Tech, The World, Now + Beyond

The tech industry is forcing gentrification in major US cities- what can we do to fix this?

Techies have recreated areas in their own image, driving out the locals and their culture.

Gentrification is a term used to describe what happens to an urban area when wealthier people starting flowing in and renovating the city to meet their standards. This typically results in the displacement of the people who lived in these communities as prices become too expensive for them to stay there. Gentrification became a hot debate in the 90’s when rich white people began moving in to the NYC boroughs to live closer to their Manhattan finance jobs.

The process has repeated in the 2000’s in Brooklyn with the invasion of the hipsters. In both surges of gentrification, the residents of the communities, mostly people of color, were forced out of their homes to make room for new development or because rents were too high for them to stay.

In the past twenty years, the tech industry has exploded. It went from being a niche industry to the most profitable industry in the country in 2016. This boom has led to the creation of millions of jobs. Many of these jobs have been centered around specific geographic locations, like Silicon Valley in California. The area around the San Francisco Bay that encompasses San Jose, San Mateo, and Palo Alto, was nicknamed Silicon Valley because so many tech giants, most notably Google, opened their headquarters there.

Of course, adding so many jobs in one particular area meant that a lot of people moved to the area. And adding so many jobs in the tech industry meant that a very specific type of person was moving to the Silicon Valley area: highly educated, highly skilled, wealthy people, or at least people who were looking to be wealthy.

So, the tech boom has led to a huge influx of the upper middle class in the San Francisco Bay Area. And if you’ve been following the story, you can guess that this led to some major gentrification. There was huge demand for housing within commuting distance of Silicon Valley, so property managers found they could jack up rents. The current residents who couldn’t afford the housing were forced to move. Residents of some neighborhoods were even offered money to leave their homes so that they could be demolished to make way for new high rise apartment buildings.

The ones who could afford to stay soon found that the price for everything else in their neighborhood went up as well. Business owners found that they could charge more for goods and services because there were so many more people with disposable income. So, they did. Soon, locally owned businesses even began to suffer as higher end businesses move in to capitalize on the market, or as tech companies seek to buy out their buildings for office space.

The problem isn’t just happening in San Francisco either. Other areas where high tech companies have set up shop, like Boston, Seattle, and Austin are experiencing gentrification as well.

Today, these towns barely resemble the urban landscapes they did twenty years ago. Techies have recreated the area in their own image, driving out the locals and their culture. Economically, the areas have thrived from the entrance of the tech industry, but as always, the working class people have suffered at the hands of the middle and upper middle classes. Gentrification also ends up being a racial issue because the majority of the people being driven out by rising prices are people of color.

Tech companies aren’t entirely responsible for gentrification in cities all over America. Look at Brooklyn. Sometimes the youth just decide that a certain urban city is gritty and cool, and they decide to take it over and remake it to their liking. There’s a whole discussion about privilege to be had there, but we’ll save that for another time.

However, socially-conscious tech companies should be willing to take some of the responsibility for the gentrification they’ve created and work to put fixes in place. They could start by putting money back in to the communities where their employees have driven out working class people. They could also consider funding affordable housing so that people can afford to stay in their own communities. The ideas are endless. What they do need to do is take a long hard look at the way they’re promoting inequality and commit themselves to improving.