No real estate topic—not even "poor doors" or mega skyscrapers—engenders more fierce debate in New York City than gentrification. The narrative is familiar: in neighborhood after neighborhood, older, poorer tenants—both residential and commercial—are forced out by rising rents and new construction. Inevitably, they are replaced by well-heeled residents, big banks, and at least one Starbucks. In some neighborhoods, the rate of change is staggering. Take, for example, the Meatpacking District, where the success of the High Line—which wasn't even under construction a decade ago—has spawned a luxury building boom. While the park itself is an emblem of gentrification, it's the new Whitney Museum at the park's Gansevoort Street terminus that serves as the current bellwether of the area's transformation. A handful of actual meatpacking plants can still be spied from the museum's outdoor terraces, but the neighborhood's namesakes will likely soon be gone completely.
However, on a recent visit to the new Whitney, my eye was caught by a different barometer of gentrification—a sign that in other neighborhoods, change is slow, and sometimes less visible from the street than it might initially appear.