Chagrin Falls, do we have a problem?
Do we worry that our once solid middle class income has not kept up with our once-comfortable middle class lifestyle we enjoy here?
Do we look at the prices of village houses and marvel at their market value then realize if we had to buy our home today it would be out of our price range?
Are we worried that when it comes time to downsize there will be no places in Chagrin Falls we can downsize to?
If you answered “yes,” then you agree that Chagrin Falls has a problem. It goes by the name “gentrification.”
The term is usually reserved for rundown neighborhoods that are rediscovered and improved to a point where the folks who lived there before the renaissance cannot afford to live there afterward.
Rents go up to reflect the gentrification and longtimers are replaced by newcomers who have the cash to turn things around and demand amenities like more attentive policing.
Crime rates drop and here come the up-scale restaurants, interior design studios and shops selling disposable income wants instead of everyday needs.
Economists, historians and sociologists agree that gentrification is not always a bad thing. They point to situations in which long-timers are able to stay on in their community with the help of rent controls and subsidies.
Some experts say that by staying in place, the long-timers make the community stronger by virtue of their diversity, their institutional knowledge, age, race and life experiences.
But that is not what’s happening in Chagrin Falls where diversity is already a unicorn. Add gentrification and diversity becomes a pink unicorn wearing a purple tutu, strumming a banjo and singing the “Ave Maria.”
Chagrin Falls is not a rundown neighborhood either. No need for gentrification here where new houses approach the million-dollar mark. The term gentrification doesn’t work so let’s call it uber gentrification – UG for short.
In our uber gentrified Chagrin Falls, fully employed middle class folks wonder if they can afford to stay, downsize or retire in Chagrin Falls.
The thing is uber gentrification does not improve the middle-class way of life. It threatens it. There was a time when Chagrin Falls mill owners and mill workers owned houses and co-existed as neighbors. People who worked for wages in Chagrin Falls could also afford to live there because here was a mix of houses for all stations in life.
We can’t say that anymore. The latest Zillow figures for Chagrin Falls put the average home value at $371,000, an increase of 12.6 percent this year.
Last summer, bidding wars broke out among home buyers followed by uncustomary acrimony among real estate agents.
You have to wonder if Chagrin Falls is becoming a trophy town open only to the highest bidders? Was this just a sign of post-pandemic need or will it be the new norm?
Everyone wants to live in a safe, postcard pretty town with a river running through it and a picturesque water fall in view of Main Street in a perfectly preserved historical downtown throbbing with charm and vitality. A place where local government fills every pothole as they happen and the school district ranks high on all the “best” lists.
But are we approaching a time when only the wealthy will have bragging rights to a place like that?
Uber gentrification can be controlled through tougher litigation-proof zoning that ensures housing diversity and makes variance approvals the rare exception, not the rule.
It’s a balancing act but we wonder if local government leaders have the vision to acknowledge uber gentrification will not improve Chagrin Falls, just turn it into something it never was and should not become.
Worst case is that it will be celebrated with balloons and confetti for what it will add to income and property revenues.