Gentrification is becoming a more pressing issue each year as more cities continue to transform at a rapid pace. Gentrification is a general term used to describe the influx of wealthy individuals to an existing urban neighborhood, which increases rent costs and causes changes in the overall character of the neighborhood. Filmmaker Spike Lee brought the gentrification debate to the forefront recently when he went into an expletive-filled rant about his feelings of the changing landscape of his hometown of Fort Greene in Brooklyn. Raising home prices and improvements to communities have displaced many residents who are now unable to afford the inflated rent costs. “There’s good. But what cost? If we lose half of the African-American population, in my neighborhood, Fort Greene, and the schools become better, what happened to half the people that left?” Spike Lee told Anderson Cooper in an interview.
Last month, I attended a panel where plans for a new urban development in Midtown Dallas were discussed. The $3.5 billion project aims to redevelop a 430-acre site, which includes the addition of millions of square feet in retail, office and restaurant space, plenty of new apartment homes, and a centrally located 20-acre park. Although the panel explained to the audience that the efforts to gentrify this neighborhood will have enormous economic and social benefits for the city of Dallas, I could not help but wonder what will happen to the existing residents in the area. Will genuine efforts be made to ensure that current residents of low income housing not be displaced by the construction of this new development? This led me to another broader question – how often do we consider the social impacts of what we as civil engineers design?
But how do civil engineers fit into the gentrification debate? Improvements to existing communities and the construction of new developments equate to more business opportunities for engineering firms, and consequently, the continual growth of the civil engineering field. As engineers, we have many tools and resources available that help to ensure that safety is kept at the forefront of public priorities when designing our projects, but there are few tools available, if any, to help civil engineers identify the social issues associated with our projects.
As a Civil Engineering Project Analyst, I have identified some things I can do to become more aware of social issues:
Take coursework regarding social issues afflicting communities and neighborhoods.
Volunteer in my local community to help understand the needs of the people.
Research the culture and demographics of a neighborhood when investigating a site.
Form relationships with city leaders to understand the challenges of responding to a growing community.
These are some things I can do personally, and when civil engineers take into account the social issues related to their work, they may have beneficial outcomes, such as:
Creating an easier pathway to garnering community support for the development of projects.
Pinpointing appropriate sites that will suit the needs of both the client and the community.
Connecting clients to key leadership that may lead to new development opportunities in the future.
Although caring about gentrification has its benefits, the question still remains–Is it the responsibility of a civil engineer to address the social impacts of his/her projects? While the answer to this question may be debated, I believe it is important to understand the social implications of our projects so that we are able to better serve the needs of the community and our clients.
About Foresite Group
Foresite Group is a multidisciplinary engineering, planning, and consulting firm providing services to public and private sector clients nationwide. Our team’s collaborative process results in creative products and services that help our clients achieve their goals. Our team takes pride in enhancing and developing the cities and communities where we live, work, and raise our families.