Portrait of a Gentrifier

“The people moving in, in my definition, are, are white. White people coming from different states, either it’s like Minnesota or Missouri, or some other states like in the Midwest. And they’re coming in and they have more money. Most of them, they’re not like college graduates, they’re just people working in cafes or like in arts studios. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s people who have the money to just get up and leave and just go settle anywhere else because they’ve gotten tired of where they’re from or they don’t wanna live with their parents.”

This is how Denise Garcia defines the stereotypical gentrifier in her neighbourhood. To her parents, they are just “blanquitos” that  cause the rents to increase, but to her, they represent something more intricate-- not just a “kind” of person, but also a lifestyle: “Okay, it’s a white person - I don’t wanna sound rude or anything - it’s a white person that as I said before works in a coffee shop, open[s] up a little art gallery and then they close within the month because no one goes to them. And then when that month ends and they, they’ve failed, they call daddy, and they go, “My business failed. Can you send me money?” And daddy sends money. And that’s how they live. They live off their parents and--some of them, not all of them, not all of them--they live off their parents and they can afford to pay 3000 dollars a month for rent because they’re not the ones working their ass off to pay rent.”

So who are these gentrifiers, really? According to Lance Freeman and Frank Braconi in their chapter “Gentrification and Displacement: New York City in the 1900s” in The Gentrification Reader, gentrifiers in gentrifying neighbourhoods of New York City (including Williamsburg) are most likely to be white, middle or lower middle class and have a college degree (see graphs). The ‘artist’ narrative that Denise uses is also quite common when talking about gentrification in Williamsburg; but why are artists and/or people with similar socioeconomic standing and lifestyles most likely to be the gentrifiers? Well, the answers are simple enough: with growth in economic sectors, businesses prefer central business district locations and tend to employ educated workers predisposed to urban lifestyles and residence, thus resulting in larger renter populations and subsequent increasing rent in those areas. Following the regional recession that bottomed out in 1993, New York City experienced rapid economic growth and strong job creation through till the 2000s, creating exactly this situation of increasing rents in many parts of Manhattan. Generally, it is people like artists-- who earn below the median income but can still afford to move-- who tend to relocate to somewhere more affordable in these situations, as artists in the city did in moving to places like Williamsburg. But, in doing so, they embody/ied the narrative of a “higher socioeconomic household” displacing a more disadvantaged household and changing the socioeconomic character of that neighbourhood.  

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Portrait of a Gentrifier