The G Word

There’s a new book out about the gentrification of Brooklyn and how it went from crime riddled to cool.
As the book “The New Brooklyn: What it Takes to Bring a City Back” notes, ask any mayor–well not any mayor– what they want and they’ll say safe and bustling streets,  events, culture, busy stores and restaurants, jobs and visitors.
In other words, gentrification. Only we don’t say the word.

Because it’s loaded.
Because gentrification often comes with displacement. When values go up, poor and middle class residents often get priced out. And when rents go up, it can mean the loss of treasured retailers and restaurants.
Gentrification yields winners and losers. There’s no doubt. But the book on Brooklyn notes that when cities decline everyone loses. So why not just leave everything alone then?

Well, it’s just not that simple in most cases. Change is a constant–unless you live in an historic district. Most of us don’t.

I was thinking about this when we ventured to Olio restaurant on a recent beautiful Saturday night.
We hadn’t been to Olio in a while.

It’s located south of Atlantic in what some are calling the “Sofa” district for south of the avenue.
Downtown was mobbed, lots of people walking, dining and riding the Downtowner.
We ran into two friends from Pittsburgh who visit for a month every year and they were astounded and delighted by the action and the new businesses.
They loved it.
Sitting outside at Olio and enjoying a wonderful evening, I thought to myself if I didn’t already live here this is where I’d want to be.
A small town with big city amenities–great restaurants, interesting shops, great hotels, culture and a beautiful beach.
At least that’s how I see downtown Delray Beach.
But we had to park a block and a half away and when we left the restaurant and went home there was a back-up at the intersection of Swinton and Atlantic. For us, we didn’t mind at all. It’s ok to walk a block or so to park. If we wanted too, we could have taken an Uber or a Lyft or the aforementioned Downtowner, which fortunately serves my neighborhood.

As for the back up at Swinton and Atlantic— eventually it moves and it doesn’t happen all year–only during “season” or during weekends when stores and restaurants are doing brisk sales. I can live with the slight inconvenience (emphasis on slight) because I want to see downtown businesses thrive.

But others don’t see it quite the same way. They consider parking a hassle or worse and traffic and congestion as a terrible inconvenience.
They see some favorite businesses close or move and it bothers them. I get it. I miss a few of those places too. (To paraphrase Simon & Garfunkel: “where have you gone Green Owl, a breakfast crowd turns its lonely eyes to you”).
But…
Things change.
Cities change.
Downtowns evolve.
Sometimes they boom.
Sometimes they bust.
When they boom there are winners.
And there are losers.
But when cities bust, there are only losers.
I’ve lived here 30 years.
Our downtown has changed during that time.
There wasn’t much south of the avenue in the 80s and 90s–a sausage factory, empty lots and blight. Today, there’s Sofa, the apartment complex, an indoor cycling facility, Olio and more.
I like it. Based on the crowds we’re seeing and the property values of nearby neighborhoods I’m guessing others do too.
When I moved into town, Pineapple Grove was anchored by a tire store, empty streets and a self service car wash. Today, there’s Brule, Papas Tapas, the Coffee District, Christina’s, a bookstore, gym, other great restaurants, the Arts Garage, Bedner’s and Artists Alley.
I like it. It’s better than it was. A lot better, in my opinion.
There wasn’t much happening on 4th Avenue north of the avenue. Today, Beer Trade Company is killing it and Ocean City Lofts is a coveted address.
West Atlantic Avenue has been vastly improved since the 80s.
It still has a long way to go but it’s been beautified with paver bricks, the Elizabeth Wesley Plaza, a gateway feature and improved by investments such as the Fairfield Inn and Atlantic Grove which has some great spots including Ziree and Windy City Pizza.
It’s a lot better and vastly safer than it was when hundreds of people would be hanging out near the old Paradise Club on Sunday nights. Police officers and firefighters were routinely showered with rocks when they responded to calls for help.
Change is not always easy and it always comes with trade offs–create a place that is attractive and you get traffic.
Raise rents because your successful and beloved stores may leave. But because your successful you won’t see vacancies.
You get the picture.
Gentrification has winners and losers, decline has nothing but losers.
The key is to be aware and to be sensitive to those impacted and find creative ways so they can win too.  Create housing, job and cultural opportunities for all, get involved in your schools, encourage the private sector to offer creative space and not chase away artists, develop other parts of your city. But don’t stop paying attention to your core.

Be hyper vigilant about what’s happening and do what you can to create opportunities for all–small businesses, young families, kids returning after school, retirees, start-ups and growing companies.

Manage but don’t stifle.

Encourage ideas.

Reach out to your citizens  and don’t keep your own counsel.

Lead with humility, praise others, model civility, inclusiveness, exhibit gratitude and foster civic pride.

Repeat. Because you are never done. And that’s what’s so fascinating about cities.

Comments

  1. Well said, of course were not perfect but working towards it, obviously will never be but that’s o.k.. we keep kicking and scratching and biting but never accepting mediocrity, good things will follow?

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Thanks, Bob. Hope all is well with you and yours.
      Good things follow if and only if we have good leadership and engaged and active citizens. Lots of them. Best, Jeff

  2. Bill Wood says:

    Great article Jeff – hope lots of people read it!!

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      In all honesty Bill I write for you. If I can’t roast you any longer I can sure write for you. 😇 Love to Sharon. Jeff

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