Detroit Train Station by Bob Jagendorf

With concerns about gentrification growing over the last few years, several council members and city officials have been looking for examples of how other cities have dealt with and overc0me gentrification. What they have found, contrary to generally held urbanist belief, is that reducing demand for housing is the most effective way to combat rising rents and gentrification, not building more housing.

On a recent fact finding mission to both cities, council members and staff met with officials from Detroit and Baltimore to learn from the nation’s leaders in combating gentrification. While council and staff have not had time to formulate any potential policies or actions, I was able to speak to one of the officials who participated.

He said that ideas generally fell into the categories of crime, education, noise and pollution, and jobs. They found that the two cities shared many of the same solutions, which helps to validate the solutions and lent credence to the idea that they could be transferable to Seattle. Most of the solutions they saw were also very low cost, if not budget positive, for the City.

Baltimore,  for example, has pioneered the use of crime and drugs to keep gentrification at bay in West Baltimore despite its close proximity to Downtown and the University of Maryland. This approach was so successful that it ultimately lead to the filming of The Wire. Several council member saw parallels with the Central District, where a general decrease in violent crimes has correlated with increased gentrification. Indeed, a personal friend I’ve visited on the edge of West Baltimore lives in a amazing turn of the century row house that is astonishingly cheap to rent.

Another solution identified was to close and underfund schools. This creates a virtuous cycle of reduced housing costs leading to reduced school funding. As the quality of education declines, young couples looking to start a family will avoid areas with poor schools. This strategy is particularly well suited for Seattle, since growing Eastside suburbs like Sammamish and Woodinville have good schools. Directing families with the means to buy a house out of Seattle will directly help to reduce home values. This targeted approach was universally liked by council members.

Detroit’s high density of freeways in the center city is also a perfect example of using noise and pollution to combat gentrification. While bringing back projects like the R. H. Thompson Expressway through the Central District would be expensive, a more affordable solution staff identified was rezoning some single family areas for heavy industry, adding trash transfer stations or repurposing tsunami sirens to randomly go off throughout the night. Regrettably, Detroit has been so successful at reducing demand in the center city that the freeways in Downtown are mostly empty throughout the day, reducing their noise and pollution.

The last but certainly most urgent solution, with Amazon’s recent announcements, is the reduction of employment, especially well-paying jobs, in the city. This is somewhere Detroit really outshines Baltimore. The fact finding group talked with Detroit officials about the connection between well paying high-tech jobs in SLU and rising rents in Capitol Hill. One solution that came out of that discussion was an idea to charge a new business and occupation tax of roughly $10,000 dollars a year for every new employee it hires that lives in Seattle. This would protect existing city residents that work and live in Seattle, but help to discourage new employes that move here from living in Seattle. It would also help to reduce employment growth pressures in the city, an idea that anti-growth advocates already espouse.

Look for action on these gentrification solutions to start to emerge over the next few months. I think several staff members were looking at trying to integrate these ideas in the citywide TOD policy the Land Use committee will be working on over the next year.

26 Replies to “City Looks to Detroit, Baltimore for Solutions to Gentrification”

  1. Is this an April Fool’s joke? If so, you almost had me. The guys over at blatherwatch had a great one I did fall for, at first.

    1. “Reducing demand for housing”?!? That tipped me off that this was an April Fool’s joke.

      You know, if more people were happy being homeless, we sure wouldn’t have so much gentrification!

  2. 9:20 PM? That’s cutting it close. A little later and you would have had a flamewar on your hands. :)

  3. These are some great ideas, but the gentrification may be too far advanced already in Columbia City and the Central District. The City may need to take more immediate and drastic steps, such as placing a mandatory price cap on resturant entrees and entertainment venues at $10 in specified ‘gentrification impact areas’ (GARs). Polices resources may also need to be permantently reassigned elsewhere. And also, ban forever any new construction or business openings nearby Link light rail stations.

    1. Real money-saver: Contract out the operation of the city to the Seattle Displacement Coalition.

  4. I was about to call and give you an earful. I thought I had made it through April Fool’s Day without a trip, until now. irr.

  5. Memories! I went east from Detroit on my high school class trip to DC and NYC using that very train station back in 1963. Fun trip.

    The inside of that station now looks like this: .

    Time marches on … here’s the new Detroit Amtrak station, in a different location: .

    And I see Megabus offers freeway intercity bus service from the Rosa Parks Transit Center in downtown Detroit to Chicago, Toledo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh and points east. Cheaper than flying if you have more time than money. Hmmm… checking… cheaper than Amtrak as well. No surprise there.

    1. They are working on it. A test run was done on upgraded track between Kalamazoo and Porter, the bad news is, that stretch of 110mph running will pretty much balance out Norfolk Southern-owned(at current) trackage that is now being slow-ordered to less than 30MPH. Although the slow-order is for tie and rail replacement. MDOT is looking into buying the affected track if they have to.

      1. MDOT already agreed to buy the track at the end of the year, actually. It’s just a matter of when.

    2. You can’t even take a train from Detroit to Toledo, Cleveland and Pittburgh without first going to Chicago.

  6. April Fools Day run amok!

    Making a neighborhood thoroughly undesirable does not prevent gentrification, it accelerates it. Here’s why:

    – Depressed property values in an area surrounded by high values draw the attention of real estate speculators.

    – Said speculators “flip” such properties to people who are otherwise ignorant of the depressed property. Often the purchasers of the flipped property have no knowledge of the area’s reputation, they are more concerned with the area being “trendy”. Even worse, some buy property that is obviously not well-thought-out in the expectation of future trendiness (the “en vogue” crowd).

    – The trendy and “en vogue” crowd include those who utilize the purveyors of vice, attracting the entrepreneur of ill repute.

    If you want to see an example of this, look at Belltown, particularly on 1st and 3rd avenues around Lenora to Battery.

    Brian Bradford
    Kennewick, WA

    1. You should write a post on how great Kent’s suburbanity is, especially why walking 250 ft to the front door of a store, driving between each store unit, and cheap sandwich boards and banners lining the public rights-of-way are so a great. Even better, tell us why rundown, cookie cutter single-family and multi-family buildings are the bees knees. Man, I love Kent.

    2. Oooh, don’t forget: a very small selection of quality restaurants, almost no diversity of niche retail and services, and the fact that kids are prisoner to their homes. Land of dreams.

      1. kids are prisoner to their homes

        What world do you live in, one where bicycles don’t exist? Kids in suburbia are at school most of the day. After school they go to soccer practice, music lessons, the mall, etc. If they want to be home it’s so they can logon to Facebook or text their friends. The only time they’re prisoners is when their parents make them do homework.

      2. Seriously Bernie? I expressly remember being miles away from the majority of my friends until late high school. I was completely dependent upon my parents to grant me a reprieve from my half mile radius–which might as well have been a million miles. That’s what happens when you live in a place with no connectivity, no transit, and death roads. Anyway, what you point out only makes my point. Parets have to *take* them the two miles to the soccer pitch or pick them up from after school because they can’t reasonably walk or bike. But heck, that’s Kent for you.

      3. Not to mention, most parents these days won’t *let* their kids bike two miles whenever they want.

        I grew up in a New England suburb, and you better believe I was trapped. And yes, I had a bike. It didn’t matter. Most places I would have wanted to go were beyond bike distance. My only reprieve was when I went to high school in the city, and so I got a transit pass and an excuse to be in Boston all day.

    1. That’s sort of like saying “without growth spurts, little Timmy wouldn’t be getting any taller”.

      Also, the Bay Area isn’t “a city”, let alone a shrinking one. It is an agglomeration of many cities, San Jose being the largest. Ironically for you, given your poorly-thought-out, factually-erroneous beliefs about “density” and “urbanism”, the vast majority of the Bay Area looks just like your suburban ideal.

    2. The highest housing costs on the West Coast may have something to do with it, plus California’s combination of both a Washington-size sales tax and an income tax. And what’s a “normal” amount of population fluctuation for a region of 7 million? A lot of people move between Washington and California every year, but contrary to popular belief, most of them cancel each other out.

  7. I’d like to get some feedback from STB users. There are a lot of people out there who seem to have a hard time parking in Seattle, but I personally don’t seem to have a problem with parking. I’ve never had any hard numbers to back me up when I say that so I am toying with the idea of starting a mini-blog for parking in Seattle with the aim of quantifying my personal cost of parking in the congested areas.

    So far, I’ve thrown up this little guy: and got it down to something that’s easy enough to do and do consistently (everything is scripted on submit of an online form. Easy enough.)

    Comments? Suggestions?

    1. Haha. I like the idea. I would agree that in my experience people over hype parking problems. I live on Bellevue between Pike and Pine, right in the middle of it and when I do drive my car home (I usually keep it on the eastside) I’m usually able to find parking less than a few blocks away for my apartment. My impress in that people here just aren’t used to not being able to find a parking spot on the block that they want to visit and if that happens they think parking is bad.

  8. You tipped your hand by saying that the University of Maryland was in Baltimore. There is a branch campus there, but the flagship is in College Park.

  9. I’m just reading this today and didn’t make the April Fool’s connection because of that. It was still obviously satire though, and honestly I think this would be a great post any day of the year. It really brings home what the alternatives are to gentrification and/or increasing density.

Comments are closed.