Monday, August 3, 2015

Taylor Swift, Gentrification Ambassador to NYC

If you live anywhere in NYC's five boroughs, you've likely seen Taylor Swift ads plastered on the subways, bus stops and newsstands: a matronly Swift overlooks the Hudson, her image overlaid with the words "Welcome to New York it's been waiting for you."

But don't get it twisted--Taylor Swift isn't speaking to you or I. Selected as Global Welcome Ambassador to NYC even though she's lived here mere months, Ms. Swift essentially spearheads the welcoming committee for uber wealthy folks who can afford to drop a cool $20 mil on a penthouse apartment.

Juxtaposed with the rampant gentrification of so many NYC communities, it's not difficult to understand why her selection is particularly abhorrent to a native New Yorker like myself. Take a stroll around Harlem, Washington Heights, Sunset Park, Bed Stuy or Crown Heights. These neighborhoods-- once bastions of affordability for the working class and people of color--are on the cusp of being swallowed up en masse by transplanted NYers and this ad campaign is their cue to stomp on the gas pedal.  

As the economic elite continually devour large swathes of NYC real estate in order to create their own mansions in the sky, fewer and fewer rental properties remain on the market. In fact, less than 5 percent of rental apartments in NYC are vacant. As a result, many upper-middle income people (mostly Whites) are now setting their sights on neighborhoods they previously deemed undesirable. Profit-driven landlords respond to the new demand and influx of wealth by increasing rental prices.  

This wouldn't matter quite as much if most people indigenous to the communities in question were homeowners. Unfortunately, this country's track record of systemic housing discrimination precluded many people of color from purchasing homes. Thus, those longtime inhabitants of gentrifying neighborhoods who rent and happen to be low income simply cannot afford the higher prices that these areas now command. People of color suffer from displacement at alarming rates. 

As people of color get pushed further and further out of our communities I wonder where we will all go? And what will happen to NYC? Diversity has always been NYC's cultural cachet. If the city continues down its current path unabated, it could become a bland, homogeneous place without the vibrancy or gravitas to call itself a world class city. If that happens even Taylor Swift won't be singing "Welcome to New York."

Thoughts? Reflections? Musings? I'd love to hear from you! Leave your comments below. 

-Helene Abiola

1 comment:

  1. Ha Taylor Swift as ambassador for NYC? I had no idea and could think about more fitting people.
    I also think NY doesn't need a campaign to attract more people, everyone wants to live here already since Sinatra's "New York, New York" song. They should rather spend the money to help people with housing and develop some community integration plans so they don't get all destroyed or dare I say whitewashed by gentrification.