How Can I Tell if my Neighborhood Is Gentrifying?

This week….Guest blogger!   With an introduction and some editing, because, in his own words, “you’re clever but I’m mainly just sarcastic.”

How Can I tell If My Neighborhood Is Gentrifying?

Hey Wyoming, did you know the entire population of your state is the same as Harlem, give or take Murray Hill?

For those of you who need the backstory, gentrification is a thing that happens in urban areas.  It’s when a bunch of young, mainly white but always educated middle class artistic types move into a decaying older neighborhood or a vibrant working class / immigrant neighborhood.  We do this because the rents are cheap, and we tend to prefer neighborhoods where we won’t be shot outright by drug dealers the second we step outside the door.  Dodging those bullets between the drug lords gets old fast.

Gentrification proceeds in four easy steps:

Step One: Artistic types with large square beards (men) wearing oversized lumberjack shirts (women) carrying bags of kale (either gender),

Step Two …move into your neighborhood,

Step Three …and start complaining about the lack of decent artisanal bitters available in the local bodegas and that no one speaks English,

Step Four …until the rent goes through the roof, everyone else moves out, and Coach, Joe, and sushi shops run by Asian-but-not-Japanese-Asian families move in.

Hey, Santa Fe — that big silvery thing is called a “river”

That’s how it’s done.

I should know, because I personally take credit for gentrifying the Upper West Side above 96th street single-handedly, back when I was young, cute, and between boyfriends.  That’s right – I said it!  Then I moved uptown, and now and I’ll gentrify your ass up here too!

Bwaa ha ha.

Hey South Carolina, did you bring me BBQ?

Some people love gentrification.  They call it economic development, the vibrancy of the city, and safe, authentic, interesting neighborhoods with lots of small shops and cafes.  Others (back to the guest blogger you’re about to read) hate it and spend lots of time pissing and moaning about how the rents are going up, the real people are leaving, and the tightass prissy humorless types are giving him looks in the park like he doesn’t really belong, or at the very least as if they are surprised, surprised!  to see a Dominican in Washington Heights.

So….how can you tell if your neighborhood is starting to gentrify?  Here’s what The Hub has to say:

There are many tell-tale signs when a New York City neighborhood starts to gentrify; some are as obvious as speculators renting out long-abandoned store fronts and suddenly turning them into mini art galleries or hipster cafés.  Another surefire sign is the sudden spike in rents, and the sighting of young, relatively affluent newcomers, especially those of the Caucasian variety.  Pretty soon, the takeout-only Chinese restaurants and old bodegas are struggling to hold on as they face the onslaught of the new and fancy food options that the newcomers demand.

Hey Kentucky — what the hell is burgoo?

Those factors are pretty obvious, and discussed with sickening frequency by New Yorkers all over town as well as the local media, but I have my own way measuring the degree of gentrification in my ‘hood.  The next time you walk out your door, check out the number of vehicles with out-of-state license plates. If your neighborhood has reached critical mass, chances are that you’ll see more exotic plates than you might imagine.

Land of 10,000 lakes, but not a bacalao in sight.

I live in a very short street in Washington Heights, which, while never exactly ghetto, has seen an explosion of new arrivals in the last decade.  It’s not uncommon for me to walk the two blocks from my building to the local café, and see a dozen out-of-state plates.  I’m not even counting the plates from Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as they’re obviously our neighbors.  (note by editor: sorry, I’m also disallowing Vermont, Maryland, and Rhode Island)

No, I’m talking plates from places as far from New York as Wyoming and Washington state.  Hell, I swear I even saw Hawaii once.

Why is the variety of license plates proof of gentrification?  Simple: Blaire and Finley are loathe to bring their cars from Indiana to New York City, let alone park them, for fear of all the big city crime.  But if they feel safe parking in your block, Bingo!  You have arrived.

Note the latte cup.

Additional hint:  trash cans overflowing with discarded latte cups and doggie poop bags are a dead giveaway, too.

Alejandro Alcántara Almánzar

Do I detect a tinge of bitterness here? Having lived on both sides of the fence, here’s my take on it:  New York City is all about change.  It will never stay the same for long, which is part of the attraction.  I’m in favor of making these transitions as painlessly as possible, but I don’t think you can pin a neighborhood to any one epoch and keep it there forever.  That being said, as soon as I see a Godiva store open up 2 blocks away, I will swiftly decamp.  South Bronx, anyone?


  1. When you hear the arrivistes saying “ten ave” for “Tenth Avenue” *and* they can’t find the street without consulting their cellphones, gentrification is a done deal. When you see the arrivistes pushing baby strollers that cost more than your monthly rent, gentrification has hit its stride. “Craft” beer in the local bars and “artisanal” breads in the local bodegas complete the gentrified makeover.

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