Atlantic Cities editor Garance Franke-Ruta misses the real myth about gentrification

Attention conservation notice: You don’t get to complain about how people don’t understand gentrification if you don’t understand housing policy.

Over at the Atlantic Cities, Franke-Ruta writes a reasonable, if overly long (the editor needs more editing), essay of how black elites (politicians and real estate developers) actively pursued gentrification via redevelopment plans in urban D.C. There is much to commend the essay, including highlights of how African Americans contributed to the city’s comeback, and how they continue to influence urban development. D.C. isn’t just wonks, she notes: it has a strong group of creatives as well. One thing I particularly like about the essay concerns the attention she pays to naming things in the city.

The essay suggests some reasonable, if perennial, questions for those who bemoan gentrification: why in heaven’s name does urban planning have people so focused on economic development if we don’t want those efforts to work and change what appears to be a run-down and impoverished place into what it could be: a thriving and well-to-do place? Why whinge about gentrification when you’ve actively pursued it?

Here’s why some of us who are interested in justice still get to criticize.

Americans are incompetent, purposely, at two policy instruments that, because of our incompetence, hamstring place-based economic development as a means to help the impoverished people actually living in places targeted for redevelopment. Our first incompetence: public housing everywhere but New York. The second incompetence: zoning and assorted restrictions on infill and unit size. The combination of the two means that low-cost housing is undersupplied, always. The problem isn’t gentrification or redevelopment, per se; the problem is a deficit of decent, affordable housing.

When place-based economic development efforts don’t work at all, you end up spending a lot of money on people movers that have few people to move. When place-based economic development efforts work, you have improved a place, but the chronic undersupply of affordable units will mean that the spoils of that development will go to developers and land owners, while residents, over time, have to either pay more or move, particularly renters. Residents can benefit from new amenities and services, but it’s a fair bet that those able to stay are likely to be, on the margin, the most well-heeled of the area’s residents. And the long-term trajectory of the community won’t be such that impoverished residents get to enjoy the new amenities, as places that gentrify become increasingly exclusive enclaves. Right now, Harlem residents may be enjoying new services. Two decades from now, Harlem residents will be more uniformly affluent.Read More »

But I would miss Mr. Wandschneider, my lovely algebra teacher

I haven’t needed to respond to NYT silliness that was this piece: Is Algebra Really Necessary?

simply because it struck me as a typical NYT puff stuff. Really? Is Algebra necessary? Based on the idea, mostly, that since American students aren’t doing very well in it, we should stop teaching it. Oookkkaaaaay.

But fortunately, if you are a bad, slothful blogger, somebody does the hard work for you:

xoom: 3x + 7y = ooh, shiny ball!:

Hacker blames math for all manner of bad cess, referring to it as “tak[ing] a toll” and marshalling failure rates as if they were proof that math is inherently evil, or at least carcinogenic for all but the 99th percentile.  (And I won’t beat on my favorite drum, except to point out that he wants to reserve actual mathematics, as opposed to arithmetic, for the very highest achievers only.  Let that sink in a minute.)


This is rather my point about all education of all types. By all means, find ways to make math more fun to learn. I’m all for it. But leaving it out for everybody but the elite? No. Not math, not language, not history, not literature, not anything. If you say that the educated are an unworthy elite, you by definition mean that only elite people get to enjoy knowledge. Poverty is bad enough without being told you don’t get to reflect on the whole of human experience, either, lest you become the enemy.