Defining Gentrification in Salisbury, NC

Gentrification From Overdevelopment

Within the last 25 years Salisbury, NC has been criticized for slow growth more than our neighboring communities. An eagerness for a variety in nightlife, shopping experiences, & food choices by everyone drove demand for new development ideas in Salisbury & surrounding areas. The problem that seems to always persist though is Salisbury not meeting demographics for income, size, & other metrics

The exiting of textiles, furniture, & other large manufacturing employers didn’t help things either. Together with the financial crisis of 2008-2009, Salisbury struggled to meet the demographics to land the larger retailers & franchises residents wanted at the time. The result was a stand still and even a contraction in the local economy for a small period of time.

Not having franchise competition, however, made for a true local economy that allowed for small business to lead the way in the economic recovery of the past few years. Also, overlooked and/or taken for granted by many of us for years, is the affordable entry point into home ownership. Unlike Charlotte & surrounding areas who had major developers moving in and redeveloping cheap properties into urban dense market-rate condos. 

Urban Sprawl From Charlotte, NC

As modern day urban renewal continues to gain popularity, the more it will start to affect smaller communities like Salisbury, NC who still has affordable entry-points into homeownership. Urban sprawl from the Charlotte, NC area has had an economic impact on neighboring communities that has been both positive & negative. The positive’s being job growth & larger tax bases, and the obvious negatives being more traffic and higher urban density. However, the problem with urban sprawl goes deeper than just inconveniencing the middle class & finding more housing.

What often times happens with urban sprawl is more & more people begin to be excluded from the middle class. Instead of seeking out low-cost entry points to homeownership, developers will often times piggy back in zoning rule changes during urban renewal projects allowing for them to build more urban dense housing structures in areas that were once zoned single-family residential. Using established homeowners equity in these areas, developers raise rents to prices comparable to a mortgage payment for these homes.

In transitional areas in the city’s where this phenomenon is occurring, the lower-income neighborhood with the more affordable housing oftentimes gets pushed out. As more people are attracted to the area, the more others want to live in the neighborhood. This can either result in property value increases, but more often then not it ends up in expanding urban dense housing models into areas that once provided a low-cost entry point into homeownership.

Greenways & Bike Lanes

Another tactic being used by city planners & developers to gentrify neighborhoods is to install greenways & bike lanes in areas the city wants to target for redevelopment. In an effort to attract developers, many cities including Salisbury, will end up doing the development work for the developer, leaving a prime piece of low income property for the developer to come along and “re-imagine” a big market rate condo unit where citizens pay rent instead of gaining home equity & home ownership.

While I support the use of greenways as a way to preserve tree canopy, improve walkability, & add green space, I just can’t help but feel we oftentimes put the “cart before the horse”. Bike lanes in residential areas only seem to result in additional paint striping cost with little to no economic impact on low-income communities. Instead of adding amenities to low-income neighborhoods & driving up entry points to homeownership, maybe we should be developing new raw land that already exists with little to no disruption to the tree canopy of Salisbury.

Investing in neighborhoods shouldn’t displace current residents. While Salisbury has some good programs to help with this, the funding for these programs in comparison to what is spent on greenways & bike lanes is anemic. Waiting on approval and tying up city funds into too many of these projects also is financially burdensome to the city.

Calming Urban Renewal

Urban renewal programs in the 1950’s & 1960’s is considered by many to be the catalyst in creating the income gap between people of color & their white counterparts as well. These programs are also the catalyst for poorly planned and/or poorly mismanaged public housing units that is the root cause of all gentrification. As programs became too costly for the government public-private partnerships stepped in to fill the gaps, with most given huge tax incentives for playing fair.

As the real estate market continues to stay hot, one can only think that property values & return on investment in public housing by private investors will sour. No one can blame a private business for wanting to maximize profits on land they own, however,  at some point the city must address the challenges of calming urban renewal. 

Because the process works so well at driving out lower income properties & “eyesores”, there are some economic development that says if you’re not seeing gentrification, then your economic development isn’t working.  For me, I see gentrification as a terrible process where those being affected have little to know say.

Combating Gentrification & Summary

Calming urban renewal projects is just one step in solving the gentrification problem. The main thing we must do as city leaders is to define gentrification as a problem, not as a economic indicator of good economic development. Leaving the most financially-strapped sectors of the economy to find new housing is not what I call good economic development policy.

Making sure those that don’t won’t be left behind aren’t left behind will require a City Council member that will guide public capital improvement projects in areas where all will benefit, not just a few property owners looking to expand the high rent district into low-income neighborhoods. Keeping zoning laws in residential neighborhoods to limit urban dense development can also help combat gentrification.

While some may feel it’s an unsolvable problem, reducing the amount of residents vulnerable to homelessness can only help that problem. Providing low-entry points to home ownership instead of market rate apartments for rent can also help residents build wealth. The solution starts with a good definition of the problem, something I’m willing to do.

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