Gentrification describes the shift a community goes through when it encounters economic revitalization, when those who cannot afford to live there are priced out by new developments or businesses and eventually relocate to more affordable — and often less providing — communities.
City growth may ebb and flow, but for both middle and lower classes, gentrification can determine your livelihood, your relationships with your neighbors or your ability to provide for your family. Tacoma is no stranger to this phenomenon. Our example at home is the Hilltop neighborhood. Hilltop was once a thriving part of midtown life in Tacoma’s early history, but the migration of major businesses away from Tacoma — as well as the development of the Tacoma Mall — during the mid-20th century resulted in an economic downturn. Furthermore, gang activity, drugs and a rash of other criminal activities during the 1980s through the late 1990s gave the community a sour reputation.
However, Hilltop has recovered from its dilapidation through persistently successful local businesses and a community that cares about the wellbeing of its neighbors. Hilltop is a spotlight case of a community that went from bad to better that would make any other city envious. Despite these improving developments, many question if the neighborhood is a ticking time-bomb of gentrification — made anew by pressuring the existing community out of their homes and creating an entirely new one.
Construction over the next few years plans to extend the Tacoma Link — a light rail system — through the heart of Hilltop along MLK Jr. Way, rousing the interest of investors. This lengthening of the Link system plans to connect Tacoma’s workforce and student body in a more accessible and environmentally friendly manner. Alongside this expansion, new developments such as a new $40 million development in Hilltop and a new development — known as The Tacoma Town Center — will be based along Fawcett Street. These and other developments will bring new living and retail spaces to Tacoma — however, their impact on the currently existing community has yet to be determined.
While the new Hilltop development will provide apartments with affordable rent — starting at $800 for a 1,000 square foot studio — other developments may not provide such affordable accommodations. This point has been brought up by Hilltop Action Coalition, an organization of citizens that acts as a mouthpiece for concerned citizens in the Hilltop community. Part of the organization serves to prevent gentrification by making sure that input from Hilltop citizens are heard and that a refreshed local economy continues to serve citizens that already live there. While there is still some suspicion, the new development aims to avoid blatant gentrification through affordable rent and providing new retail spaces for local businesses.
The question remains: Will Hilltop — and Tacoma at large — fall victim to gentrification, much in the way Seattle has? Not just Hilltop is at stake. Point Ruston is another development that promises new living areas and local businesses, but there remain lingering concerns about affordability and the practicality of the installation, as well as its impact on local life immediately outside of it. One thing remains certain: creeping waves of gentrification are starting to take hold in the Puget Sound — we should watch it closely and ensure that it doesn’t wash our existing communities away.