Setting the Neighborhood on Fire

The Philodemic Room

February 18, 2016

The Society gathered to debate Resolved: We have a responsibility not to live in neighborhoods undergoing gentrification and had a fantastic evening full of both substantive arguments and wit. Mr. Samuel Kleinman (COL ’16) of Virginia keynoted on the affirmation with Chancellor Michael Whelan (COL ’16) of Connecticut on the negation. Additionally, Ms. Lauren Finkenthal (SFS ’19) of Ohio, making her induction, keynoted on the affirmation while Ms. Nina Young (COL ’19) of Ohio, also making her induction, keynoted for the negation.

Ms. Finkenthal began the night by clarifying the meaning of we as people in the same position as us as Georgetown students and future graduates. She defined gentrification as a process of increasing property values, newcomers changing the demographics of a neighborhood, and a changing neighborhood culture. Positing a dual burden on the affirmation of proving both that gentrification causes harm and that we have a responsibility to not live in those neighborhoods, Ms. Finkenthal detailed the displacement, unemployment, and perverse incentives that gentrification creates, ultimately asking the floor, “I would not want this done to me, would you?”

Ms. Young countered Ms. Finkenthal by noting how gentrification created safe and affordable neighborhoods with fewer food deserts, better policing, parks, and schools. “Gentrification makes neighborhoods unambiguously a better place to live.” She used her own life as a example of the positive externalities of gentrification, noting that even people who move away may find better lives elsewhere.

Mr. Kleinman hammered home that gentrification is part of rapid change, particularly highlighting the experience of people of color in DC. He contrasted gentrification with an equitable process of urban development, urging the Society to put itself in the shoes of people experiencing gentrification, who lost their homes and lifestyles, and the cultural attractions that define certain neighborhoods. He argued that the positives of gentrification go only to new residents, creating “microsegregation.”He finished by making the case for equitable development, affordable housing, and reinvestment.

Chancellor Whelan decried the “truthiness” of Mr. Kleinman’s argument, getting a laugh by saying, “gentrifiers are not all kale eaters, some of us prefer mangoes.” He posited that gentrification was part of a cycle of urbanism, that people moving out is not such a bad thing nor is unusual. He also highlighted the uncertain academic consensus about gentrification, noting as well that people are only going to invest in a neighborhood if they see a future for it. He closed by citing the need for urban development, asking, “If not here, where?”

Mr. Ernst promptly opened the floor by arguing that we cannot accept gentrification as inevitable because the easy thing is not always the best. Mr. Fernandez cited the ambiguity of this debate, imploring the Society to find the right balance between positives and negatives while Mr. Pullin highlighted the destruction of neighborhood culture as a product of gentrification. Mr. Hallisey countered with the reinvigoration of neighborhood communities in San Francisco, which Mr. Schafer cautioned by describing the disastrous, even mortal, consequences of displacement. Vice President Little argued that if gentrification maintains the cultural integrity of a neighborhood, it’s okay while President Thanki admonished the floor not to tell stories but figure out our responsibilities and look at the collective ‘we.’ If not, we would have a bucket debate. Mr. Fletcher took up the gauntlet, saying, “A lot more drives the Society to drink than bucket debates.” He contrasted the moral appeal of people removing themselves from the problem with the duty to be activists in gentrifying neighborhoods, to use their voice. Mr. Ellis used game theory, which he described as ruined by economics, to make a case against everyone acting the same way and following perverse incentives while Sargent Burke rose to defend her field, saying, “I’m an economist, and that’s the same thing as being a wizard.” She made the case for increasing social services to allow people more income to pay rising rents while Chancellor Ringwald decried this approach, citing explicitly racist lending practices as the cause of displacement, not lack of income.

Opening up non-member speaking time, Ms. Sarah Fisher (COL ’18) maintained it was not reasonable to force people to leave even middle income places in New York, while Mr. Brody Sloan (SFS ’19) countered Chancellor Whelan by arguing that just because something is cyclical doesn’t mean it’s not wrong. Mr. Micah Musser (COL ’19) asked what not living in neighborhood accomplishes, emphatically arguing that we can make a difference by addressing gentrification’s root causes. Mr. Brody Ladd (SFS ’19) argued that we have a responsibility to make a sacrifice for others by not living in these neighborhoods.

Mr. Willis resumed member speaking time by arguing that the solutions to urban problems have been tried and they failed, gentrification is the “last best hope.” Mr. Perez-Reyes implored the Society, “To go out and set the world on fire,” citing the obligation to individuals to serve, even if it is futile, to respect the dignity of people. Ms. Grace cited how gentrification is a worldwide problem that only governments can fix while Ms. Landau made an abstention speech, demanding that we get out of our bubble and actually see what is going on in DC. Ms. Kurek sought to weigh the buckets, ultimately arguing it doesn’t matter what we do, leading her to also abstain. Ms. Hernick took up the affirmation’s banner, asking the Society to examine the economic forces displacing people. Mr. Hinck, speaking against his mentee, described an impossible dream of ‘we’ not fleeing the problem but grappling with gentrification within those communities, doing the work to help from within, something few people will do.


Mr. Graff, rising once ‘graph’ was invoked, cited the impossible nature of change, ultimately saying it was better not to move into these neighborhoods because it was, “good for the Jews.” Mr. Musgrave described the affirmation as advocating for stagnation, negating because gentrifying places are safer, and because, “I believe I can live wherever I want.” Mr. Shuman replied, “It’s not stagnation, it’s stabilization.” He argued there was more we can do on an individual level than support laws.

Returning to the stand, Chancellor Whelan had a different definition of we – a Jesuit ‘we,’ which he implored the Society to realize had a obligation to immerse itself in the communities where we will ultimately live. He demanded that we “not be a stranger in a foreign land,” and cited his own experience attending a neighborhood church in DC, asking the Society to see injustice in the world, feel empathy, and live in solidarity.

Mr. Kleinman passionately denounced what he saw as slanders against his side and his grasp on the facts, maintaining that we have not truly pursued anti-gentrification policies. He cited how little political voice people in gentrifying neighborhoods posses, with only churches representing them, arguing that gentrification robs people of political agency. He concluded that we had missed the point of development by and for the people, imploring the Society to make sacrifices to serve the larger cause of economic justice.

Ms. Young kindly thanked her mentor, then argued that this debate should not hinge on race, that it touched on wider topics. Ultimately, predictability did not disappear with gentrification, rather she made a case for our responsibility to help others. She asked the Society to look at the role of the individual, saying, “intentions are beautiful but results are what matters.” She argued for individual actions to reduce the negatives of gentrification.

Ms. Finkenthal gave a very nice round of thankyous, then jumped into arguing that we have a responsibility to participate in a negative process, maintaining that good gentrification does not exist, that it differs from responsible urban development. She made the case for taking a longer route that doesn’t hurt people, citing how the benefits of gentrification are not unique to neighborhoods, they are the same everywhere while particular cultures are lost. She concluded the debate by imploring the Society to think about our individual responsibilities to those in the most need.

The Society then voted to award Merrick points to the most eloquent speakers of the evening:

Mr. Danny Graff – 1 point

Sargent Ashley Burke – 2 points

Mr. Thomas Shuman – 3 points

Ms. Lauren Finkenthal – 4 points

Chancellor Michael Whelan – 5 points

This brings the Merrick point totals to:

Mr. Andrew Shaughnessy – 15

Mr. Patrick Musgrave – 6

Chancellor Michael Whelan – 6

Mr. Alejandro Perez-Reyes – 4

Mr. Samuel Kleinman – 4

Mr. Joseph Laposata – 4

Mr. Thomas Shuman – 4

Ms. Lauren Finkenthal – 4

Chancellor Madeleine Ringwald – 3

Ms. Kathryn Li – 3

Mr. Kyle Rinaudo – 3

Sargent Ashley Burke – 2

Mr. Danny Graff – 2

Ms. Anna Hernick – 1

And, with a vote of 31 negating, 1 abstaining, and 33 affirming, this resolution was narrowly affirmed!


The Society then inducted Ms. Finkenthal and Ms. Young, who did a wonderful job in their keynotes. The Society is so glad to have them.



Garrett Hinck

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