At the Atlantic Cities, Gabriel Metcalf has a thought-provoking article about affordable housing in the Bay Area. The whole thing is really interesting and highly recommended reading, but I want to highlight one particular section of the article, particularly how affordability interplays with walkability.
Whether the gentrification process is good or bad for neighborhoods, and for the lower-income people who live there, is something that can be debated endlessly. But what is strikingly different about the Bay Area in contrast to a place like New York is the fact that New York has so many more walkable, pre-war neighborhoods located on rail transit, within easy commuting distance of Manhattan. When New York neighborhoods like Soho and the Village got too expensive, for example, the Lower East Side became a major center for artists and other members of the cultural avant-garde. When the Lower East Side got too expensive, people went across the East River to Williamsburg. Next came Fort Green, Dumbo, Red Hook and other neighborhoods in Brooklyn that were still cheap. But as every spot in Brooklyn with a good rail connection to the city gets more expensive, there still is Queens, the Bronx, Newark, the towns up the Hudson — walkable neighborhoods in every direction.
As expensive as Manhattan is, and as far along into the gentrification process as the many surrounding communities are, there are still many places to go within the New York orbit to have an affordable, urban way of life.
We can’t solve affordable housing or transit access within the limits of any one city.
In the Bay Area, there are far fewer options that fit the criteria of walkable, transit-proximate and affordable. For many of my friends, there is just one: Oakland. This is what people mean when they say Oakland is the Brooklyn of the Bay Area. It’s the next stop on the train, it’s cool, it’s where young people go now.
The affordability issue isn’t as acute in Seattle as it is in San Francisco or Manhattan, but the lack of a “safety valve” like Brooklyn or Oakland is even worse. Really, outside of a few neighborhoods in Seattle and possibly some small parts of other cities, there are no walkable neighborhoods. As people who want an urban lifestyle get priced out of those neighborhoods, there’s really no where else to go.