The folks over at the Isthmus Daily Page picked up on that question in my last entry so I thought I’d explore it a little. First of all, what IS gentrification really? This link is a pretty good over view by Tom Wetzel.
Madison can’t be said to have any real inner city blight. Not yet anyway.
There are what I would call slumlords who have taken some once lovely properties, cut them up any old which way into student housing and used them up. Apparently without doing even routine maintenance over the years. Now even the poorest of the poor students won’t live there. I wish I had a digital camera so I could go take some pictures of these places. (Who is going to sue me? I don’t have anything to take away! It would cost more than it’s worth. heee!) Ugh… Just Ugh.
But that’s sporadic and not likely to spread very far. Or is it? Is this a grand conspiracy to get more space for 16 story whole block condos that run right up against the sidwalk?
I would go so far as to say we don’t really have an inner city perse. We have two unique and saving graces here in Madison. Because our downtown area is so close to the University we have students who are willing to rent the older homes near the University as soon as they can possibly get out of the dorms which means we have landlords who view these properties anywhere near the University and downtown as investments and are generally willing to keep the older homes in semi-reasonable repair so they can charge students exhorbitant rents.
Plus we have the Isthmus. The Isthmus keeps the territory that could become the inner city small and contained. Real Estate has been and is always going to be relatively expensive on the Isthmus so it’s unlikely that we will ever see anything close to to the inner city blight places like Chicago and Detroit have experienced.
Nevertheless, within the last 10 years or so we have been experiencing a boom in real estate development of what I would call the gentrification of downtown Madison. Our aging boomer population wants to live downtown. So do some of our young and upwardly mobile. And they have the money to be able to afford to do it. So here come the developers with their condos. The rich are moving into the downtown area. As close to the Capitol Square as they can get. Right on the Square.
And why not? I love living downtown. This building was built in the early 80’s. I remember bringing my kiddies downtown to watch the skyscapers being built in Madison. So cool. Cheap thrills.
But how many more Condos can we possibly need in the Downtown area before we hit the saturation point? And why aren’t these nice older homes being restored? I walk through these older neighborhoods where the students live and think it would be great if they were returned to their former grandeur.
Wouldn’t it be nice if people who cared about keeping them alive would buy them and rehabilitate them? Return them to the way they were when they were originally built. Return them to single family homes. But then I love older homes and feel sad when they are neglected and mistreated.
I can see the day coming when these houses that have YARDS will become the focus of the gentrification movement. The young and upwardly mobile will start having families and they’ll want a bit of property for swingsets and the family dog. Landlords would be able to charge more rents for rehabbed homes.
But then comes the question of what will happen to the students who currently live here when that happens? Surely they will they be forced off the Isthmus if gentrification starts happening in the student housing areas? Where will they go? Will low cost claptrap highrise apartments go up to house them? Where? Do we really want that?
This article in USA today suggests that some students would stay and pay the higher rents. They’d find a way to make it work out. A group of older students with good references, sharing a rehabbed home, three or four to a bedroom signing a years lease. Why not?
Is gentrification good? IMO, when it gets to rehabbing the older buildings yes. It saves valuable historical architecture. But tearing down stuff so developers build shiny new stuff. Not particularly.
Metropolitan Place is a lovely building but it took away a small bit of green space and some older trees on Mifflin Street. Having that building come flush up to the sidewalk with no terrace betwen the sidewalk and the street is overwhelming. It seems rude. Maybe I’ll get used to it but right now I just miss that grass and the trees.
All of this building is supposed to be revitalizing downtown but I don’t see that happening. Not yet anyway. Seems to me State Street is slowly turning into another upscale Mall. If that ‘s revitalization, whooopee.