Keep Midt ow n art sy ; keep Mi dtown hi s tori ca l; keep b ui ldi n g mo re h o u s in g.
AS M I D TO W N G ENTRIFIES, W E M UST SEE K COE X IS TE NCE BE TWE E N
JANKY & SWANKY PATRICK STELMACH - DIRECTOR
W When is Midtown not “Midtown” anymore? Change is inevitable. Gentrification is, too. It’s a normal part of a neighborhood’s lifecycle. But how much can a charming place like Midtown change and still be the same artsy, inviting neighborhood? As Midtown continues to gentrify, there is case to be made that, in some instances, we need to preserve the old buildings that look “janky” - or else we run the risk of changing Midtown beyond recognition and becoming homogenous and uninspiring.
Top: Big new apartment complexes like this one shown at 1801 L Street are certainly luxurious and high-density (yay!), but do they fit in with the local character? Bottom: What was formerly a dusty, forgotten warehouse façade is now the lively backdrop for a bocce ball court at Ice Blocks.
What is “gentrification,” exactly?
Gentrification is a general term for the arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district, a related increase in rents and property values, and changes in the district’s character and culture. The term is often used negatively, suggesting the displacement of poor communities by rich outsiders. But the effects of gentrification are complex and contradictory, and its real impact varies.
The corner of Capitol Avenue and 28th Street is a cautionary tale of losing the essence of what makes Midtown charming. Formerly the historic and popular Café Bernardo/Monkey Bar building, the site has been demolished and is now a tarp-covered dirt patch awaiting development. There is a nostalgic gravity standing on the corner, as well as a sense that the character of the neighborhood has changed forever. Is there anything even left of “Midtown” around there? There’s nothing inviting people to linger and enjoy the neighborhood.
The shiny, sterile walls of Sutter Medical Center and the concrete brick walls of the RT bus facility are harsh for the passerby. The Biba restaurant building does admittedly have the charming historic aesthetic, but the storefront’s not activated, the curtains are always drawn, and there’s no outside seating. And when the new building is opened, how much will land values increase in the area? It will surely impact the residential rents of some nearby properties – will people need to move away just because someone wanted to build a tower?
Historic buildings can’t always be preserved in amber, but what could be done differently to maintain the historic features we love as part of new projects we need? And how can we do it without pricing out the quirky, creative people who made Midtown interesting in the first place? The responsibility is on us, the modern urban dweller, to acknowledge and mitigate the negative impacts.
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