“I love gentrification. I don’t get why people are against it,” a post from August of last year proclaimed on the Facebook page NYU Secrets. “It makes my neighborhood SAFER […] If local culture means violence and crime, then please get rid of it.” Anonymous voices are easy to dismiss, but the real gentrification that is occurring throughout New York City is harder to ignore. In just a little over 10 years, rent has risen citywide by 32 percent, while the number of apartments affordable to low-income households has nearly halved. More and more, the Big Apple is spearheading a national trend of pushing low-income individuals to the borders. Officials have taken notice; in June, New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board voted to freeze rents on one-year leases in an attempt to stem the tide of gentrification. It remains to be seen how successful these measures will be, given recent instances of residential buildings defying rent-stabilization. But landowners and developers aren’t solely to blame, individual institutions are also responsible for the changing face of the city. A particularly virulent form of gentrification is ‘studentification,’ a term that has been applied beyond its first use by a Professor Darren Smith in 2002 to describe the student-led gentrification of Leeds, England.
Studentification, whereby students move into a neighborhood close to a university, is serious because universities can drastically affect an area for rather obvious reasons beyond raising the cost of housing. The transient nature of the student population, including the increasing international population, means that there are constant newcomers. Students grow increasingly important to the local life and commerce of a neighborhood, and so does the academic calendar. Businesses which traditionally operate year-round now find school vacations and the summer months are a famine to the fall feast. Consequently, school zones create their own economy of bookstores, cafes and supply stores, pushing out traditional businesses and transforming entire neighborhoods into student accommodations — de-facto extensions of the campus itself.
The studentification effect of university campuses on local communities is a rising concern across the country, from Richmond to Philadelphia to New York City itself. Unfortunately, its growth isn’t above reproach. While studentification has its share of benefits to the student, the question is at what cost. It is embarrassing for a university to fail the less fortunate among its own student body, but for a university to claim the mantle of being in and of New York City, it is downright hypocritical for the institution to push out its own low-income neighbors. Unless fairer practices are instituted to support local businesses and housing for its less affluent neighbors, NYU cannot claim to be a responsible member of a community it so aggressively reshapes in its own image.
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