Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Can Gentrification Be Bad For Your Health?


How to tell if your neighborhood is gentrifying
Hello Everyone:

Is gentrification a public health concern?  Should the Surgeon-General put a health warning label on communities considering gentrifying reading, "Warning gentrification maybe hazardous to your health?"  Whether of not gentrification is a public health concern is the question that Samuel H. Taylor asks and attempts to answer in his St. Louis Today opinion piece, "Gentrification as public health concern?"  I suppose in the rush to drop an artisanal food establishment and yoga studio on every corner, no has really stopped to think about the possible effect said yoga studio would have on a community's health and well-being and I don't necessarily mean it in a good way.  Still, in the rush to reclaim long neglected urban areas, pretty them up, attract young professional and creative types it might worth it to take a look at the question of whether or not gentrification is hazardous to the public's health.

Washington Avenue
St. Louis, Missouri
Health concerns regarding gentrification is not unique to St. Louis, Missouri.  Recently, the Alameda County Public Health Department in Oakland, California released some of the findings in a study it did on the effect of gentrification in the San Francisco Bay Area. The reception to the conclusions were mixed.  Some of the conclusions found the the overall consequences of gentrification on the displacement of the long-term residents has been huge, forcing the predominantly African-American population to either move in the face of soaring rent or weather the storm.  The costs to said residents has been reduced emotional and social well-being, increased stress, financial uncertainty, altered community structure, and the loss of important health and social resources.

Former antique store
St. Louis, Missouri
This is not unlike public health concerns in elsewhere in America.  Researchers in New York City discovered that rapid gentrification correlated to higher premature birth rates amongst African-American women.  Studies conducted in other cities have demonstrated that similar neighborhood changes have significantly affected low-income children and has limited their access to educational resources.  These and other conclusions have prompted the Centers for Disease Control to identify gentrification as potential public health risk.  If at all, these conclusions raise serious issues about making development equitable for all the residents.  Mr. Taylor, concedes, While the data are suspect to some, they should be concerning to us all.  We should recognize the applicability of empirical evidence that finds connections between gentrification and the displacement of low-income residents, and between displacement and resulting health disparities."  Whatever you or I may think of gentrification, it is important that we reach some sort of agreement regarding the importance of place and its affect/effect on our daily lives and health.

Loft development
St. Louis, Missouri
Why is so important to St. Louis?  Mr. Taylor reports that St. Louis is one of the fastest gentrifying cities in the United States.  The city is ranked in the top twenty-five fastest gentrifying gentrifying neighborhoods in the country.  Second and interestingly, emerging conversations in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley appear to suggest that St. Louis is quite suitable as midwestern technology hub.  While St. Louis may be a rapidly growing city, we have the case studies of San Francisco and Oakland to show us what happens when development threatens an existing community.

Ubiquitous artisanal coffee place
St. Louis, Missouri
A region such as St. Louis is hungry for more development in the urban core and are excited about the prospect of  duplicating a technology hub.  However, Samuel Taylor points out, "... are we prepared to learn from the same mistakes our gentrifying neighbors on the West West Coast have made?  Can St. Louis continue to develop in a manner that, according to Professor Todd Swanstrom at UMSL, has escaped many of the outcomes that other gentrifying cities in America have faced?"  All very good questions but how they will translate into policy remains to be seen.  In light of this city's auspicious position, Mr. Taylor suggests that St. Louis should be "...preemptively cautious about ushering in development that potentially provokes the displacement of current, low-income residents and only amplifies many of the disparities that they face."  It may sound like wishful thinking on Mr. Taylor's part.  Mr. Taylor adds, "We should be unambiguous about development in St. Louis that may cause an irreversible hike in rent prices and the cost living.  Our city's economic development agenda should pay special attention to the potential for further concentration of poverty in certain neighborhoods, which has only spread in recent decades.

This is an exciting moment to be in St. Louis.  The city on the cusp of a major transformation that will effect it for years to come.  However, the history of rapid gentrification and development suggest that St. Louis should approach the process from a critical standpoint, vis-a-vis, enhancing the health of its communities.  Samuel Taylor advises using a cautionary approach, assessing who will be the primary beneficiaries of development ventures.  Development can be a good thing but it can raise serious questions over the health of a city.  With an eye toward protecting the most vulnerable communities and supporting their development, St. Louis can move forward without causing lasting repercussions.

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