Working Nomads: Are We Unwitting Gentrifiers?
As your laptop becomes your workplace following the digital revolution, certain urban communities are changing dramatically. One writer looks at the phenomenon with a pang of regret.
Being a laptop warrior and living the location-independent life is a dream for many people. Untethered to any particular place, they can roam freely and live where they want. Whether you’re a freelancer, small-business owner, or remote worker, being location-independent has its perks. Having the freedom to live wherever you want – regardless of the economic opportunities in the local market – gives you flexibility and choice. But it may also come at a cost that no one wants to talk about: gentrification.
What is Gentrification?
First, let’s cover what gentrification is. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines gentrification as, “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” As a result, our cities are changing and growing – in good ways and bad.
Working Nomads and Location Independence
If you’re location-independent, your job and your salary aren’t tied to the local market. In some cases, that means that you have a higher salary than the other folks in your community.
In an effort to save money on living expenses, you may choose a more affordable place to live. From a financial standpoint, it totally makes sense. You can reap the rewards of a higher salary not tied to the local market while taking advantage of a low cost of living.
As wealthy people move in, new restaurants, coffee shops, and other businesses come in to serve the residents.
In many ways, the new business is a good thing. It can lead to more jobs and opportunities for the local community.
And having these amenities can also mean higher property values. On the surface, these are all very good things that can have a positive impact for years to come.
But eventually, gentrification may push the most vulnerable populations out of the neighborhood because they simply can’t afford it anymore as rents increase. This isn’t a unique issue, either. It’s happening all over the country and across the world, thanks to globalization and the rise in location-independent jobs and working nomads.
My Experience in Portland
In the four-and-a-half years I lived in Portland, I saw the city change. In just a few short years, rents skyrocketed and people built high-rise condos for the newcomers moving into the city.
Curious, one day I decided to see how much a one-bedroom apartment cost in a new building just down the street. It cost $1,600 a month! My studio apartment cost $825, and I lived only four blocks away. I was shocked. What did this mean for my own rent and the city?
When I arrived in Portland, the only jobs I could find were $10- to $12-per-hour gigs. As I saw Portland change and rents skyrocket, my first thought was, “Who are these people moving here who can afford the rents in these new buildings?”
I wasn’t sure. But over the years, I saw more tech jobs move from out-of-state into Portland. The coffee shops I once frequented became de-facto co-working spaces.
I saw long-standing African-American communities become havens for white hipsters as wealthier people moved in.
The gritty and “weird” parts of Portland were slowly being erased in favor of high-rises and glossy new storefronts. It all made me a bit uncomfortable. And the worst part? Eventually, I became a location-independent laptop warrior, too.
Earning more money not tied to local wages while taking advantage of low rent helped me to pay debt off faster. While it helped me out financially, I couldn’t help but think about how I was circumventing the local wages and the economy while taking advantage of the relatively low cost of living.
“Am I a gentrifier?” I wondered. I didn’t think so. But even if I was, I wouldn’t want to admit it. Who would? All the same, gentrification is happening fast, and it’s important to understand how and why communities change – as well as what your role might be as a neighborhood changes.
The Bottom Line
Gentrification is a complicated issue. It can revitalize a neighborhood and bring business opportunities, but it can also price out local communities. In the future, it will be interesting to see how neighborhoods change – for better or worse.