Update, 2:05 p.m .: The Camden, New Jersey, TikTok video discussed in this article was deleted shortly after the article was originally posted on the morning of September 10th.
“It's hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. Gentrification building! "
The sound came at the end of a now-deleted TikTok video showing a gray, white and green modern-style building in Camden, New Jersey. The video, titled "Honestly So Ugly," had a million views before it was deleted. The comments railed against gentrification: "It is displacing the indigenous community," wrote the Creator, while another commenter said that "the corner family run shop will be overtaken by Starbucks in no time."
The video symbolizes a larger trend that views box-shaped, modern, often apartment buildings as the culprits of gentrification, displacement, and potentially violent cultural changes in a neighborhood. The gentrification hashtag on TikTok is full of posts criticizing modern homes mainly for aesthetic reasons. In cities from New York to Philadelphia to Toronto to San Francisco, TikTok users record these characteristics and then overlay the videos – which together have received millions of views – with audio like the yo-yo song "Leave (Get Out)." The message is the same warning: if these buildings appear in your neighborhood, eviction is just around the corner.
Displacement, the disappearance of cultural landmarks, inequality in our cities – these are very serious issues that politics should work on day in and day out.
This discussion Instead, gentrification is often redirected to the appearance of buildings, which is a massive coup for existing landowners. These current owners often want to maintain aesthetic control, sometimes as a means to Blocking new homes (experts have found that historic preservation is often used as a weapon to prevent new, more affordable housing options).
It's okay not to like the look of a house; not every art is suitable for everyone. But the convergence of aesthetic preferences and physical displacement under the same banner of "gentrification" is only serving to maintain the current housing estate system that has made housing unaffordable for many Americans Displaced under myriad different architectural styles.
The problem with this merging became apparent when I looked at the building pictured in the Camden TikTok video mentioned above. Branch Village is not a "gentrification building". It's actually an affordable housing project that is funded in part by low-income residential property tax credits. According to Kurier-Post, the second phase of the project included the construction of 75 townhouses, all of which are "considered affordable and accessible for those earning less than 80 percent of the median income in the region". According to an affordable housing database, the development now includes 245 units.
While the main concern of gentrification is typically the displacement of low-income residents, the top two comments on the Camden video, which collectively received 76,000 "likes," were stylistic complaints: "Why is it ALWAYS green and" They Really " ? had to choose the worst colors, didn't they? "
This is common in the gentrification discourse. People want to use a word that conjures up images of marginalized communities being displaced either through evictions, rising prices, or even forced displacement. But after the nudge, the real concern is artistic. The rhetorical sleight of hand is not always intended. For many, the terms “new, modern building” and “displacement” have simply become inseparable. But the confusion about how the word gentrification is used has real political ramifications: if people believe that new buildings will work against the affordability of housing, they will oppose the very actions needed to resolve the country's affordability crisis.
To defend new buildings
The disdain for modern architecture is not new. In his book The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York, Suleiman Osman traces the recent history of neighborhood change in Brooklyn, New York. The iconic brownstone and neighborhood designers fought so hard for their preservation, under the philosophy that such older buildings represented something more authentic and moved away from the modern and capitalist architecture of Manhattan, were themselves once new and "inauthentic".
The Brooklyn Brownstones (now selling for millions) “were no more or less authentic in their original design and intent than a Levittown Cape Cod,“Writes Osman. "Brownstones were an architectural trompe-l’oeil designed to give a false sense of historical grandeur. … While they were later seen as authentic, contemporaries dismissed brownstones as modern and artificial. "
Many comments on the architectural style of new apartment buildings castigate them for looking like ugly Lego bricks, mass-produced and faked. Those are exactly the same things people say about what we now call timeless, individual, and robust infrastructure. In fact, brownstones were “products of the mechanical age,” Osman recounts in his book. “The stone facades were poorly built and quickly deteriorated … 19th century critics criticized the mechanical, dehumanizing monotony of the brownstone rows. "If you've seen a house, you've seen them all," wrote one writer. "
Today we have them “5 over 1” building – which you will recognize as the quintessence of the “gentrification building”. In 2018, Curbed explained how the seemingly ubiquitous design itself “is a symbol of today's housing problems: a lack of arable land; rising land, material and labor costs; and an acute need to find affordable housing for people. "
The buildings themselves are an attempt to fit into the small niches provided by local building and zoning codes. According to (Richard Mohler, Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Washington), most of these structures are so-called “5 over 1” or “one-plus-five” due to height restrictions and safety / fire requirements: timber frame construction that contains apartments and in International Building Code is known as Type 5, over a concrete base that usually contains retail or commercial space, or parking structures, known as Type 1. Some regulations also require a modulated facade, or changing appearance, over adjacent buildings to avoid repetition.
It is also simply "the cheapest way to build an apartment":
In this case it is the lightweight timber construction, which often uses flat windows that are easy to assemble; a process called raincovering to create the skin of the building; as well as Hardie panels, a facade cladding made of fiber cement. …
"Since we are in a crisis of affordability of living space, it makes sense to build a building as cheaply as possible," says Mohler.
In a nutshell, this is the problem of American housing construction: there are simply not enough apartments in which people want or have to live. The only way to get affordable housing is to build more, of all kinds.
Defending a 100 percent affordable housing estate like Branch Village in Camden, New Jersey is easy. But also new buildings that serve people with higher incomes are an anti-shift tool. When residents with higher incomes are looking for housing, they have two options: either new apartments are built for them or they offer the price for existing apartments, with current residents being priced.
It can feel contradicting itself: people are starting to see new vendors worrying the neighborhood is getting too expensive to afford, turning down new buildings in hopes that it will stop the change but it works not.
Economist Evan Mast identified "52,000 residents of new apartment buildings in large cities, their previous address, current residents of those addresses, etc. – high quality housing." Decrease low-income residents. The implication is also that many residents with higher incomes are pricing out residents with lower incomes because there is a shortage of housing in line with the market.
If you don't build enough of something, the only people who get it are rich people. The reflexive rejection of new buildings does not protect neighborhoods from gentrification, but rather increases the exclusivity of a neighborhood.
Furthermore, this discourse can be drawn into by people who are actually against more affordable housing. While many who associate modern buildings with gentrification act in good faith, the amalgamation of progressive desire to stop evictions and new buildings allows regressive anti-housing activists to use the same message to oppose key housing laws. A clear example of this is Livable California, a group that has repeatedly used the language of anti-gentrification to fight sensible and humble housing laws in the state.
"In any situation, it is very difficult to distinguish what is a legitimate opposition to urban development for reasons of gentrification," Jake Anbinder, a PhD student in American history at Harvard, told Vox.
Artists, architects, and ordinary people should feel free to continue engaging in aesthetic debates, but expressing these concerns in the language of gentrification and displacement is misguided and detrimental to low-income tenants in need of protection.
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