Last night, at the final Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York panel discussion, Errol Louis, Ron Shiffman, Michelle de la Uz and Calvin Butts discussed the changing nature of neighborhood character as the city develops, grows and gentrifies at an ever-increasing rate.
The panel discussion, titled The Oversuccessful City, part 2: Neighborhood Character in the Face of Change, was intended to focus on the fact that, as more and more communities around the city are finding, achieving the careful balance that defines a great urban neighborhood can imperil indigenous communities, both physically and socially.
Rev. Butts, after describing the work of the Abyssinian Church in Harlem, beginning in the 1970s, to encourage the creation of better housing, better schools and to attract businesses to a neighborhood that lacked basic services like grocery stores, wondered how, once these things had been achieved, a balance can be created that allows a lively, diverse neighborhood to remain intact without it being overrun by rich people who displace the indigenous population.
Several of the panelists ventured that many of the problems with gentrification, including displacement, might be mitigated if the city planning department had legislation on inclusionary zoning and affordable housing at their disposal to mandate certain provisions from real estate developers.
The specter of community-benefits agreements was also raised, with some panelists suggesting that they might be model for future development, and others saying that the existence of CBAs was symptomatic of the failure of the public planning process.