Over at Pedestrian Observations, Alon Levy has a typically well-written and researched post on the gentrification of poverty. He explores the well-researched trend that low-income Americans are increasingly moving to the suburbs as gentrification is driving up rents in inner cities. He hypothesizes that this “current” trend has really been happening for the past fifty years:
Both the inner and the outer limits of poverty are pushed outward. What we saw last decade was just a tipping point in which the expansion of the gentrified core was by itself enough to offset the wealth loss coming from the expansion of the ghetto.
Levy suggests that this trend is largely due to the typical pattern of poverty moving outward in a “donut” pattern, but today the center of the donut is in the suburbs. He writes:
In general, a similar story played out in the first-ring suburbs of many Rust Belt cities, especially in ill-favored quarters: the places that people used to flee the city to are now cities that people flee.
His post sparked two thoughts:
1) Could part of the reason that wealthy and middle income residents are moving to inner cities have to do with the demand for time? As we as a society are becoming wealthier, the value of time — the ultimate finite resource — is increasing. So as the price of free time rises, people may be moving to places where their commute times are shorter. In many cases, they are trading off quality of public schools and public safety to enjoy shorter commutes. When they move to Jacobian mixed-use neighborhoods, they could enjoy the added benefit of shorter travel time when running errands and seeking out entertainment. I think this pull toward inner cities helps explain gentrification, in addition to the push away from suburbs that are no longer as desirable as they used to be.
2) In DC with its uniquely terrible height restriction, the city has never achieved the typical inner city growth pattern with the tallest buildings
and densest office space is in the center. Instead, skyscrapers have to be built in parts of Silver Spring, Roslyn, Tysons, and other suburbs. Is this development pattern shaping gentrification in these areas?