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On a typically overcast Monday in the funky-hip Seattle neighborhood of Capitol Hill, a small pack of masked protestors blocked five Microsoft connector shuttles from continuing their routes. Their quixotic banners cried “Gentrification Stops Here.”
The protest played out on the streets and in cyberspace for the next 45 minutes, as the anarchist group impeded buses until police finally appeared to put an end to it. The protestors’ flyers blamed tech company Microsoft for “sucking out what’s left of Seattle’s soul.”
As futile as this kind of protest might seem, it is far from an isolated incidence of populist hostility towards a major tech company. Earlier this year in another tech hub, San Francisco, demonstrators pushed the city to charge corporate shuttles for using city bus stops to ferry employees of tech companies such as LinkedIn and Facebook.
In the case of Seattle, at least, the protest itself amounted to little more than an interruption of Monday-morning monotony, an easy-to-dismiss disruption by a small group of angry Seattleites. But the underlying point these kinds of protestors are attempting to make is real: cities such as Seattle and San Francisco are undergoing major changes; whether their inhabitants like it or not, the “soul” of many major U.S. cities seems to be changing.
These changes are often generalized under the umbrella term “gentrification,” as wealthier residents move to budding neighborhoods, changing the urban landscape. As a result, many less affluent residents are pushed out of their homes because of the inflated rents and higher home prices that are brought by the influx of higher income residents.
Gentrification is real, but the question that still needs to be asked is why these changes are occurring. For many, such as the Capitol Hill protestors, the answer is clear: in a city with growth that has largely coincided with the expansion of the technology industry, technology companies are to blame for the rising cost of living, higher rents, and more expensive real estate. But correlation, of course, does not imply causation, so is it fair to simply blame the changing makeup of the city on companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, or Facebook? In other words, the gentrification occurring in these cities is real, with altered skylines and rising housing prices a visible result, but are these changes the result of the tech industry?Read more