DIALOGUE | Urban Gentrification

Photo of San Francisco circa 1958 via Shorpy.

Gentrification came up a few times in smart comments from last week's post Snark is the New Black in response to the McSweeny's article about "Hirl" (a bald critique of Sqirl Cafe). The comments really made me think about the concept. Here's one comment in particular:

The only thing I will say, in regards to Hirl, is that gentrification is a really damaging process. Essentially, people from a higher socioeconomic class start raising the overall cost of rent in a certain area, so the poorer natives are eventually pushed out of their own neighborhoods. It doesn't improve poverty--it shuffles out the impoverished, and turns their neighborhoods into playgrounds for people using hip urbanism to pretend they come from a rough part of town. So I can understand the critique on Hirl, even if it has a mean-edged sarcasm to it.

In theory, it doesn't take much thought to be against the negative side effects of gentrification. In practice though, I'm confused as to how the individual or sole-proprietor should take action.  In other words, if I were to open up a shop and didn't want to overpay on rent, should I still decide to open elsewhere where the rent is 5x higher in a neighborhood where a majority of residents have a similar socioeconomic background to my projected customers? Or taking it further, if I can't afford to do that, should I decide not to open a shop at all? Are we to draw lines on maps and decide that certain people should only live and operate businesses in certain neighborhoods from here on out? These aren't rhetorical questions, I'm really asking and really interested to hear people's opinions on this.

Considering what I post on this blog, I'd be a hypocrite if I railed against gentrification and continued to feature small new shops popping up in, say, Echo Park. I'm against the rising rents and increased property taxes and most of all people being displaced, but how do we change that while also believing urban landscapes are ever-changing and cities aren't static entities? So, again, I feel a little stuck on this one and would love to hear more thoughts.