Landed Gentrification

Greetings, Clamunists. Are you enjoying the heat? We, ourselves, walked our dog in the woods last week and it felt more like a fateful patrol in a Nam movie. We fully expected a member of the Sheen family to show up and start imparting wisdom in the form of low, growly and possibly cocaine-induced narration.

As our brain cooks inside the Instapot of our skull, something has been annoying the piss out of us. More than one person has reached out in a rage about the several housing developments going up, decrying it as a sure symbol of “Gentrification” – the dreaded “G” word which indicates Gloucester will very soon be Newport Rhode Island and we will all be forced to wear red shorts and boat shoes with dress shirts. Then we will all perish from punching ourselves to death, as is just.

They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails with stingers, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months.

Gentrification is real. And a massive challenge. And happening. But it is not just “shit you don’t like.”

See, here is the thing. If a person wanted to actually do something effective against gentrification, they would do all of this (which have been done other places, look it up, there are case studies):

  1. Create very strict rent control You would tell landlords, individual owners, many elderly, oftentimes somebody’s grandma, what they can charge for rent. As you can imagine, this would not be popular. But if you actually care about gentrification, you would do it. You’d have to.  
  2. Buy up all the available developable land and put it in trust This would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. And the land wouldn’t be fun parks or whatever, it would just be undevelopable rando plots of land. That will be a fun city budget item to propose: “We’re buying millions of dollars in land to do nothing with. It’s going to cost money and provide no return.” Or raise the money privately. So, great. Where is this trust? Do you need a website? A Gofundme? Reach out, we’ll help, but we don’t have access to millions of dollars until the Magnitsky act gets overturned and we can access our Cyprus bank accounts.  
  3. Build as much densely-packed affordable housing as possible Yes, you prevent gentrification by building new housing. Public/private partnerships, tens of millions of dollars invested at least. And you’d have to listen to closet-racists say shit like, “it will just bring in people from Lynn,” by which they mean brown people because racists.

You’d have to do all three of these things, and you’d need to start fifteen years ago. But if you are not fully on board with each and all of these, then you are not doing shit about gentrification and you’re just opposing a housing project you don’t like. That’s fine. Some housing project ideas are terrible. But don’t come running to us, the local firebrand lefties, with the “G” word unless you really plan to do something about it.

Additional note: Do not, under any circumstances, send us articles about gentrification that begin like this:

This once authentic neighborhood, which previously supported payday loan storefronts and off-track betting parlors, now is the domain of tattooed tech-industry workers riding fixed gear bicycles, flitting to brewpubs featuring single strands of lightbulbs and farm-to-table ingredients.

Hell on Earth, obvs. Hopefully with outdoor seating.

Don’t send us that, because it will enrage us. Something like ⅙ of downtown Gloucester is un or underoccupied. New cool places to hang out, new and interesting businesses, all that is very hard to make happen here because for some reason Gloucester landlords prefer to leave space empty. They ask for very high rents, and when they don’t get the rates they want, they just leave it vacant for months, years or decades.

This confuses the shit out of us. No Snark- can someone please explain this? In college we took economics and we seem to remember this “law” that when a commodity had high supply and low demand, the price would adjust downward. Markets, we were told, were perfect, almost ethereal entities and would always prevail. Then we were forced to don robes and worship a vision of Ayn Rand formed from cigarette smoke from an ashtray held by a statue of Alan Greenspan. Later we were told the shrooms Justin had found in the woods were not what he thought they were and the entire dorm spent the night puking, but that still markets were perfect and would always adjust. But for some reason, this economic law does not work here. For our part, we’d pretty much dig some variety of businesses shoved into those empty spaces.

We are also actual tech workers, entrepreneurs, even, and we ride a bike and have an electric car and all that dorky crap. Newsflash: we have a right to be here too. Because this is an actual town where people live. This is not some kind of Plimoth Plantation-esque historical museum dedicated to one particular epoch. It’s a city. Things change. And there are kids to educate and roads to fix and high schools to keep from sliding off the continental shelf into the ocean and septic plants to relocate (next to your house- I saw the drawings). It’s real life here. It’s not curated.  

Image result for tire fire

They’re also putting in a pile of burning tires across the street from you

The last thing I’ll tell you is this. We do much of our work in Cambridge these days. When you get on an elevator in a building with a lot of tech workers, there are one or two people like us: nerds in biz casual (jeans, sneakers, button-downs) carrying laptops in messenger bags and holding expensive coffee drinks. Everyone else is drinking Dunks, in Carharts, carrying lunch boxes and with safety glasses on the backs of their necks. These folks (who also have tattoos, btw) are laughing their asses off at us because they don’t have student loans, absolutely will not get laid off they are in such high demand, and never ever have to sit through a 93 slide presentation titled, “Generating Optimal Outcomes by Leveraging Core Deliverables.” These folks make good money- many start at something like 40K right out of a one year, 10K training program and go up from there. A lot of these folks are leveraging training they received in the military. Industry is fighting tooth and nail for these workers, offering signing bonuses, ed reimbursement, all that. It’s 21st century blue collar middle class.

We are lucky as hell, here in Eastern MA, to have this, while the traditional middle class disappears everywhere else.

These folks run the labs, shops, benches, QA, shipping, chryo, and other essential infrastructure for what we coined as “Loading Dock Technology.” Back in the 90s when everything was all about programming, all you needed were computers and some bean bag chairs and maybe a foosball table. Today, in the exploding medical device, biotechnology, robotics, specialty manufacturing, nanotech, alternative energy and IOT (Internet Of Things) industries you need actual humans to build and run stuff because you are making actual, physical objects. You need the labs and benches built and that takes plumbers, electricians, HVAC, cryogenics and technicians.

These hands-on folks, often called, “science athletes” are what the Gloucester Biotech Academy  is producing for just one of these industries. It is truly amazing we have this resource right here, giant props to everyone who made this happen. Let’s get more of this.

Because these companies are coming to Gloucester. Near the MIT dome, lab and office space is $90 a square foot. Once a company gets their product developed down there, they move out to commercialize it at lower cost and wind up in places like Burlington, Watertown, the office parks in Lexington and now, Beverly (ever wonder why there is all that traffic on 128 now?). Soon, here.

This is just the way of things. We can stare out at the sea all we want and talk about marine industry, which is great, but let’s be honest. We haven’t had many takers on putting thriving industrial businesses next to the water here. But up in the office parks, we’re going to see more and more of loading dock tech companies, and people from here are going to work at them and that is good. As we said, we’re absurdly lucky to be in a place with economic options in modern-day America.  

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Still safer than Bitcoin

Yes, it’s change, but it’s only gentrification if we price out people. And for all the rage-posting at whatever ugly collections of townhouses someone will slap together, that really is up to private landlords and homesellers and the extent to which we commit to building and maintaining affordable housing. Affordability is a huge factor everywhere two hours or less from a tech industry hub. You can be as pissed off as you want, but it’s not going away.

Our task as a community will be to figure out how to make all this work for actual, real-live people as tech creeps north. Our job will be to create new opportunities for as many folks as possible, and to protect the vulnerable and the young in particular, whom we want to stay here, raise families and continue to make fun of our inability to use Snapchat correctly. Because we’re a city, not a “market” and the engines of our economy don’t pause to think about the real consequences on people lives, so that’s up to all of us.  

Unless Amazon winds up in Eastie, then we’ll all get priced out and wind up living a collection of abandoned shipping containers in a vacant strip mall parking lot in New Hampshire, which will be fun. If someone has a generator, I can bring the Instapot.

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Great, they didn’t even text. Now we’re going to need more chili.

NOTE: Any responses to this post implying we can have a thriving, multi-level economy based on the vague concept of “Arts” will be deleted. We love the arts, please keep doing art, we’re fans and patrons. But this ain’t Tanglewood and “art” communities (see: Provincetown) actually have worse Gentrification problems than tech towns. Look it up.

 

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11 Comments

  1. Nail hit firmly on head. We are surrounded by lefty snobs and righty reverse-snobs…who do little more than whine on FaceBook.

    And can we put an end to calling Gloucester, “unique”? It’s a piss-poor application of the true meaning of the word.

  2. Agree. Went to the ZBA meeting about 116 E Main last night, and imagined throughout that all of the people complaining would also say we need more housing in Gloucester, low income but also middle, so that folks who grew up in Gloucester can stay. The negotiations over this site were reasonable (tho I agree they didn’t start off well). They scaled it down as everybody wanted. They reduced the number of units as everybody wanted, but not so low as to avoid the affordable housing requirement. It’s not beautiful but it’s not awful, and, breaking news, they are not building 1910/1920 houses anymore. That appears to be what folks mean when they are talking about what “fits in the neighborhood. (No? Then please tell me what do they mean? Not being snarky, I would really like to know.) It’s true a lot of new houses are cheaply built and awful. This one does not look awful. It’s not a perfect project by any means but within the law we have I think it’s pretty good. There are four of us in a group trying to work with the Planning Department on changing our inclusionary housing ordinance to create more housing that is actually affordable. Nobody is breaking down the doors to join us (all are welcome… if serious and not just concerned about their own neighborhood).
    The biggest complaints other than it didn’t fit in the neighborhood was traffic. Which will be less than what was generated by the restaurant. I’ve come to see that “traffic/parking” are the dog whistle for folks who don’t want “those people” or any more people in their neighborhood. People have to live somewhere. Some of those people are your people.
    Also: I agree with you about rent control. And I’m a freakin’ landlord. If folks aren’t willing to make that move, then they’re not serious about keeping Gloucester affordable. But let’s start with a functional inclusionary housing ordinance, simply because bringing up rent control, or Airbnb (my pet peeve) are a couple cans of worms I personally am not quite ready to open yet.

  3. Great. Truth. Not just for Gloucester

  4. Well that’s nice.
    I like the spin in every direction, but your confusion as to empty storefronts should be less.
    TAXES. The tax codes aren’t written to protect tenants from exorbitant rents on crappy unmaintained spaces. It’s written so the do-nothing landlords can write it all off that year. A nice chunk of change for a fallow space wouldn’t you say? And god forbid you rent it for the asking price. The tenant will expect (shudder) services!

  5. Mary Beth Pereira

    Why in the world this town doesn’t have a nuisance tax on the undeveloped, unrented, allowed to deteriorate properties in the downtown area and at Gloucester Crossing is beyond me.
    That and the ability of builders to keep putting together huge single family houses in anticipated future flood zones is also irresponsible. I look forward to more thoughtful and safe housing options!

  6. Why do you think schools like Essex Techical High School are in such high demand and are turning away 2/3 of their applicants?

  7. Love the comparison to Provincetown. Provincetown has an affordable housing crisis that makes our problems here look minor in comparison.

  8. Basically everyone want lots of economic growth AND nothing changing. This does not compute. Can’t happen and won’t happen. But somehow people feeeeel it is possible.

    Prolonged versions of this self deception are precarious, creating masses of those who happily took the jobs, customers, increases in property values, rising municipal and sales taxes generated by the growth, yet are mad as hell at their town and all the changes. It can make a town or city grumpy.

    He’s really the worst of the seven dwarves for a town to take after. Sneezy isn’t great, but Grumpy is the worst. Before you know it a bunch of the cool folks in town (as in working/mobile), will get frustrated and up and move to some Happy or Bashful or Sleepy town. This just make the ones left behind grumpier. But many just stay grit their teeth and wait for the grumpy townfolk to die off. It’s like a decade long tense family Thanksgiving dinner.

    Did I mention this self deception isn’t a good thing. Don’t do it.

    On the other hand, it turns out economic growth is a very very good thing. Talk to communities that have little of that, or contraction. They will tell you clearly. Been to a timber or farming town lately?

    Yes, growth causes problems like “traffic,” but all the paths forward have problems. All of them. The good news is that growth unlike the other paths also can bring some resources to help address some of the changes. Also growth and change can be moderated and directed somewhat. But not if people stick their heads in the sand at any of Gloucester’s many fine public beaches, as appealing as they may be.

    Beware of too many folks that just complain and get int the way of change or ignore the change entirely. The results of these approaches to change are worse. Much worse. It is work to build vibrant liveable cities, but it can be done.

    Nice article!

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