for the interests of those other than childless young singles and couples.

Georgetown University is the largest single employer in the District of Columbia. Kneecapping it with all manner of restrictions and forced measures would materially impact the lives of its employees (myself included). Many of those employees are not "childless young singles and couples," but DC residents raising families.

Meanwhile, the "multi-generational community" you claim to be championing went overwhelmingly for "hipster urbanist" Fenty. The case of the pitchfork NIMBYs of Georgetown and Burleith is very different from long-term, marginalized and underserved DC residents concerned about being priced out of their neighborhoods/cities.

by Dizzy on Apr 18, 2011 3:10 pm • linkreport

Well said EJ.

by Bill C. on Apr 18, 2011 3:11 pm • linkreport

it seems to me that the idea that we should reject any change unless all residents immediately agree that it benefits them is a profoundly wrong one.

I haven't said that at all, and the many articles I've written in support of urban revitalization show that that's not what I believe.

Any movement that is not capable of self-criticism won't last long. I don't think we're doing a good job of trying to listen and understand the criticism we get. We too quickly dismiss criticism of our ideas if there is any name-calling (e.g. hipsters) thrown in.

Look, I'm a 37-yr-old resident with 1 child that I had at 35. I own no car and spend 50 minutes on 2 buses and a subway to get to work each way to my software job. I'm including myself in this criticism.

That architectural determinism is the fatal flaw of many modernist project is not a new idea and it's certainly not my idea. I think it's fair to ask if our proposals for the built environment are actually improving the quality of life for all current residents, including and especially the 30% of DC children living in poverty.

by Ken Archer on Apr 18, 2011 3:22 pm • linkreport

Urbanists' lack of concern for the effects of large-scale migration in cities, whether it is young middle-class professionals moving into Anacostia or students moving into Georgetown group homes, undermines the credibility of their ideas.
Politically, yes. However, can we really ethically advocate any sort of system in which we restrict or try to restrict movement of people based on race, class, matriculation, or family status?

I'm reluctant to advocate that anybody use the levers of government, be it through zoning or legislation, to restrict the influx of people because of who the newcomers are.

Urbanists should advocate policies that address a diversity of lifestyles and life stages. Intervening even more in personal choices of housing is neither ethical or desirable.

by Eric Fidler on Apr 18, 2011 3:26 pm • linkreport

There are those of us who are sincere urbanists (hipster or otherwise) who disagree with each other as to which is the best way to provide urbanism. One size doesn't fit all cities and often what seems would work is counterproductive, etc. Newness to a certain city and the history of the urbanist movement in it, I think, matters a lot. Most here don't. That's the real divide I see, IMHO.

The gentrifcation thing is real 1990's at best. We already went through that theater.

and what is there to do in Idaho at age 25 except get married?

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 18, 2011 3:35 pm • linkreport

Ken,

Saying that those of us who want more density are architectural determinists is just plain wrong. It both misunderstands architectural determinism and why we advocate for greater density.

Even articulating it as advocating for greater density misses the point - it's more about advocating for the kind of regulations that were in place when most of this city was built - before zoning codes, before parking minimums, etc.

by Alex B. on Apr 18, 2011 3:36 pm • linkreport

"Yet urbanists in DC don't bemoan the loss of communities and cultural memory when neighborhoods turnover their residents"

I eagerly await the post from Ken bemoaning the loss of Georgetown's African-American, working class community and cultural memory after upper-class "hipster urbanists" like the Kennedys gentrified Georgetown in the 1950s-1960s.

by Phil on Apr 18, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

@EJ,

I think we should focus more on public safety, education, and how to improve both in the face of seemingly-intractable urban poverty.

I'm not going to win any popularity contests with this observation, but it's not clear that the problem of failing schools where a super-majority of the student body is extremely poor is even a soluble problem (Or rather, that the solution is to effectively eliminate poverty via national anti-poverty measures). Schools tend to get better (or worse) as the socioeconomic profile changes--this is true in the suburbs as much as it is in the cities.

Really, the only method that's been unquestionably proven to work is changing that demographic mix. Of course, forced school busing turned out to be a political non-starter. But you get a similar dynamic in gentrifying neighborhoods like east Capitol Hill, where you end up with 60-70% OOB poor kids, and 30-40% middle-class kids.

Obviously, that leads to the question: Is it better for "the poor kids" that half are now in a non-failing school, and half no longer live in the District, or would it be better if all were condemned to failing schools together? Same goes for the gentrification-fueled displacement that happens in general: Is it worse for the displaced? Better for the non-displaced? Better for the District as a communal entity?

There are countless variables at play in the endlessly complex system that is "The City"; so it's a bit of a cop-out to just say, "Do what's best for everybody." One of the critiques of Fenty was that "Some have been left behind." If you're poor, and you see the growth of the middle-class in your city while your situation has remained the same, can we really say that you've been "left behind"? And compared to what? Compared to a scenario where DC simply lost population with no influx of "newcomers", hemorrhaging red ink into the future?

Anyway, the availability of safe neighborhoods and good schools are obviously the big obstacles to keeping folks in the city, but the number of neighborhoods which are safe, and the number of decent schools (at least at the elementary level) are growing every year in DC.

by oboe on Apr 18, 2011 3:51 pm • linkreport

@Eric: "while we may value longtime residents and regard families as the future of our cities on paper, in reality we may not really understand that truly valuing these people or families is rather difficult."

Families (daddy, mommy and x kiddies) are the only family type valued in society, DC or not.

Single middle-class people pay more city taxes for less city services. We always have, and we always always will. And now I don't value the elderly and families enough either?!?

Oh the horror.

by greent on Apr 18, 2011 3:53 pm • linkreport

Isn't the term "hipster" being misapplied? Isn't a hipster someone who moves to marginal areas and likes those areas because they are "marginal"? Don't hipsters move once the area is gentrified? I don't think they are all about dog-parks and bike lanes. (Unless the meaning of hipster has changed in the last 10 years.)
Also, there's been a significant Latino working-class population in this city since the mid-80s and they were biking everywhere before gentrifiers ever came here. They just didn't have political clout to get bike lanes built.

by dc denizen on Apr 18, 2011 4:12 pm • linkreport

Yet urbanists in DC don't bemoan the loss of communities and cultural memory when neighborhoods turnover their residents - it's just the free market at work.

Are you fucking kidding me? Seriously? You think a city where probably close to 90% of the parcels are not allowed to be developed any more intensely than they currently are the free market??

Maybe if your baseline is communist Romania.

by Stephen Smith on Apr 18, 2011 4:16 pm • linkreport

@oboe- (are you an oboe player? I played oboe in high school myself)

(Or rather, that the solution is to effectively eliminate poverty via national anti-poverty measures). Schools tend to get better (or worse) as the socioeconomic profile changes--this is true in the suburbs as much as it is in the cities.

I agree, absolutely. European school systems outclass us not because they spend more (they don't) but because they don't have the urban underclass America has.

I guess (as a thought experiment) it would be in cities' best economic interest to follow the example set by nice suburbs - make it impossible for the poor to live within their boundaries by doing everything you can to boost land value (and thus real estate cost). Boom, rich tax base and few social services recipients plus good schools.

by EJ on Apr 18, 2011 4:22 pm • linkreport

I wonder do many of you realize that a mirror really does reflect?

If the only self-analysis we do is that which proves why we're right, then what's the point? I thought Ken's article was food for thought. He never suggests that urbanism should seek to appease EVERYONE 100% of the time. He just doesn't. Yet, there are suggestions that he had.

He speaks candidly about how many of us dismiss the concerns of those and recasting the debate as one of class shows whose interest we deem most important.

You don't like the term "hipster urbanism" and think it doesn't apply? Ok great. Yet, many of you seem to have no problem using NIMBY as an acronym for those who may not agree with certain proposals. In fact, since I've learned about the term (on GGW of all places) it's always used in the negative. Do we check ourselves? Of course not because the term refers to "them" not "us" and as long as these terms aren't negatively referring to "us," we're cool.

There will always be those who are against something - just to be against it. But is that really representative of a majority or do we exacerbate it by our fear of being feared.

For example, does the concern that longtime residents/poor blacks have about "gentrification" (Milloy article) any less substantive than the concern the gentries have about those seemingly against them?

I would guess that most people here would believe that concerns of the lr/poor are misplaced and misguided while considering their own "real."

by HogWash on Apr 18, 2011 4:28 pm • linkreport

Alex B:

Saying that those of us who want more density are architectural determinists is just plain wrong. It both misunderstands architectural determinism and why we advocate for greater density.

Not to put words in Ken's mouth, but from what I can understand (though the point is made in a pretty circumlocutory way), the issue is not with density per se, but poorly thought-out density.

It's critical to note that the leading urbanist thinkers associate urbanism with particular benefits of density, secured through smart planning and development, not with density itself. Prominent amongst the benefits that flow from density plus proper planning and development are the freedom to participate in diverse communities of cultural depth and richness.

Now, of course, that begs the question. Obviously, if I disagree with you, then I'm going to think *your* density is poorly thought-out, and mine is optimal.

Perhaps it would have clarified things if Ken had spent a bit more time examining this concept of "freedom to participate in diverse communities of cultural depth and richness" that he says is at risk. That construct seems incredibly vulnerable to the "NASCAR/Puccini Problem", which is a thing I just made up to illustrate that "cultural depth and richness" is a wholly arbitrary construct.

We have no NASCAR in DC, so to your average working-class Southerner, DC is a benighted cultural black hole. We've got lots of opera, though. So clearly, we're one of the country's cultural Meccas. The bottom line is, if "newcomers" disrespect established DC cultural institutions (and I'm sure they do to some extent, newcomers seem just as likely to fetishize some DC institutions as long-term residents); "old-timers" of the curmudgeonly variety tend to have an equal and opposite contempt for DC's "other" cultural institutions. I'm speaking of course about the "stuff white people like": coffee shops, dog parks, bike infrastructure, taverns, etc, etc...

What about something like HR-57? They just set up shop on H Street, displacing presumably a wig shop, or nail salon. My guess is that a Hell of a lot more middle-class DC residents care about HR-57, while a lot of working-class "old school" DC residents might lament the passing of the Old H Street's variety of shops.

by oboe on Apr 18, 2011 4:34 pm • linkreport

@HogWash:

I would guess that most people here would believe that concerns of the lr/poor are misplaced and misguided while considering their own "real."

You could rephrase this as a Universal Law: "Most people here believe that concerns of those who disagree with them are misplaced and misguided while their own concerns are valid."

by oboe on Apr 18, 2011 4:41 pm • linkreport

Are US schools only failing in poor neighborhoods or those largely attended by poor students?

In the state of Mississippi, they lowered the mark for all grades. That is, below 59 is an F, 59.5-69 is a D, 69.5-79 a C, 79.5-89 a B and 89.5 to 100 is an A.

Yet MS is still at the bottom list of public school performance with DC not too far behind.

by HogWash on Apr 18, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

@HogWash,

Mississippi is the poorest state in the country. The state's unemployment rate is quite high, and the median income is around $34k. The problem is poverty, and the answer--nationally--is to shield children from the effects of poverty. That's not something that can effectively be addressed by DC alone, though.

My feeling is that eventually, with the US becoming majority-minority, and with poverty becoming more and more a suburban phenomenon, we'll see a growing political will to take on the problem. Of course, right now we're too busy ensuring that multi-billionaires don't pay any taxes in a futile attempt to jump-start the economy.

by oboe on Apr 18, 2011 5:05 pm • linkreport

Just to note the absurdity of issue conflation here, I'd like to modify the 2nd to last 'graph in the article above.

"Any self-identifed advocate for the poor in the District who has nothing to say about how their solutions to the 30% of children in poverty, or the 30% of unemployed Ward 3 residents will resulting greater development of mass transit and reduction of fossil fuel usage cannot right fully claim the mantle of poverty advocate, and deserves the backlash he receives"

Sounds like of dumb, doesn't it? Almost like I was typing a tangential pet issue into some other one.

by John on Apr 18, 2011 5:18 pm • linkreport

@Hog:
"For example, does the concern that longtime residents/poor blacks have about "gentrification" (Milloy article) any less substantive than the concern the gentries have about those seemingly against them?"

... gentries - that's a new use of the term... and one I find wholeheartedly insulting. As much as I find the phrase "ghetto trash" insulting when referring to residents EoTR. By calling new residents to an area (though not necessarily new to DC) "gentries" you "other" people.. and here I was taught that was bad.

What ARE the issues against urban renewal?
That ltr will be pushed out of their homes.
That because the ltr have been pushed out, the community changes.

How are new residents supposed to stop that? Not buy a house?

Dupont is no longer the fun gay mecca it used to be & Adams Morgan used to be more fun before it became 1000 bars packed with Virginians and Marylanders...

neighborhoods change. it sucks. it's hard to deal with loss. The neighborhood I grew up in was poor to barely working class whites of polish/scandanavian/german ethnicity. It is now all hispanic. Funnily enough, the neighborhood hasn't much changed - it's still as neglected as it was then, same amount of crime, same awful schools. But the german beer hall is now a huge taqueria and dance hall. The lithuanian church no longer does mass in lithuanina, but holds 2 in spanish. I miss my old neighborhood, I miss going to german festivals, I miss hearing the poles and the germans having "beer song fights" on Friday nights. Guess what, my neighborhood is still gone forever. It's gone.

But I don't blame the hispanics that moved there. I left because it was a shithole. Kinda like Mr. Milloy. He left the shithole, now wants to call those that moved in his absence twits...

by greent on Apr 18, 2011 5:21 pm • linkreport

I see a whole lotta name-calling in Ken's article and not much in the way of solutions. I like development that focuses on people not places, too! I like the poor, too! I like children, too! But what, exactly, is Ken proposing to do?

by tom veil on Apr 18, 2011 5:29 pm • linkreport

Ken is trying to take the very real concerns of low-income African-Americans — i.e., those being gentrified out of their homes east of the river — in order to support his blatantly anti-student views in Georgetown. I know that's not the focus of this article, but the subtext is there.

Also, the idea that "[w]e should stop supporting change that does not benefit all residents" is ridiculous. Forcing 100% approval of every change in a community will mean that there is no change, ever.

I support building a more inclusive version of urbanism, but I do not support the condescending, counterproductive tone in this article.

by Alex on Apr 18, 2011 7:15 pm • linkreport

While I don't agree with everything Ken wrote, his article has given me "food for thought". I love GGW and agree with most of the positions advocated by the writers and commenters. However, there is a general tone of what is best for single, young professionals is good for most.

Not to pick on Allision's good comment and I ride my bike to work, but this statement is a nice example of the general aura of GGW:
"Including those 'working class' people whose lives would be greatly improved if they biked to work - even if they currently hate bike lanes."

The stroller article and similiar articles give proof to this. For the most part the comments to this article prove Ken's point to a large degree.

I don't know that he has great solutions but finding a way to make the city livable for middle class families would be good for the longterm survival of the city.

by LeeinDC on Apr 18, 2011 8:52 pm • linkreport

Speaking strictly for this life-long resident, I welcome childless people who pay income tax and property tax and help me pay for this spendthrift city. "Come on down!"

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 18, 2011 9:26 pm • linkreport


@Greent, technically speaking, "Gentry" and "ghetto trash" rest at opposite ends of the spectrum. Ironically, in choosing to analogize everything EOTR as ghetto trash (not a neighborhood but the entire area) you chose to use a term completely in contradiction to gentry which until now, I always thought referred to nobility. Who knew that it was an offensive term!

Ken also didn't blame anybody in this article. Nor did anyone else. So your rantings about whether blame is appropriate here is moot although the nostalgia is walt whitman. And really, do you think that a WPost columnist lived in a shithole ANYWHERE in DC? And that newbies captainsavedahood? Oh please.

@Alex, Ken is trying to take the very real concerns of low-income African-Americans in order to support his blatantly anti-student views. [Ok True]That's not the focus of this article what he said but the subtext is there you know that's what he was thinking.

And...instead of talking about the real concerns of low-income blacks, you chose to turn it into a pro-student moment?

by HogWash on Apr 18, 2011 9:36 pm • linkreport

What ARE the issues against urban renewal? That ltr (long time residents) will be pushed out of their homes. That because the ltr have been pushed out, the community changes. How are new residents supposed to stop that? Not buy a house?

The dismissive tone of this and so many other comments here to the plight of whole swaths of our city needs to be a wake-up call that we risk repeating the same mistakes that urban renewal has made for centuries.

Conversely, we also have an opportunity to actually show how urban renewal can be done right, and not just be the replacement of one class of folks with another.

by Ken Archer on Apr 18, 2011 9:37 pm • linkreport

I want to thank Ken for encouraging the community on GGW to do two things that many of us are often reluctant to do: take a broader perspective, and engage in self-criticism. Unfortunately, I have to agree with many of the commenters who suggest that in choosing to frame the discussion as “urban hipsters” vs. “families, the elderly, and long-time residents,” we’re missing an opportunity to have a conversation that actually advances those goals.

In December, the Coalition for Smarter Growth hosted a forum titled “Urban Hipsters and Long-time Residents Unite!” Even though that “Unite!” suggested that it’s possible for people with different perspectives to come together, one of the speakers took us down a much more productive path by firmly rejecting those labels. David Bowers identified two main problems with using labels like the ones we’ve been using in this discussion. First, by over-simplifying the diversity of the community, labels make it difficult to see differences and commonalities that can’t be summed up in an either-or divide. Second, once we start using labels to fix people, we immediately start a conversation where we’re talking about one another, instead of with one another. (Trust me, it was much more eloquent when he said it.) That doesn’t mean we’re not going to have disagreements. It does mean that we can talk about those disagreements as though the people having them are actual human beings, and not caricatures or demographic pigeonholes.

In that spirit, I’d like us to restart the discussion. Let’s start from the assumption that all of us who live in the parts of the region that are already urban to some extent, live in those places either because we see some value in urbanism, or because we were born there and lack the means to leave. So, for better or for worse, we’re stuck with each other. We have different preferences, we have made different life choices, we have different levels of income, education, and abilities. And we certainly have different perspectives on what "good urbanism" is. But at the most basic level, we’re all trying to live as best we can in an urban environment, in close proximity to one another—which means that our choices affect one another. If we’re not careful, some of those choices, when translated into public policy, could restrict someone else’s freedom or produce unsustainable outcomes.

If that’s the case, then maybe instead of criticizing “hipsters” or “long-time residents who fear change,” maybe all of us—whatever perspective we take—should be asking ourselves questions like, “Am I looking at [this development project, that bike lane, this policy proposal] only from my own perspective, or can I see how someone else might look at it?” “Whatever my general feelings and assumptions about development are, am I looking at this particular project to determine whether it will have the [positive or negative] outcomes I associate with new development?” “Instead of simply assuming that the outcomes of [this project, that policy proposal] will be [positive or negative], am I doing everything I can to ensure that something positive comes out of this, and that in particular, people with fewer opportunities have a voice?”

I’ve lived in DC for 12 years. Less than some, longer than others. In that time, I’ve been incredibly gratified, over and over, to see citizens ignore irrelevant and annoying labels and just engage one another as real people. I’ve also witnessed people do the opposite. And whether it’s been people I passionately disagree with, or people who share most of my perspectives, I can tell you without question which has been the most productive mode of discourse.

by Dan on Apr 18, 2011 9:42 pm • linkreport

@Dan,

I couldn't agree more with your comment, and your rejection of labels. I'll try to do so as well in the future.

I had assumed that, as I said above, I could critique our shared perspective and give it the label Hipster Urbanism as I'm obviously included in the critique and the label. But at the end of the day what matters is that we consider people and not places.

by Ken Archer on Apr 18, 2011 10:01 pm • linkreport

@Dan

That's a feel-good post. I think it would make a great stump speech, or something similar. It's certainly hitting on all the emotional buttons people have - and I'm not one to tell someone that their emotions are wrong.

That said, I don't know that it actually advances the understanding of our city at all. The thing about cities is that they're based on systems - complex ones, at that. The danger in dealing in anecdotes and personal tales is that you miss the forest for the trees. Courtland Milloy had some powerful emotions in his pieces, but he missed the larger tale (and it was his own tale!) that black people weren't being displaced to PG, they (like him) were leaving by choice.

My critique of Ken's piece isn't the focus on the emotions and the passions of cultural debates, it's a misunderstanding of some of the urban systems around us - the basic economics of revitalizing areas, the problems in restricting supply in a growing city, etc. As Stephen Smith and I pointed out, chalking gentrification up to 'the free market' is laughably false - there's nothing free about the real estate market in DC (or any city, for that matter).

Matt Yglesias had a post on this today, looking at a book review about gentrification in Brooklyn's brownstone neighborhoods:

http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2011/04/cant-talk-about-residency-patterns-without-talking-about-prices/

Yglesias notes all of the social observations are great, but they completely miss on the fundamental economic angle of the entire enterprise - the beatniks moved to Brooklyn because they couldn't afford Manhattan.

I guess my point is this - if you want to make an analytical policy argument, that's fine. If you want to make a human interest, emotional argument, that's fine too. But be careful about conflating those two together. As someone noted above (oboe?) you can talk about the Big Tent from a politics perspective or from a policy perspective, but smearing the two together without finding some common ground does a disservice to both.

Labels such as 'hipster urbanism' don't help, either.

by Alex B. on Apr 18, 2011 10:33 pm • linkreport

Ken, I read it. Ok, I read it pretty fast, but I read it. Thanks for writing this !!! I recently returned to DC and started writing about being back after having lived elsewhere for one year. "If you want to make a place livable, then you absolutely must make it livable for families. Otherwise, you don’t have a city, but a commercial hotel zone." That's my concluding observation.

So when you say Urbanism can and should command a broader constituency, including families, it warms my heart! But I would place even more, much more, emphasis on families, in fact let families lead the way.

There's so much more I'd like to say about your piece. One thing is that I wonder about characterizing the average age of first marriage in DC. What's the definition of resident in that study? Meaning, how long do they say a "resident" would have had to live in a place? Just that I'm not sure I characterize someone moving from Michigan at age 27, three years later marrying, and one year later moving away as a DC resident. They were more like passing through.

by Jazzy on Apr 18, 2011 10:38 pm • linkreport

Well, I'm confused. Ken's article sets up an interesting frame for critique (architectural/density determinism) but I don't see what he would replace it with. Does he define "big-tent urbanism?" What does it mean to "make others free?" All I can pick up on here is an undercurrent that city dwellers should be "free" from being buffeted by the forces of change which visit successfully developing city districts - but how should we endeavor to do so without choking off the successful redevelopment in the first place?

And then there's this:

"Any self-identified urbanist in the District who has nothing to say to its 30% of children in poverty, or the 30% of out-of-work Ward 8 residents, cannot rightly claim the mantle of urbanism and deserves any backlash he or she receives."

I'm afraid Ken has "nothing to say" in this article about the poverty or jobless rates either. So because disproportionately poor and jobless people live in the District, we should rethink the application of urbanism here? What are urbanists supposed to do - clothe, feed, and hire all of the current residents before proceeding with renovations or redevelopment in the city? I'm sorry to say that this kind of hand-wringing brings very little of substance to the table. What, exactly, would you have "hipster urbanists" do, other than pay this article's kind of lip service to the necessary consequences of living in a resource-constrained society?

by Jeb on Apr 19, 2011 6:52 am • linkreport

I feel I read a long blog post of nothing but platitudes. What the heck is "big tent urbanism"? What is missing here? What's the big problem that people without children are moving to the district (as they always have, in their first jobs out of school, before they move back to where they grew up and get married)?

I see a lot of preening here, but not much in the way of a correct diagnosis of the underlying issues or any actual solutions. I think Ken just feels guilty that some people don't like him.

by Tyro on Apr 19, 2011 7:52 am • linkreport

What's the big problem that people without children are moving to the district (as they always have, in their first jobs out of school, before they move back to where they grew up and get married)?
No, it's that people without children are moving to the district (as they always have, in their first jobs out of school, before they move back to where they grew up and get married) and are vigorously trying to determine how others with deeper roots ought to live based on the policy changes they advocate. (Right before they leave the city.)

by Jazzy on Apr 19, 2011 8:11 am • linkreport

Jazzy, I actually disagree about how the dynamic has been playing itself out. Stress over gentrification has become more intense as those formerly transient single people started to stay here in DC, get married, and have families. There seemed to be a gentlemen's agreement that both sides would leave each other alone and the would-be gentrifiers would simply move out to the suburbs or back home after a fixed period of time. Only when they decided to have families, wanted schools that were up to their standards, public amenities and facilities that they liked, and ANCs that functioned-- and weren't afraid to speak up about what they wanted-- did people like Milloy get upset.

by Tyro on Apr 19, 2011 8:34 am • linkreport

Having had a night to sleep on it:

Ken's argument really seems to boil down to this: urbanists are only looking at the benefits of urbanist policies. But they don't take into account the damage that they do to long-time residents. These take the form of displacement, the destruction of cultural institutions, and alienation.

But the problem is, most urbanists here understand that argument; we just fundamentally disagree. The displacement effect is minimal--people move. The cultural institutions are no more being "displaced" than the old residents are--retail and services follow their customer base into the suburbs (or close because of changing tastes in general).

The one point I agree with completely is that we could do with more sensitivity on both sides of the argument. But this is complicated by the fact that both sides see themselves as something of a put-upon minority: urbanists in the face of the overwhelming bias towards the suburban form in America; and long-term poor residents because, well, they're generally poor and African American.

Obviously, the anonymous nature of the Internet contributes to this as well. But as much as that causes friction, it also allows us to have a "real" conversation about controversial issues without getting into a screaming match at some community center.

by oboe on Apr 19, 2011 9:19 am • linkreport

@leeinDC - just to clarify, my statement on working class people and riding bikes was a reference to the physical fitness improvements and fuel savings they would gain from commuting by bike rather than some kind of proclamation about biking as a lifestyle choice or moral stance. if thinking about public health, economics and the environment represents the 'aura' of GGWASH comments, I'm ok with that!

@dan and others - thanks for pointing out the divisiveness of labels. There has been a major upswing in DC news reporting about 'long time residents' and 'black gentrifiers' and 'young professionals' and all sorts of other labels. They rarely improve the discussion, but instead reduce it to 'evening news' simplicity. Once of the reasons I appreciate most GGWASH and City Paper articles are because of the depth of analysis and thoughtfulness of reporting (and good editing), which I felt was lacking here. I think Ken's post tackles a worthy subject but does so while trying to artificially divide what is actually a spectrum of people who may or may not like density, bike lanes, dogs, kids, strollers, hipsters, liquor stores, poverty alleviation, etc., as independent issues. I don't know many 'urbanists' of any kind who would agree on all of those issues. I suppose in this context (discussing differences of opinion and approach) even the term 'urbanist' becomes sort of silly - does that mean you love cities, advocate for cities, live in a city or hate all things suburban? Or all of the above?

by Allison on Apr 19, 2011 9:19 am • linkreport

Well said, oboe.

by Alex B. on Apr 19, 2011 9:51 am • linkreport

@HogWash "And...instead of talking about the real concerns of low-income blacks, you chose to turn it into a pro-student moment?"

The interests of low-income blacks and the interests of college students are pretty parallel. Both are relatively poor - no matter how much money some students may get from their parents, college students are poor - and both have trouble making themselves heard in the halls of government.

Both are populations often abused by zoning codes and legal trickery on the part of richer, more empowered neighbors. Both are subject to higher crime rates and higher rates of sexually transmitted infection than genpop, as well as stereotyping and special attention from the police.

Am I saying college students would want to switch places with low-income black families? No, that's ridiculous. But it's almost as ridiculous to ignore the troubles students face.

Most of the time, in fact, it's 'urbanists' and 'hipsters' who are some of the only real allies college students can find in this city's body politic, so yes - when Ken Archer tries to redefine 'urbanist' as a coalition that excludes and even actively opposes us, we get worried, and we get offended.

by ADW on Apr 19, 2011 9:54 am • linkreport

What's an urbanist?

by snowpeas on Apr 19, 2011 10:02 am • linkreport

Oboe, please stop thinking overnight about issues. Very disturbing when you become rational.

by charlie on Apr 19, 2011 10:03 am • linkreport

@snowpeas

Some tool that wears pork-pie hats and yellow tinted glasses.

Oh wait... I just described a HIPSTER urbanist.

by TGEoA on Apr 19, 2011 10:08 am • linkreport


The general response to this rather tame article, shows so-called New Urbanist are not ready for prime time policy discussions or making. I've know this for awhile, but was hoping followers of this forum would have the courage to mature over time.

by W Jordan on Apr 19, 2011 10:16 am • linkreport

@oboe
Well said on most of this. I disagree here:
But the problem is, most urbanists here understand that argument; we just fundamentally disagree. The displacement effect is minimal--people move. The cultural institutions are no more being "displaced" than the old residents are--retail and services follow their customer base into the suburbs (or close because of changing tastes in general).

I'll definitely agree that for those who own their home, displacement is probably not a huge concern. If they want to stay, they are able to for the most part. If they decide to move, they are going to get a good return on their house when they sell it. That probably in the end is a pretty GOOD thing for those individuals. And you are right that cultural institutions generally move as the populations move.

But I think this misses a whole segment of people - those people who rent apartments in buildings that then get converted to condos. Those people certainly don't "just move" on their own volition; their housing is allowed to deteriorate to a point of squalor and they are basically faced with the "choice" of living in filth or finding someplace else to live. That doesn't seem to be much of a choice and I don't see those people as getting a lot of benefit from gentrification.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/metro/forcedout/

Unfortunately I don't have a real solution to this problem other than for the city's regulatory agencies to actually do their jobs and not be totally beholden to condo developer interests.

by MLD on Apr 19, 2011 10:27 am • linkreport

Oboe, while your more recent comment is more agreeable than your previous comments, there is still a fundamental problem: you are pitting an urban FORM against PEOPLE instead of thinking about what the FUNCTION of the form should be, which should be for people.

Which people? of course is the next question. And this is what everyone is fighting about; who has more of a 'right' to determine how they want to live.

To see cities purely as a set of systems having an abstract existence where the people move in and out but the form is more important is like starchitecture that fails to take into account the usability of the building and the function it is meant to serve.

In community development, we often talk about 'stakeholders.' Those with a 'stake' in the issue. What I see so many urbanists fail to take into account is that the issue is not just about where people live or the changing form of the community, but the ripping away of a sense of ownership and stake in anything. I often feel like there is this perverse situation in which the new generation of urbanists hail their Jane Jacobs and decry Robert Moses, all while engaging in Moses-like tactics to restructure the form of the city to their perceived Plato-nic ideal.

I'm not going to pick apart every little bit of the article or comments, but I just want to point out that pretty much all of the defenses about 'urbanists' fall back on putting 'The City' as an abstract entity on a pedestal over the people that it should be existing for.

You can give me all the economic arguments that you want for why bringing in new people, retail, etc is good for the economy and I will turn right back around and tell you that while that does boost revenue and jobs, the IDEAL situation would be to encourage CURRENT residents to open stores, buy houses, maintain their stake in the community.

I'm not saying that no one should move in, but I do agree that the sense of entitlement and ownership cannot come without gaining a more nuanced perspective over time of the communities being moved into- much like you wouldn't move into someone's house as a guest and immediately start trying to change everything, communities should be thought of similarly. Sure, the house may need repairs, but until that relationship with the owners is developed, it's just wielding power without consideration.

We as urbanists (yes, I'm coming from similar backgrounds as many of you) MUST do a better job of reconciling PEOPLE with FORM. "Livability" and "Walkability" and "Quality of Life" are all abstract concepts until they are imbued with meaning by those experiencing them (or not!).

by LC on Apr 19, 2011 10:38 am • linkreport

@W Jordan

Substance of your comment aside, New Urbanism (with capital letters, since it is a proper name) is very different, if related, to general urbanism and urbanists.

http://www.newurbanism.org/

New Urbanism is many things, but it is not what Ken described with his untactful 'hipster urbanist' label.

It helps to be precise with your language. Not that you seem care about precision, judging on the content of your comment.

by Alex B. on Apr 19, 2011 10:39 am • linkreport

@LC

Attention to the people is certainly important, but I think it's a mistake in conflating the understanding of the overarching systems with a disregard for the human element of a city. It's important not to conflate those two - just because you'd care to focus on the human elements doesn't suddenly mean the systematic elements are irrelevant. All too often, policies designed to help the human portion of various urban problems completely backfire because they ignored the actual systems in play.

I cited Chris Bradford's post earlier:
http://www.austincontrarian.com/austincontrarian/2011/04/urban-planners-and-urban-economics.html

Essentially, he argues that a well meaning policy to address that human side is something like affordable housing set-aside requirements. However, those requirements are often crafted without any concern for the overall economics of an area, therefore the requirements add to the cost of building new housing and actually make the overall affordability of an area worse, not better. This stems from a lack of understanding of the systematic elements of urbanism, such as filtering in home prices.

http://www.austincontrarian.com/austincontrarian/2008/06/filtering.html

If you want more affordable apartments, build more tip-top apartments. Increasing the supply of high-quality apartments lowers the rent for high-quality apartments, all else being equal. Falling rents for the good units encourage landlords to let the older ones slide into the affordable sub-market.

On the other hand, if you want to raise the rents for older properties, then discourage the construction of new apartments. Restricting supply will raise the rents for high-quality housing, including older, well-maintained properties. Higher rents will encourage landlords to spend more on maintenance and renovation to move their properties from the low-quality sub-market pool to the higher-quality sub-market.

This an example of why that dichotomy of urban form vs. urban human function is a false one - this is not an either/or argument. Adding density and relaxing the regulations for growth can be far more effective in maintaining that kind of community, as counter-intuitive as it may seem. Then again, urbanism is a counter-intuitive thing.

by Alex B. on Apr 19, 2011 11:00 am • linkreport

You can give me all the economic arguments that you want for why bringing in new people, retail, etc is good for the economy and I will turn right back around and tell you that while that does boost revenue and jobs, the IDEAL situation would be to encourage CURRENT residents to open stores, buy houses, maintain their stake in the community.
As has been pointed out time and time again, they don't want to open retail stores and don't want them around. oboe is correct that what we see is that there's ultimately a zero-sum game afoot: many of the so-called "stakeholders" in DC have a vested interest in keeping their suburban lifestyle within the city dominant. Meanwhile, demand for housing and infrastructure cannot handle the influx of residents and need for economic development while maintaining a car-centric, underdeveloped, anti-commercial/anti-retail lifestyle.

I don't believe in the existence of "stakeholders." Rather, we have a set of "special interests," and it is the job of representative government to balance these special interests for the good of the city. Certain special interests are going to lose out, if only because it's not sustainable to maintain DC as a car centric residential suburb with poor schools.

LC also suffers the same problem of Ken Archer of talking about vague generalities, in this case about "people" vs. "form" without actually outlining specifics.

by JustMe on Apr 19, 2011 11:02 am • linkreport

You can give me all the economic arguments that you want for why bringing in new people, retail, etc is good for the economy and I will turn right back around and tell you that while that does boost revenue and jobs, the IDEAL situation would be to encourage CURRENT residents to open stores, buy houses, maintain their stake in the community.

Fine. Then you have to make that argument--complete with policy prescriptions to get there. As far as I can see we do encourage current residents to open stores, buy houses and maintain their stake in the community. Again, there are many DC government programs in place with the aim of doing this.

Now the argument you want to make is that either a) we should do even more of the same things we're doing; or b) we should do things differently. You'll also want to make a compelling case that a) or b) will lead to better outcomes.

by oboe on Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport

@WJordan, The general response to this rather tame article, shows so-called New Urbanist are not ready for prime time policy discussions or making. Why? Because they don't agree with you?

I've found most responses thoughtful and nuanced, inspite of the fact that Kens use of language really does grate and can/does amplify polar stereotypes. Most commenters, after pushing back on Kens unfortunate abrasive and distracting language, grasped and embraced the more important point he's making; "are policies uplifting the least among us?" (my imterpretation), even though that point is weakened by his sweeping generalizations of people of all walks.

This point, of policies than can uplift the least, I think is more tangibly being discussed in the thread about Wal-mart. There's a real policy at stake in that, not just navel-gazing.

And I just can't let this go; what the hell does the age of marraige in DC compared to states have to do with anything? Make a comparison to other cities at least, otherwise its meaningless. Or if you want to discuss social trends and policies that uplift the least then mention the rate of teen pregnancy, infant mortality, maternal morbidity and mortality, friggin' HIV rate, the rate of African American babies born to unmarried mothers. In contrast to these stats from DC that DO NOT compare favorably nationally its GOOD for babies when their parents marry, marry older and are older when the baby is born. What can have an impact on these negative trends? Education. How do we improve education? Well, thats the discussion, isn't it? IMHO I'd start with hiring more teachers and teachers' aids to improve the teacher/student ratio in the classroom.

by Tina on Apr 19, 2011 11:07 am • linkreport

If you want more affordable apartments, build more tip-top apartments. Increasing the supply of high-quality apartments lowers the rent for high-quality apartments, all else being equal. Falling rents for the good units encourage landlords to let the older ones slide into the affordable sub-market.
Sounds nice in theory, but doesn't work out in practice. Housing markets are highly local. What is usually happening is that there is pent-up demand for "luxury" apartments in a neighborhood that isn't fulfilled, so those consumers look elsewhere, leaving that neighborhood alone. When tip-top quality apartments become available, the pent up demand gets released, providing an outlet for those who were seeking that type of housing. They move into the neighborhood, and the influx of money and secondary effects causes other people to move into the neighborhoods, perhaps settling for lower-quality apartments in a neighborhood that has nice amenities and rich neighbors, driving up rents all around. It may have the side effect of moderating prices in outlying areas, however, as the monied classes leave the "luxury ghettos" (eg, North Bethesda, Rockville) to find access the amenities available in the center city. I don't think the situation is as simple as Alex B. makes it out to be, particularly on a neighborhood-level granularity.

by JustMe on Apr 19, 2011 11:10 am • linkreport

@JustMe

I surely didn't mean to imply that any of this was simple - but it is systematic. If you go to the link and read the rest of the post, you'll see that the argument is far more nuanced than the portion I quoted. That said, he still captured the fundamental dynamic at play here. If a stakeholder wants to limit displacement of downmarket apartments, then limiting the growth of upmarket apartments nearby is not going to be a good solution.

The fundamental issue here is that this is an area with massively growing demand - and too many of the critiques seem to imply that we can just regulate that demand away without adding any supply, and then we can keep things the same.

I think those ideas are wrong a) from the get-go - cities change, any policy aimed to keep things the same is destined to fail, and b) growth and density are what gives cities the benefits we all know and love - it's what makes cities into cities.

by Alex B. on Apr 19, 2011 11:18 am • linkreport

And I just can't let this go; what the hell does the age of marriage in DC compared to states have to do with anything?

Oh, thanks Tina; I forgot to mention: age of marriage pretty much tracks closely with level of education of the woman. So, yes, as the population of DC gets more educated (and wealthier) so too does the average age of marriage go up.

The reason "no state has as high a median age of first marriage as the District" is that DC's population falls largely into two categories: well-educated folks who wait until later to get married (and much later to have children), and poor folks who disproportionately never get married.

I won't speak to Ken's claim that this is evidence of the hegemony of "the most footloose and uprooted in society".

by oboe on Apr 19, 2011 11:20 am • linkreport

@oboe, yes, thanks for explaining that relationship and the speciousness of using this stat as evidence of the hegemony of "the most footloose and uprooted in society"

by Tina on Apr 19, 2011 11:28 am • linkreport

Is it humanely possible to talk about an issue as uncomfortable as gentrification/displacement and expect no labels?

Ex., would anyone be as offended had Ken instead used "urbanist" or "smart growth set" than hipster urban? I doubt that many would. I think we push away from labels we don't like - not that we don't like labels and we used that dislike for justification for why labels shouldn't exist.

There was absolutely nothing remotely absolutist in Ken's post and that's what I liked about it. Nor does he attempt to solve EVERY problem, answer EVERY question in one post. It's impossible. And you can't help but take into consideration a writer who's at least willing to admit that maybe a previous opinion was wrong or misguided. Gotta respect that.

by HogWash on Apr 19, 2011 11:30 am • linkreport

HogWash, you have to realize that the readership here is made up of people that are such special and unique snowflakes that no single label can possibly fully contain them.

by JustMe on Apr 19, 2011 11:33 am • linkreport

@Hogwash, he didn't have to use any labels. He could have stuck to describing what has happened (changed demographics, increased population reversing a 50 year trend of decreasing population) and discussed the consequences of it to the LTR. That sems to be his thrust; discussing with compassion how the changes affect LTR.

by Tina on Apr 19, 2011 11:37 am • linkreport

@Justme, "I'm unique. Just like everybody else".

by Tina on Apr 19, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

BTW, how many decades do you have to live here before you've graduated to LTR? Or is the minimum requirement >=3rd generation Washingtonian?

by Tina on Apr 19, 2011 11:43 am • linkreport


The context of this discussion should be public policy. Should the government continue to take resources designed to sure-up lower, working and middle class families to provide profits to developers? Should government continue to subsidize the gutting community infrastructure in the name of New Urbanist principles? And if the policy continues how far does it go and do the consequences matter?

Most, seem to want to duck these questions. In Columbia Heights, Donatelli Development in Dec 2010 was sold the land for Highland Park 2 for $10. As part of this deal in theory he is supposed to provide 20% affordable housing. To get around this they proposed to reduce apartment square footage. So although the need for affordable housing is among young families with children, the design excludes these persons because the units are too small. The net affect is to take public resources design for families, discriminate against these families with children, pocketing the profits. The argument made at zoning to just justify discrimination and taking of public resources was New Urbanist principles around density.

One result of this policy is the increase in homelessness among young families with children. This although these are working families. The city in turn raises taxes and gives Donatelli Development a tax abatement to subsidize the higher prices and density. Because of the abatement, the new sports bar pays no property taxes. Which is designed to serve adults not families with children.

Is this the public policy we want, is all Ken is asking or would we give it more thought. Most here say even raising this issue is bad.

by W Jordan on Apr 19, 2011 11:50 am • linkreport

People will borrow whatever vocabulary they need to oppose change, it seems.

I spoke to a taxi driver once who opposed bike lanes because they harm "productivity." Was it economic output he was thinking of, in terms of reduced traffic delays from cars taken off the road, or was he thinking of cab fares he would lose from making it easier to get around the city without a car?

'urbanists' fall back on putting 'The City' as an abstract entity on a pedestal over the people that it should be existing for.

This argument is the most mystifying. Urbanist planning and architecture desires to elevate the city's form to better serve the human, rather than the car. Do you mean "people" in terms of designing roads and buildings to accomodate human scale, or "people" in terms of NIMBYists and sticks in the mud who would like to pretend that urban renewal is a preservationist exercise?

Nor does he attempt to solve EVERY problem, answer EVERY question in one post.

That was my problem with the article. I heard a lot of generalizations—stereotypes and platitudes—without any focus on concrete solutions. Urbanists shouldn't indulge the "pit one demographic against another" side of the argument. In the end everyone benefits, and choices meant to benefit everyone will always displease some.

These generic complaints about "process," "history," "culture," and "the poor" are vexing but inherently unsolvable (and to each of these terms, watch out for how those who are opposed to change will use them). The poor will always be with us. Process delays the inevitable. History and culture are always evolving. We will never reach an ideal where nobody loses out from change. Change is never easy (and to the person who mentioned Robert Moses: nor does it always have to be so destructive).

If we talk about demographics, it's really hard to remove yourself from this argument and refrain from engaging in generalizations. That's why it's better to stick to a solutions-oriented approach to this topic and avoid the demographic question altogehter. The hope is that society is well-structured enough to allow people to deal with the consequences of change. If we're not there yet, then let's focus the debate on making that happen.

by Omar on Apr 19, 2011 11:59 am • linkreport

Is this the public policy we want, is all Ken is asking or would we give it more thought. Most here say even raising this issue is bad.

To your credit, you, unlike Ken, raised a specific issue with specific consequences. But I'm not sure that political corruption falls under the category of "hipster urbanism." If anything, it was not hipsters on the city council and the ANCs who acceded to these corrupt deals, it was the "community leadership" that is so resentful of the young professional residents who don't "pay their respects" to them every time they want to improve the neighborhood.

by JustMe on Apr 19, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

@WJordan thank you for providing a real life scenario around which to have this discussion. Ken did not provide a concrete detail like this; he did not describe a real life scenario and ask "is this the policy we want"? I did not know the details of this project and I can guess many other readers did not either. That does not mean we/us are trying to duck it. It just means there was an information void, which you have now filled.

by Tina on Apr 19, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

"You don't advocate for a big tent while calling half the population snobs and excusing xenophobia in the other half."

-------

Here, here. Milloy is known to be racist and classist -- the little benefit we can draw from his body of work is that it compartmentalizes and then serves up for "debate" the collective voices of other racist, classist individuals in this city. The basic question is why are we excusing racism, xenophobia and classism simply because it is manifested by the elderly and the poor, while lambasting it when it's manifested by the young and upwardly mobile?

Everyone represents and argues for their own personal interests, even the poor and elderly. Very few people are able to selflessly argue for the interests of others. That so many comments appear to represent the interests of the young, single upwardly mobile residents of this city is mostly just a reflection of this blog's readership demographic.

by Scoot on Apr 19, 2011 12:02 pm • linkreport

The displacement effect is minimal--people move. The cultural institutions are no more being "displaced" than the old residents are--retail and services follow their customer base into the suburbs (or close because of changing tastes in general).

So should urbanists stop complaining, as nearly all of us do, about the loss of cultural institutions caused by sprawl? As you say, people move to the suburbs, and their cultural institutions presumably follow them. Right?

But their cultural institutions obviously haven't followed them to the suburbs. They've been lost, because culturally deep and rich communities develop organically in places.

The problem with saying that the displacement effect is minimal is that it narrows what counts as displacement to government-sanctioned interference in the housing market, keeping individuals from buying or selling homes as they wish.

But the displacement that urbanists worry about is government tinkering with the supply and demand for housing through tinkering with the built environment whilst overlooking current residents - resulting in the rapid turnover of communities, not just individuals.

In a real community, families move from house to house within the community as their family sizes change. When housing prices rise quickly, and as a result people can't afford the next move to be within their neighborhood, it's not accurate to simply say they cashed out of their house to get a bigger place in the suburbs.

Obviously places change over time, but organically and gradually such that elements of the previous community infuse new cultural institutions. When the turnover of a community happens quickly in a decade or two, which only happens when government stimulates demand by tinkering with the built environment without trying to lift up actual current residents at the same time, cultural institutions are lost.

Under this broader definition of displacement, it's happening all around DC. All I'm saying is that the urbanist movement I want to be a part of in DC is one that does more than replace one class of folks and community with another - that's been done for centuries.

by Ken Archer on Apr 19, 2011 12:29 pm • linkreport


Those who drive this forum are perfectly aware of such details, but choose to avoid certain details for political reasons. Which is why real life examples in Columbia Heights are down played. Many New Urbanist thought leaders are closely aligned with certain politicians and developers from whom they seek legislative access and donations. When CM Graham chaired Transportation folk did not want to piss him off so the allowed him to do a half-ass job of implementing the Columbia Height Performance Parking Zone, never critiquing him, but instead bashing guys at DDOT being compromised by Graham's actions.

For 3 years Donatelli Development with Graham's help were able to block streetscape improvements in the Columbia Heights neighborhood including the civic plaza that were designed to make Columbia Heights pedestrian friendly. Donatelli Development did not want to comply, he had condos to flip. The biking community was silenced by adding a few bike racks. The Smart Growth community seeking donation did not want to piss off Donatelli Development. Instead silence got them seats on special committees while the people walked squeezed by on 5 foot sidewalks or walked in the streets.

Most people in Columbia Heights supported increased density, the question was how much and would it be done in a high quality and thoughtful way. Clearly, the city was willing to for go quality to favor developers.

by W Jordan on Apr 19, 2011 12:42 pm • linkreport

@Ken

I think you misunderstand what the displacement argument (or lack thereof) via gentrification says - it doesn't argue that there isn't displacement, or that there isn't change - it does argue that the status quo community was not nearly as stable as it first appeared. There is a lot of natural 'churn' in any community that often is mistakenly assumed to be static.

Cities are inherently dynamic places, not static. Even though the culture may seem static and stable, it has always been churning. The churning is actually the constant - what changes is the rate of the change and what that change means - i.e. who moves in, where prices move, etc.

I'm also not sure what you mean by 'government tinkering' but you seem to imply that it only works one way. The government tinkers in everything. Just as you shouldn't think the status quo is more static than it really is, nor should you think that the current level and focus of government intervention and tinkering is somehow optimal or right.

Fundamentally, we're talking about managing change. To the extent that you seek to manage change by preventing that inevitable change from happening, you're setting yourself up to fail.

by Alex B. on Apr 19, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

In the larger scheme of things, so-called Hipsters are used as scape goats and a buffer class. In Columbia Heights when developers crashed the market via the housing bubble, they filled in the gap with hipsters, see Allegro Development onf 14th St.. Soon, the market will driven them out in favor of those which real wealth and much higher incomes. Hipsters are also seen as politically harmless to the deal makers.

by W Jordan on Apr 19, 2011 12:52 pm • linkreport

So the core of Ken's post seems to me to be two not-very-controversial points. First, that increasing population density per se is not equivalent to improving a city. I defy anyone to argue against that proposition. As counter evidence, just look at the grand experiment with massive high-rise public housing the US supported in the 50s. It was dense, but it was not good for the community or the individual residents. That gets you to a simple proposition: the nature of density increases matter.

The second point seems to me to be a nod in the direction of a prescription: as we consider/effect increases in density, we should consider (in some way we'll need to argue about later) how to incorporate the needs of different socioeconomic groups and families. How? Well, he avoids that, I think intentionally. Maybe it means inclusionary zoning, or housing vouchers, or some other intervention in the market. And, yes, to Alex B.'s point, you should try to be certain that the intervention has the intended effect. But it seems to me that Ken only seems to be saying that we can and should be more purposeful about the communities we create through architecture and other urban planning exercises.

To those who would balk at the notion of "creating" a community and adding government interventions, I would just note that the decision to promote very loosely constrained density is very much a policy with predictable outcomes. And its a perfectly reasonable position to take. But Ken seems to be advocating for a different kind of community, albeit without providing too many details about what it would entail. It seems to me to be exactly the kind of public discourse we should be having: what do we want the city to look like and how do we make that happen?

by Mark Jordan on Apr 19, 2011 12:59 pm • linkreport

Sigh, this is an utterly pointless discussion as framed, as it provides no more than feel good, "I am so morally noble" platitudes. This is a "Splunge" discussion.

To help with context:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3v0I4OQi7CQ
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=splunge

The basic thesis proposed is that somehow, magically, "real urbanism" should suspend the laws of supply and demand, and have change occur that doesn't change anything.

As a practical matter, the only way to achieve Ken's goals (if you can make any out here) is to either just change nothing, or have ever increasing subsidies both implicit and explicit to counteract the market. Where this money will come from? No suggestions. How much is required? No clue. How do you deal with limited space and increasing population, given it's fundamentally Unconstitutional to block people from freely buying and selling their property...punt!

Splunge!

by John on Apr 19, 2011 12:59 pm • linkreport

@Mark Jordan

As counter evidence, just look at the grand experiment with massive high-rise public housing the US supported in the 50s. It was dense, but it was not good for the community or the individual residents.

Actually, many of those high rises were not actually that dense, thanks to their towers-in-the-park design.

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/4715/perceptions-of-density-often-miss-the-mark/

I'd also note that the failures of those projects aren't so much about design as they are about the perils of extreme concentrations of poverty. The high rise, modernist projects executed as middle-class housing have done just fine.

by Alex B. on Apr 19, 2011 1:05 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.: I absolutely agree with you, which I don't think refutes the point. I think it establishes that greater density neither ensures success, nor guarantees failure. So clearly there's something more than density at work; it's the nature of what's densely packed, so we should pay attention to that.

by Mark Jordan on Apr 19, 2011 1:12 pm • linkreport

So should urbanists stop complaining, as nearly all of us do, about the loss of cultural institutions caused by sprawl?

You won't get much "complaint" from me about the loss of cultural institutions in the exurbs. I assumed that was the natural state of the exurbs. That's what the suburbs do.

When housing prices rise quickly, and as a result people can't afford the next move to be within their neighborhood, it's not accurate to simply say they cashed out of their house to get a bigger place in the suburbs.

But that is largely accurate. There's certainly a very strong correlation between the passing of the 1968 Housing Rights Act, and the mass exodus of middle-class blacks from DC to the suburbs. I think in a previous pieces someone pointed out that DC lost 100,000 black citizens in roughly the years 1970-1980. That has always been an aspirational goal to a lot of working-class DC residents--just as it has for post-war white residents.

As far as home prices go, it's comforting to point the finger at nefarious "developers" and complicit politicians, but it seems more likely that the increase in real-estate values has more to do with changing tastes among middle-class homebuyers, and explosive regional population growth coupled with self-defeating suburban policies to manage that growth.

Is there a solution to these problems? Again, if there's a compelling solution, we're all ears. That's what this forum is for, right? Otherwise, I think it's a bit uncharitable to ascribe ulterior motives to "hipster urbanists" for not supporting policies that you can't describe with any concreteness.

by oboe on Apr 19, 2011 1:13 pm • linkreport

I'm renaming this post: "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Urbanist: The Rise of Hipster Architectural Determinism."

Seems more appropriate given its gag-inducing nature. Ken assets that some are being inclusive enough; I assert that too many people spend more time talking (writing) instead of doing.

I live in Hill East, which is definitely in transition, and things seem to be going pretty well around there without all this moralistic hoopla.

by MJ on Apr 19, 2011 1:18 pm • linkreport

One last thing: it's not clear to me how we could have prevented long-term residents from selling their houses at fair market value. Do we incentivize them to *not* move to a larger house on a large lot (or a small house on a beach somewhere) by giving them the couple of hundred thousand dollars they'd otherwise make by selling. Or massively subsidize the resident who's thinking of moving to the suburbs because you can get more for your money?

As far as "developers" causing the housing bubble, I think there was plenty of blame to go around there. Furthermore, if you look at housing prices in DC's recently gentrified areas, there's a good argument to be made that there was no housing bubble in any case.

by oboe on Apr 19, 2011 1:34 pm • linkreport

Great article. Though I can't help but wonder how many of those groups counter under "big tent urbanism" will ever read and deeply consider this piece. I'm not sure their purported lack of concern for digital media (to borrow Mr. Milloy's notion) is the problem either.

by Chris on Apr 19, 2011 1:42 pm • linkreport

@hog:"
@Greent, technically speaking, "Gentry" and "ghetto trash" rest at opposite ends of the spectrum. Ironically, in choosing to analogize everything EOTR as ghetto trash (not a neighborhood but the entire area) you chose to use a term completely in contradiction to gentry which until now, I always thought referred to nobility. Who knew that it was an offensive term! "

Technically speaking, you twist alot of words.

You did not write GentrY as in landed gentry of olden days. You wrote gentries as in a shortening of gentrifiers.

I then stated to call people gentries is the same as calling all people EoTR ghetto trash .. and you somehow imply I am insulting people? I am saying quite clearly to NOT do that, which is the point of an analogy.

"Ken also didn't blame anybody in this article. Nor did anyone else. So your rantings about whether blame is appropriate here is moot although the nostalgia is walt whitman."
Oh please. I did not rant, I said 1 sentence that I did not blame people who changed my neighborhood by moving into it. That is not a rant dear sir. Thanks for realizing that when my neighborhood changed, and I miss the old hood, that it is a nostalic longing for bygone days... it's true - neighborhoods change, cultures change, institutions change. Boo hoo for everybody then, right?!?

"And that newbies captainsavedahood? Oh please."

And that longtermresies careaboutthehood. Oh please. (see sarcasm because I don't have any idea what you meant with this...)

by greent on Apr 19, 2011 2:15 pm • linkreport

Obviously, since many of you "know" what the "real" definitions of what urbanism and displacement/gentrification are, Ken did spark a discussion.

If he gave specific policy prescriptions, then we'd be reading almost 100 posts about why his policies are ill-advised in the same way that you are complaining him not providing any.

So there, you are right and Ken is wrong for..well he's just wrong.

@Green, You did not write GentrY as in landed gentry of olden days. You wrote gentries as in a shortening of gentrifiers. I then stated to call people gentries is the same as calling all people EoTR ghetto trash .. and you somehow imply I am insulting people? I am saying quite clearly to NOT do that, which is the point of an analogy.

Gee, what a handful that is. So you admit that you clearly understand that gentry was shorthand for gentrification. Yet, you claimed to be offended by it and then compared the offense to those of us who take mad issue with everything EOTR as ghetto trash. So that we're clear, my point is that it is utterly ridiculous to compare the derivative gentry to the slur ghetto trash because IMO, there is none. Not at all.

by HogWash on Apr 19, 2011 4:28 pm • linkreport

It's easy to spark a discussion. Giving answers is harder. Relying on the comments section to do the work for you is lazy Internet journalism.

by Omar on Apr 19, 2011 4:38 pm • linkreport

@Hogwash, on the contrary, I think most commenters including myself agree with Kens underlying premise. The criticism is with his delivery and style.

by Tina on Apr 19, 2011 4:39 pm • linkreport

I don't have a problem with Ken's delivery. I know some people don't like "hipster" because they think it's offensive. I don't like it because it's not true! When the culture is work (not poetry, art or music, say) truly, how hip can we be? The article by Malloy seems strident to say the least, and I have not read it. I think it's possible to see this post as a blast of fresh air for this blog in spite of the terminology and article reference (which I clearly get are a little inflammatory).

Tyro, if, as you say, more newcomers are staying for longer periods, long enough to start families, I say GREAT! I don't care about location or race as much as I do stability and general family friendliness. And I'll believe you as soon as I see you with a cane, in your 70s and 80s!

by Jazzy on Apr 19, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport


Development is and should not be one size fits all. As well gentrification is not the only model for development. There are some who want to make gentrification the only legit model and don't want to address other approaches.

The other issue a purposeful attempt to avoid any notion of scale, proportion and fairness.

For example - attempting to equate the number of Black so-called gentrifiers with Whites. I have seen no evidence that the numbers are equal or close. Otherwise the lost of Black residents would have been much less.

Displacement - did not occur on a one for one scale. Government only displaced large numbers of low income with programs such as Hope 6 and New Communities. As well, condo conversion especially via the 95/5 rules. DC especially in neighborhoods initially targeted for redevelopment were upward of 70% rental.

In Columbia Heights buyers competed against investors not so much other buyers. Investors often made cash bids with escalator clauses. The city also raised the income qualifications for home buyer assistance programs. So now people of income of $90K or more were using programs designed for income levels between $30K - $50K.

The result of these policies and others mortgage policies was a housing bubble which further distorted things. Some want to return to bubble policies under the disguise of New Urbanism. And to down play the potential social consequences of doing so. Ken did a good job in raising some of these issues directly and indirectly.

by W Jordan on Apr 19, 2011 4:50 pm • linkreport

to clarify, I interpreted Kens unerlying message to be, "we need to keep mindful of how policies we advocate for and inevitiable changes affect vulnerable people." As Alex B and others have already pointed out -what decent person would disagree with that?

by Tina on Apr 19, 2011 4:50 pm • linkreport

@Tina

I don't think any decent person should disagree with that statement, but some commenters here (Alex B for example) seem to be arguing "who cares, because people aren't getting displaced, everyone's just selling of their own volition and moving to PG County!"

It seems to me most of the people who are taking issue with this article are just saying variations of "well what's your solution," or "you can't do anything about it" over and over again while missing the fact that the point of this article seems to be to raise the philosophical question of whether we should think about the impacts and not "how do we fix this."

Also a bunch of people are getting all "boo-hoo" hurt over the horrible "hipster" label and can't seem to get over that long enough to look at what Ken is actually trying to say and critique it.

by MLD on Apr 19, 2011 5:08 pm • linkreport

@Hog: You admit you typed genTRIES as a shorthand for gentrifier and not landed gentrY. And you admit you meant it as a derogatory comment. Thank you. Yes, I said that usage was offensive, as it offends when people call other people names - gentries or ghetto trash are both insulting, as is myopic twits.

I did compare usage of one to the other. To you, there is no comparison. To me, there are perfectly valid comparisons.

@Tina: "we need to keep mindful of how policies we advocate for and inevitiable changes affect vulnerable people."
Why just vulnerable people? Who's vulnerable? Why not take out the "vulnerable", and just say how changes affect people?

by greent on Apr 19, 2011 5:09 pm • linkreport

@Green, sorry but that means you may possibly be a Sarah Palin Obama is a foreigner basketcase.

Only someone of your kind could even possibly be offended by (what they admit as) a shortened version of gentrification, complain that the shortened word is offensive, and compare it to a real slur..ghetto trash. To no one else is the comparison legitimate BUT you. No one else. Just you.

Guess that means you also think that gentry and faggot are comparable insults.

Oh well. Such is life.

BTW, hats off to Ken for choosing (like me) to be car free and rely on transit. Big ups to that! Gotta love it!

by HogWash on Apr 19, 2011 5:28 pm • linkreport

@MLD, I disagree completely with your charcterization of Alex Bs comments, which were thought-out and nuanced, not the simple crass statement you've distilled.

And this:Also a bunch of people are getting all "boo-hoo" hurt over the horrible "hipster" label and can't seem to get over that long enough to look at what Ken is actually trying to say and critique it. - this is exactly what I mean in reagrds to critiqueing style and delivery. His use of language distrcted from what he was trying to communicate rather than enhancing it. He talks about how people are antagonistic and urges us to get over that by using antagonistic language. Stylistically, in terms of successfully communicating a message, this is ineffectual. Why would you purposefully antagonize people when what you want to communicate is that "we" (he included hiself) can be more thoughful and less antagonistic? See? its such a distraction that you and I are both commenting on it (his style) instead of the philosophy he wished to convey.

@greent -yes i agree with you and with your other comments above too. Ken does talk about elderly and low-income people and thats what (who) I was referring to. They will always be the most vulnerable members of our communities no matter what else is going on.

by Tina on Apr 19, 2011 5:29 pm • linkreport

while missing the fact that the point of this article seems to be to raise the philosophical question of whether we should think about the impacts and not "how do we fix this."

That reads like a strawman to me, which is, I think, the main substantive complaint here.

Obviously we should "think about the impacts", which is why almost everyone here already does. It is, first of all unhelpful and mildly offensive to accuse one's opponents of callousness, and second, engaging in abstract platitudes which nearly everyone can agree with does nothing to further the discussion.

Obviously the disagreements lie mainly in the details - whether such and such a policy actually furthers such and such a goal in practice, whether such and such a tradeoff is worth making, etc. (and there will obviously always be tradeoffs, and relative winners and losers - even in stasis). Without more specific proposals or critiques on Ken's part, meaningful discussion can't take place.

by jack lecou on Apr 19, 2011 5:30 pm • linkreport

MLD for President! It seems to me most of the people who are taking issue with this article are just saying variations of "well what's your solution," or "you can't do anything about it" over and over again while missing the fact that the point of this article seems to be to raise the philosophical question of whether we should think about the impacts and not "how do we fix this."

Perfecto!

by HogWash on Apr 19, 2011 5:31 pm • linkreport

I see we are still shouting "Splunge" at the top of our lungs in lieu of actual discussion.

by John on Apr 19, 2011 5:34 pm • linkreport

@Jack, Without more specific proposals or critiques on Ken's part, meaningful discussion can't take place.

What's the responsibility of the commenters because I haven't seen very many people here engage in meaningful dialogue. What they have said is, "well that's not me."

Although hyperbolic, I compare it to, "oh no, I have black/white friends"...
:)

by HogWash on Apr 19, 2011 5:38 pm • linkreport

@Hogwash - wow!

by Tina on Apr 19, 2011 5:41 pm • linkreport

What they have said is, "well that's not me."

That's kind of how you'd expect people to reply to a strawman argument though, isn't it? Like if I accused you of not caring about [X], where [X] was something that most decent people do care about, you'd say, "that's not true, I care about [X], it's just that..."

So, possibly you should just take them at their word and try to figure out where the real root of the misunderstanding might be.

by jack lecou on Apr 19, 2011 5:44 pm • linkreport

@jack lecou, thanks.

by Tina on Apr 19, 2011 5:47 pm • linkreport

Oh my goodness.

by greent on Apr 19, 2011 5:58 pm • linkreport

@greent-I hope you resist any temptation to respond futher to the 'gentries'-used-as-a-pejorative debate.

by Tina on Apr 19, 2011 5:59 pm • linkreport

You know, it's been awhile since I have been called a bunch of burnin sticks on a message board before....

GGW... new low.

by greent on Apr 19, 2011 6:01 pm • linkreport

Ken's version of the Big Tent: Complaining about Urbanists ignoring the poor, while villifying the same poor (students) when they rent in his neighborhoodghetto.

David, how can you let such inconsistent stuff on your blog?

by Jasper on Apr 20, 2011 9:01 am • linkreport

@Jasper: I rather agree with your description of Ken's inconsistency, but I also think it's a not uncommon perspective that I'd like to know about, so I'm glad David lets such stuff on his blog.

by davidj on Apr 20, 2011 9:35 am • linkreport

@Tina, HA! I hope you resist any temptation to respond futher to the 'gentries'-used-as-a-pejorative debate

That's not a bad idea. :)

Contrary to green's belief, this exchange doesn't represent a new low for GGW. In fact, I think it reflect little on GGW at all. What GGW has done is provide a medium for two people to make what they understand as analogous insults and for one (me) to compare the logic of the other (green) to those we really find irrational (birthers)

In essence, that's not an insult and nuh unh, yes it is and well how about this one.

At least that's my takeaway.

by HogWash on Apr 20, 2011 10:20 am • linkreport


Tina I believe may have provided GGW with an opportunity to make a great leap forward. As she has identified a gap in knowledge between the theory of New Urbanism and the reality of developing neighborhoods or in neighborhoods. GGW has tried on occasion to bring a broader picture, but as a blog with a point of view has not really been successful with educating its core participants.

This CityPaper article touches on the realities when it comes to how displacement vs. development works. Generally a portion of the GGW crowd focuses on a single homeowner selling their house to retire somewhere and not the policy challenges touched on in the article. The name calling is a way to avoid dealing fully policies and consequences in the real world.

Will Tenant Purchases Continue?
http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2011/04/20/will-tenant-purchases-continue/#more-19023

by W Jordan on Apr 20, 2011 10:51 am • linkreport

Has everyone noticed that Ken and his apologists just continue to shout "splunge" in an ever louder voice, yet continue to offer no content other than emotional heart string pulling and guilt?

by John on Apr 20, 2011 10:56 am • linkreport

Has anyone noticed that John has posted seven comments on this thread, only one of which offers anything resembling actual useful content?

@John: What is your actual opinion here? That we should not care about this issue at all? That the status quo is adequate? Or something else?

You said:
The basic thesis proposed is that somehow, magically, "real urbanism" should suspend the laws of supply and demand, and have change occur that doesn't change anything.

Government intervention exists to counteract the invisible hand of the market. We can do things like encourage more affordable housing to be built. Currently I do not think we require enough of this - we make big giveways to developers with lip-service to affordable housing going into the deal. Later on, the developers whine about how they aren't making enough money and then we see the affordable units get cut or downsized.

The reason we need a mix of people living in areas is not purely based on the humanitarian need or a belief that because people lived in a certain area they should be able to continue to live there. There are deeper more complex economic issues at stake. If we want to revitalize/"gentrify" an area and add retail and services, we will need people to work in those places. I don't believe it is wise for us to just push out the people who will be working in those new jobs - we may end up incurring costs (transportation, job access, etc.) beyond what a few affordable housing units will cost us.

@Alex B.
re: http://www.austincontrarian.com/austincontrarian/2011/04/urban-planners-and-urban-economics.html

It is certainly true that filtering is a force in gentrification, and that putting affordable housing in probably accelerates things. But I don't think it makes so much of a difference that we should avoid having affordable housing. As we have discussed in many threads here, the demand for urban/walkable housing probably exceeds the supply by a lot. So when they say, "You might not shed a tear for the 20-something banker who won’t get his Hudson River view, but when he then decides to buy in, say, Brooklyn Heights, the higher housing prices are going to have a ripple effect throughout the borough..." I think that we're talking about way more gentrifying people who are still out there to move to the next place than just the one or ten people who can't buy due to affordable housing. I think we're decades away from evening out the supply and demand. So what are we to do? Ignore affordable housing and say we'll get to it when we even out supply and demand and urban housing prices go down overall? I think that that will take far too long.

by MLD on Apr 20, 2011 11:27 am • linkreport


The reality is DC's Government entered the market in favor of so called gentrification with both feet about 10 to 12 years ago (Alice Rivlin was the face of this policy approach). Without DC Government subsidizing gentrification the impact on the market would not be so problematic. Eventually, the government responded to its subsidizing for gentrification by expanding affordable housing efforts to a small degree. Once the housing bubble burst the government could no longer afford the policy of subsidizing gentrification and affordability. The way investments in the baseball stadium and various government investments TIFs, tax abatements even school reform efforts were structured are examples of how it subsidized gentrification. The justification was the so-called trickle-down benefit.

The policy debate really swings around should the city and feds continue to subsidize gentrification and how much? The culture war language is unfortunately how we deal with such policy issues.

by W Jordan on Apr 20, 2011 11:59 am • linkreport

@Ken Archer:

In a real community, families move from house to house within the community as their family sizes change. When housing prices rise quickly, and as a result people can't afford the next move to be within their neighborhood, it's not accurate to simply say they cashed out of their house to get a bigger place in the suburbs.

Obviously places change over time, but organically and gradually such that elements of the previous community infuse new cultural institutions. When the turnover of a community happens quickly in a decade or two, which only happens when government stimulates demand by tinkering with the built environment without trying to lift up actual current residents at the same time, cultural institutions are lost.

*sigh*

http://georgetownmetropolitan.com/2011/01/14/georgetown-by-the-numbers-getting-here/

According to the ACS, here’s how it breaks down as to when Georgetown residents arrived to the neighborhood (this is by household, not resident):
Moved in 2005 or later 38.36%
Moved in 2000 to 2004 28.32%
Moved in 1990 to 1999 18.21%
Moved in 1980 to 1989 10.73%
Moved in 1970 to 1979 1.57%
Moved in 1969 or earlier 2.81%

So most people got here since 2000.

Since the evidence overwhelmingly shows that, per your definition, Georgetown is not a "real community" or an organic, culturally historic, multi-generational one, then I'm sure you have no problem with letting a few hundred undergrads live in the neighborhood, right? Right?

by Dizzy on Apr 20, 2011 12:04 pm • linkreport

@MLD

I think there are a couple things - I would agree that simply deregulating the constraints on supply won't solve anything, but I also don't think people fully realize the added costs that a policy like Inclusionary Zoning adds on to a project.

If we're going to add those costs, then what can we offer in return to avoid unduly burdening the market from efficiently providing new housing when it is in demand? One way would be to massively increase the density premiums offered to developers - i.e. if they have to keep X units affordable, they get to build Z more units than would otherwise be allowed.

The problem with doing that in DC is that density is artificially limited by the height act in many cases, and there are in general lots of other things that add uncertainty and cost to the development process - NIMBYs, historic preservation, ANCs, etc.

In general, I think we should structure our regs to make doing the right thing easy. Obviously, people will disagree on what the 'right' thing is, but they don't often realize the costs they end up imposing on development, and how their preferred policies actually hurt their end goals - i.e. large affordable housing mandates without accompanying bonus density or expedited approvals or something like that...

Sorry, that's a little convoluted, but does it make some sense?

by Alex B. on Apr 20, 2011 12:29 pm • linkreport

The reality is DC's Government entered the market in favor of so called gentrification with both feet about 10 to 12 years ago

Support for this please.

by oboe on Apr 20, 2011 1:24 pm • linkreport

@MLD: Thank you for actually providing some debatable content here. To answer:

1. As explanation to my comments, the general rule of debate is "thesis-antithesis-synthesis", not "thesis-complain about these without detailing how to fix, use lots of emotional language, demand the thesis providers explain how to resolve complaints-synthesis". It's on those who demand the suspension of basic laws of supply and demand, etc...to explain how it would work.

2. There is a simple and basic constraint to any plans in DC. We have limited land, and rising demand for it due to societal factors mostly beyond the ability of a municipality's control. Any "solution" has to operate in that constraint. It is what it is.

3. The above, again, defines that indeed there would have to be Govt. intervention. This means implicit and explicit subsidies to counteract supply and demand. There are no other option here, as you cannot legislate who is allowed to sell their property, and to whom (which would just be an implicit subsidy, but lets not be pedantic).

4. Ergo, the actual argument is one of relative level of intervention and accompanying cost. Your position is the more reasonable "more affordable housing" one. Ken and folks like "W Jordan" go way beyond that. More affordable housing ain't going to "maintain communities" (honestly, I read this and wonder if he realizes he's describing effective "reservations" in the Native American sense), etc...it will maintain some people in changed communities.

So my position. I'm in agreement with _some_ intervention. But you have to be up front on what is the plan, and what is the cost. Ken's concept is so sweeping the cost would break the bank...under his thing, costs would be so high that we wouldn't need to be concerned about the urban poor, anyone stupid enough to move here would be quickly joining them.

Unless of course, like Ken they already bought in, where they can then define where _they_ live as a community which excludes said urban poor and students by definition, and skate. They magic of cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy in action! ;)

by John on Apr 20, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

MLD-

I didn't see anything as concrete as advocacy for more affordable housing in Ken's OP.

In principle, that's a goal even caricature "hipster urbanists" can get behind. It's also the kind of specific goal that can actually spur some useful discussion about empirical facts and about priorities.

And as Alex B. points out, mandates for more affordable housing come with real trade offs. While there may be room to dispute some of the specific facts about their nature, the basic problem is that I think the "engineering triangle" applies: fast, cheap or good - pick two. That happens with a lot of stuff once you get down into the implementation details. In urbanism, there's always going to be some tension between getting things to change on a reasonable time scale and getting everything exactly how we'd like it in the first pass.

Decent, reasonable people might well prefer to make that trade off at different places, and in different ways on different specific proposals - which is, again, why Ken's opening salvo of straw man caricatures and empty platitudes is a really unhelpful way to initiate the conversation. It makes no allowance for the possibility that reasonable, equally thoughtful people can disagree, or that there might ever be a need to prioritize one worthy goal over another.

by jack lecou on Apr 20, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

@MLD: Follow up

Yes, my second to last paragraph was a bit of hyperbole. I was thinking specifically about mid career professionals and their average salary in this town. Obviously big money lawyers, lobbyists, or say CTOs of Tysons Software Companies would be able to afford it.

But that does make a counter point. If we are supposed to upgrade the city infrastructure, while jacking the taxes/costs needed to pay for the upgrades, and the massive subsidies needed to counteract the market demand, the economic logic points to a result of only the very rich in enclaves, the poor elsewhere, and a veneer of transients in between.

In other words, the DC of the 1980's.

by John on Apr 20, 2011 1:56 pm • linkreport


oboe - You would need to start here with the first 2 writings by the Former Chair of the DC Control Board and move forward. As these writing and other formed the basis of development policy in DC. The third is a somewhat different view by DCAgenda. By comparison you can get a basic understand of the primary policy approaches that were actually chosen. Of course nothing is 100%.

Envisioning a Future Washington
http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2001/06cities_ocleireacain.aspx

100,000 More DC Residents--Who Benefits?
http://www.brookings.edu/speeches/2003/0930cities_rivlin.aspx

100,000 New Taxpayers Does Not Have To Mean 100,000 New Residents for the District of Columbiahttp://www.neighborhoodinfodc.org/pdfs/NIS100K.pdf

by W Jordan on Apr 20, 2011 1:59 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the links, W Jordan!

Just skimming the first two, I'm not sure you and I are going to agree that it's evidence the DC government "entered the market in favor of so-called gentrification". At least not in the sense that gentrification is understood to drive displacement and adversely affect the poor. But all three pieces look well worth reading.

Thanks!

by oboe on Apr 20, 2011 2:21 pm • linkreport


oboe - The reports themselves will not prove anything; however, they will provide context for my conclusions. My statement was based on the battles, debates and how things/policies/programs were executed or not. Especially, those projects that were public-private partnerships or subsidized by the government. Simply googling will yield lots more info., lots of council hears are online as well committee reports, planning documents and etc..

Just following Donatelli Development and the millions that the city has bumped into the development of that company/projects tells the story.

by W Jordan on Apr 20, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

"Dupont is no longer the fun gay mecca it used to be & Adams Morgan used to be more fun before it became 1000 bars packed with Virginians and Marylanders..."

What are you talking about? DC is Maryland's capital dude, get used to it.

by David Borther on Apr 20, 2011 3:40 pm • linkreport

Lance had nothing to add here? I'm quite shocked.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on May 6, 2011 6:19 pm • linkreport

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