Why Matt Yglesias Is Sort-of Right And Wrong About Gentrification

Matt Yglesias of Slate wrote Monday morning about a Washington Post article on how tree canopy's density in a neighborhood reflects income in Washington D.C. I think the discussion he sparks can be used comparatively with what's taking place in Detroit around the downtown and midtown districts.

Yglesias cites an anecdote in the article about a woman who doesn't like to see a lot of trees in her neighborhood. She said she hates them because of the subsequent pollen that would be floating through the air, the leaves she'd have to rake, how the shade would protect drug dealers.


Also, she was concerned that with the trees would come affluence. And with the affluence, comes higher taxes, which forces her to move out of the neighborhood.

Here's Yglesias:

In supply-constrained regions of the country, we've essentially adopted bad public services as a de facto affordable housing policy. People worry that streetscape improvements are going to set off a cycle where more affluent people come in and costs go up. And what's true of tree boxes could be said of rail transit or upgraded buses or even the real basics like better schools or less crime.

That's a roundabout way of describing the situation in Detroit and the cohort of residents that subscribe to the notion that things should be kept the way they are. Except Yglesias assumes that some of the reasoning behind the woman's thinking is simply a misunderstanding.

If Gudger is worried about taxes, then she's presumably a homeowner worried about an increase in property values that would actually be pretty lucrative for her.



Disagreement is a natural part of democracy, but disagreement about the desirability of things getting better is a symptom of a larger policy failure.


One fine point I think Yglesias neglects is the idea that some people don't want to change their living situation. It's not a lack of understanding in policy or making the idea of living in a city sound like "a good proposition." Some people in inner-city neighborhoods have lived in the same house their entire life. They don't want to change that. Some may take up low-income housing options for other reasons. If anyone is forced out of that living situation, for whatever reason, it's displacement.

As Detroit's downtown and midtown districts creep further out with more development, the more we'll start to see this sort-of thing. It's inevitable. (For example, here.)


Gentrification means change and some people struggle vehemently with the idea of changing their lives to benefit other people. (Honestly consider the amount of situations that could be applied to.)

It's definitely not always something trite and narrow as a lack of understanding.


(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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