Gentrification and Ethical Moving

The use of the word “gentrification” has increased in the United States in the past 10 years as places like Brooklyn, Portland, and San Francisco see a rise in migration of wealthy (often young) people and a driving-out of poorer renters as land values increase in response to the higher demand.

The new incoming wealth means more tax revenues and new local jobs, but some people must must move to new neighborhoods in response to their rent increasing beyond what they can afford.

The issue can often get emotional. In San Francisco, busses that brought Google employees to its campus represented a flash-point in frustration about gentrification, as protesters threw rocks through bus windows and blocked their routes]. Though the protesters demanded that Google pay the city to use bus stops (which it later did), the protesters primary focus was on gentrification in San Francisco.

There may be a moral dilemma for wealthy people moving into new cities or neighborhoods whose rents are rising. Some might think that it’s morally wrong for them to do so, as it displaces poor renters.

But here’s something to consider: what happens when wealthy people move not into a poor area, but out of it? Let’s take Detroit as an example: as the wealthy left the city, land values dropped and property taxes followed, meaning less in the city coffers for key services like education and transportation. One might argue that the poor, with fewer resources to move away, were disproportionately negatively impacted.

So one might see a moral quandary arising for wealthy people, much like in the example of quinoa: can wealthy people move anywhere without contributing to some social ill? If either moving into or moving out of a poorer neighborhood has negative effects on the poor, is it even possible for a wealthy person to move without becoming morally responsible for some negative social impact?

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Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.