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Whose neighborhood is this?

Posted by Rona Fischman June 7, 2011 01:58 PM

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The kerfuffle over the Whole Foods store in Jamaica Plain is an age-old Boston area battle, revisited.

The question of whether gentrification is good or bad for a community is in the eye of the beholder. What do you behold? Gentrification brought us the housing bubble. Or is that the other way around, the housing bubble created gentrification? Does Whole Foods cause gentrification or is it capitalizing on gentrification that is already there? Does loss of a ďnormalĒ local grocery store toll the death knell for working-class families in a neighborhood?

David Taber, writer for the Jamaica Plain Gazette reports that there is evidence that the presence of a Whole Foods as a precursor to condo price increases in the neighborhood. He quotes a 2007 study that showed that urban amenities attract people who will pay price premiums for housing. That 2007
Johnson Gardner study of urban amenities said this about groceries like Whole Foods:

Specialty Grocers (+17.5%): Price premiums for being nearby a specialty grocer are estimated to range from as low as 5.8% to as high as 29.3%... Accordingly, the calculated 17.5% premium is likely robust, as anecdotal evidence is strongest for specialty grocers.

My office is in Cambridge. I donít think the three Whole Foods are the cause of gentrification there. I also work in Medford, where the Whole Foods sits quietly in its parking lot, not hiking property values around it. But, the facts above are facts. What do you make of it?

The loss of a general grocery store is a huge problem for car-free people in a neighborhood. Especially for people who are donít have a car because of the cost of keeping one. The Hi-Lo in Jamaica Plain is no more. It is the site where Whole Foods wants to decamp.

In the time I have lived in Massachusetts, the biggest gentrifiers I have seen are the introduction of new transit lines and the condo-ization of former rental properties (especially two- and three- family homes.)

The question is not whether you like Whole Foods or not. Itís whether you like gentrification or not. How do we gentrify without denying housing to moderate wage-earners? If gentrification is bad, whatís the alternative?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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