I've touched on the word hoosier and ghetto so far, two words most in the region use with a strong local meaning. Even though these words may carry negatives, they are highly descriptive and continue to be used whether we like it or not. There's no doubt in my mind that those two words are pretty universally understood and used with accuracy.
Gentrification on the other hand, not so much. First of all, it is a relatively modern word that was added to the dictionary a mere 48 years ago. What the word means, especially in the context of St. Louis, is fascinating to me. Some see gentrification as a good thing, others not.
Let's start with a dictionary definition:
Simple, right. Yet, I've been in several conversations where the topic simply gets out of hand and fast. When I hear anyone speak negative of sensitive investment, infrastructure upgrades or renewal in any neighborhood in St. Louis, a city that has seen staggering population losses and destruction of historic property, I am flummoxed. How can that be bad regardless of what powers are doing the planning, bank rolling and execution?the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents (source)
the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper- or middle-income families or individuals, thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses. (source)This one describes the potential negatives of gentrification in a little more detail. It touches on property values raising and pushing out the same people who may have provided the area with much soul and flavor for decades. Think Cherokee street mom and pop Hispanic/Latino businesses being pushed out by higher rent and changing demographics. That would be a bummer.
But is that really going to happen here? I don't know but I doubt it.
Still, with the current state of affairs in St. Louis, investment of any kind seems pretty good to me. Every neighborhood in the city could use an influx of people with money willing to invest right here in the city, no? I'd kill for some more of that medicine in my neck of the woods.
I think the gentrification as a negative argument just doesn't play well in St. Louis. The city seems inherently built to not push out poor people; it was built for the huddled masses when the country was in a state of massive immigration from Europe and migration from the South. Sure there are mansions and swanky residences, but the vast majority of homes are of modest size compared to the national average. In fact the Midwest has the lowest average new single family home sizes compared to the rest of the country:
The average home size in 2010 was 2,265 square feet in 2010, 2,020 in 1992 and 1,445 in 1973. The vast majority of homes in St. Louis were built prior to 1973. So, based on these data, you can assume in the heydey of our building boom from the late 19th Century to 1955 or so, the average home was even smaller than 1,445 sq. ft. The point I'm trying to make is, St. Louis is built smaller and more dense than the new construction areas and trends of bigger is better. You could argue that our built environment is set up for density and the masses....hence it'll be cheaper to live here based on overall lower square footage and supply & demand keeping costs of living much lower than the national average.
We have rows and rows of houses that are very modest in size from the northern tip to the southern tip of the city. These are all over, look no further than the concentration of such homes in North Hampton, Walnut Park West and many many other neighborhoods.
the North Hampton neighborhood
the Walnut Park West neighborhood
Furthermore, there are cheap rents all over the city. There are so many multi-family and multi-unit properties here, I just don't see rents skyrocketing over the next 10-20 years enough to push people out of St. Louis. Maybe a street or a block, but not an entire neighborhood or city.