Berkeley is nestled in one of the most affluent areas in the world. But, its economic endowment is a double-edged sword.
The phenomenon that is Silicon Valley has attracted exceptionally intelligent and diverse people from all around the world to Berkeley and its surrounding area. Yet, this process has also spawned a crisis: gentrification.
Gentrification is one of those “five syllabled concepts” whose meaning and importance is most often confined to its academic origin--the classroom. However, to many, particularly in the Bay Area, gentrification is beyond a theoretical concept, and manifests itself in insidious ways on a day to day basis and its effects are all too real.
Gentrification can be broadly defined as the result of wealthy individuals moving into an “existing urban district”, consequently raising rents in the area, and displacing it existing population. Most often, the consequence of this phenomena is its ability to disrupt cultures that have taken root in certain areas. Gentrified neighborhoods, for example, feature “fusion restaurants seemingly on every block as an attempt of preserving local culture”. However, this “preservation” of culture is more accurately characterized as a perversion and distortion leading some to claim, perhaps hyperbolically, gentrification is contributing to a “cultural genocide” of sorts.
While cultural degradation is certainly a feature of gentrification that is worth a second look, the consequences of gentrification extend beyond this. Often overlooked, but equally significant, are gentrification’s implications for public health. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes that those displaced by gentrification are at higher risk for cancer, birth defects, and increased mortality. Often, displaced persons will be relegated to substandard living conditions and homelessness which increases their exposure to toxic chemicals such as lead paint, which can have insidious consequences especially for young children. Furthermore, related to its cultural ramifications, the CDC observes that the collapse of certain social networks can cause emotional distress that can become chronic mental health problems in displaced persons.
The trouble with gentrification in the Bay Area reveals important features of the nature of public health crises in general. First, they are ubiquitous, yet tend to have a disparate impact on a society’s most vulnerable members. In other words, wealth of a particular country or region is not an indicium of whether or not that country or region will be immune from a harmful public health crisis. Additionally, and specifically related to the issue of gentrification, while increased housing costs have begun to even have adverse impacts on middle class Americans in the Bay Area, its consequences most acutely affect the region’s poor. Second, public health crisis exists in a broader societal context and therefore, have the ability to have a ripple effect. As people get pushed out of the Bay Area housing market, many of whom work in the Bay Area, now have to commute far distances to work. Increased traffic has resulted in increased air pollution from car exhausts.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the public health crisis spawned by gentrification teaches us to think more critically, or perhaps more fully, about how will deal with and view certain phenomena.
About The Global Health Soap Box
This blog evokes the spirit of UC Berkeley -- the home of the Free Speech Movement. The Global Heath Soap Box provides a platform for GlobeMed at Berkeley chapter members to explore and discuss their thoughts on relevant public health issues. Whether it's an expansion on what we discuss in ghUs or a topic of interest--The Global Health Soap Box covers a wide range of topics.