Gentrification and diversity

The challenge as many North American metro areas urbanize — evolve into higher density, urban playgrounds — is maintaining diversity in these new and renovated neighbourhoods.

An article by Aaron Renn of the Dallas Morning News is circulating among the urban bloggers that notes how “White” some of the cities often considered models for future urban development are or have become (Portland, in particular).  While many of the statements in the article ignore some historical context, this paragraph hits a challenge of our times:

Many of the policies of Portland are not that dissimilar from those of upscale suburbs in their effects. Urban growth boundaries raise land prices and render housing less affordable exactly the same as large lot zoning and building codes that mandate brick and other expensive materials do. They both contribute to reducing housing affordability for historically disadvantaged communities. Just like the most exclusive suburbs. 

This paragraph holds true if the city’s urban planners and voters don’t also push for different forms of housing — a diversity of housing options to maintain a fertile environment for a more diverse population, if you like.

Gentrifying urban spaces need: small and larger rental options, of varying age, quality and price;  home ownership options of all variety from high rise condo to ground-oriented row house — and some single family homes nearby.

Sure the latter might only be affordable by the highest income cohort group, but this group is as important to the diversity of a neighbourhood as artists, coffee baristas, and junior software programers.

Problems arise in an urban space when one group — whether poor, rich, or in the middle dominates to the point of shutting out all others. And lets face it, mono-cultural life is not what people want when they choose urban spaces over suburban ones.

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