I have written about this before. What else can I find to say about it?

Gentrification has a definition —

But it doesn’t talk about the causes, much as newspapers simply write about it as if it was a fact of nature, like the tides or phases of the moon. But it does have a cause or perhaps more than one.

As the definition says, gentrification describes a change in an existing neighborhood where the wealthy move in and displace the poor. But what is left out of that is how this happens, how the poor came to be there and why the wealthy move in. The usual sequence is that some neglected or bypassed neighborhood attracts people of limited means — immigrants, artists, what we used to call bohemians — to set up in disused warehouses or shops or older apartments and homes. There may well be a few older residents who own their own homes as well as renters on fixed incomes. The new residents will put their stamp on the area through food and art, opening restaurants or galleries and performance venues, which brings people to the area.

Next we see property values inch up as the area becomes more attractive: maybe a few homes sell and establish a new price for the area. So property taxes and rents will start to rise as well, as the property values rise and the area becomes more in demand: the people who go there on the weekends decide to move there and the local property owners try to match rents or listing prices to the newcomers’ ability to pay.

This puts pressure on the older residents who face either higher rents or higher property taxes on their homes, which they can’t meet on a fixed income. It also forces the people who moved there for the lower housing costs to move away to the next cheapest area, and before you know it, that neighborhood has lost all the elements that made it valuable. Now it’s just another inner suburb or urban neighborhood. This is when the newspapers and professional activists swoop in and write up stories about gentrification.

So what is to be done? Ideally, a ground rent wouldn’t allow an area to fall into that kind of benign neglect: in a well-run city, there is always some redevelopment or re-use of land to meet the changing needs of the population. Does this mean there are no inexpensive or artsy neighborhoods? It doesn’t have to. Performance spaces and galleries could exist, as could cheap social housing to allow artists or other free spirits to live their best lives. The performance spaces and galleries could be built into a social housing building, making it a desirable place to live and visit, but capturing the value for the commons. It’s not hard to imagine a well-designed block of flats with a performing arts complex at the base and an adjoining public plaza: imagine if someone in Seattle’s city government had that kind of vision when they considered the 55 acres at Northgate. It could be so much more than a hockey training center.

The common thread to all of these pieces is that land has to be managed, not just zoning and land use maps but the highest and best use, to make the land for the benefit of everyone who lives and works on it.

With the growth of population, land grows in value, and the men who work it must pay more for the privilege.

And with the growth of population, the density increases (obviously) and so do the needs of the people living there: they need more services closer at hand and they need transportation to get to work. And that transportation can’t be roads as they take up land the city can’t afford to give up, so the city’s department of transportation becomes more focused on moving people than moving and storing cars.

The city of Paris fits 2.2 million people — along with a river, some large railway stations and many large public spaces — into about 40 square miles. That’s about 55,000 people per square mile, where Seattle has less than 9,000 per square mile. Some would argue that Seattle has more green space but one has to remember that much of it is privately owned: every suburban yard is really a private park, a subtraction from what could be a network of public spaces.

No one would call Paris an overbuilt slum, but how is it that Seattle has such low density and so many unhoused people? With the same density, Seattle could be just 14 square miles, about 1/6 of its current size. How is that we have so much more space and so many who have to live in public spaces rather that build enough private spaces for all?

What needs to be understood is that these other cities so many of the professional activist community likes to point to — Berlin, Vienna, Barcelona — manage their land, rather than leaving it to the market which essentially means speculators. That’s where a ground rent would serve to chase them off and make cities fit to live in for the people who work there.

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