Remember the Bowery: A Case Study in Gentrification

Lessons for New Orleans

| November 3, 2005


The phrase 'rebuilding the Gulf Coast' has buzzed through the media for several weeks. Terms like 'rebuilding' and 'redevelopment' raise red flags for many activists, though, because they're often code words for gentrification. But how can concerned citizens spot it in time to stop it? A look at the building boom in the Bowery in Manhattan might yield some clues.

The Bowery held out against gentrification for a long time, though it's now falling victim too, according to The Village Voice. Once a scrappy -- and scary -- mecca for artists and squatters, the famed Lower East Side street is now 'a new millionaire's row.'

One of the hallmarks of gentrification is a sudden, drastic change of rental markets in an area -- usually from working-class people and housing to wealthy professionals and office or retail space. Often the shift is hailed as improving a dangerous area, of which the Bowery in particular has a long history. The result of such radical change, however, is a rent spike that many cannot meet, resulting in mass evictions.

The best cure for gentrification is prevention. PolicyLink, a nonprofit organization advocating economic and social equity, claims that if a community fully participates in its own revitalization, it can have a say in its own future. The group pushes a tack called commercial stabilization, which aims to tailor commercial district improvement plans to neighborhoods' needs. But the communities have to get involved before it's too late. For New Orleans, that means now.



Go there >> An Elegy for the Bowery

Go there too >>PolicyLink