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What Does Gentrification Mean? – Gentrification History and Effects

In 2015, my husband now and I were on a roll: we adopted a dog, got engaged and decided to buy a house, the next logical step in our couple trip. We found a fixer-upper with a fenced yard for our dog that was within walking distance of our favorite stores and restaurants, at an affordable price. The neighborhood was what many would call “promising”. Many houses (including ours) had chipped paint and weed-filled courtyards, housing was cheaper than elsewhere in the city. Our neighborhood was a melting pot and many of our neighbors were recent immigrants. As we moved in and started to take root, we tackled a painful question: were we contributing to gentrification? The answer is more complicated than we initially imagined.

What does gentrification mean?

The definition of the term depends on which side of the fence you stand on, and its story is rooted in an imbalance of power. Merriam Webster defines it as “The process of repairing and reconstructing houses and businesses in a deteriorating area, such as an urban area, accompanied by an influx of better-off people and which often results in the displacement of older residents, generally poorer ” But there is more than just a family, a dynamic family.

When British sociologist Ruth Glass The term was first coined in 1964, “gentrification” specifically referring to the residential displacement suffered by the working poor in London’s urban areas when the middle class (or “gentry”) moved in. Urban displacement project explains, the process also includes economic change in a historically divested neighborhood. This includes residential as well as demographic changes, including socioeconomic and racial identity.

Gentrification most affects people of color

As we all know, the elements that make up our neighborhoods involve more than our living spaces. Amenities like grocery stores, stores, restaurants, schools and our neighbors themselves all contribute to the fabric of our place of residence. So when a developer bulldozes around affordable houses to install a luxury apartment building in a low-income neighborhood, it doesn’t just drive people out who can’t afford the rent. It also changes the entire cultural landscape, as the upper middle class, largely white and English-speaking, bring with them the social forces that invade those who were there first.

According to a study by the National Coalition for Community Reinvestment using the US Census Bureau and economic data, many large American cities experienced racialized displacement between 2000 and 2013. This had a disproportionate impact on black and Hispanic residents who were assessed before they could benefit from things like the ‘increase in the value of properties and amenities like cafes that many critics point to as the characteristics of gentrification.

It stems from a practice called redlining

To understand how gentrification occurs, we need to think about how our neighborhoods became so segregated in the first place. 80 years ago the Home Loan Company created “Home Security” maps of major American cities to assess mortgage risk. The maps classified the districts according to criteria such as the age and condition of the houses, access to transport, proximity to amenities such as parks or undesirable factors such as polluting industries, economic class and status. employment of residents, as well as their ethnic and racial makeup. Neighborhoods considered high-risk by these standards were often “cut out” by credit institutions, which in turn denied them access to investment, which could improve the factors that made them less desirable first location.

Discriminatory housing and transportation policies have not helped. In the 1950s, the Federal Housing Office forced suburban developers to agree not to sell homes to blacks to gain access to secured loans. This contributed to the “white flight” from cities to these districts.

While demarcation was prohibited under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the damage was already done. According to a NCRC study, 74% of neighborhoods classified as high risk by the HOLC are still low to moderate income today, and almost 64% of them are predominantly BIPOC neighborhoods. In addition, the economic mobility of black and Hispanic families living in these regions is further limited by lower incomes, fewer business opportunities and less chance of creating wealth. All of this opens the way to gentrification.

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But not all development is gentrification

One of the complicating factors is that the diversification of a neighborhood, including the arrival of a third wave cafe here, an outlet store there, does not necessarily mean that long-time residents are displaced. In 2015, the search for City Lab concluded that gentrified neighborhoods do not lose low-income residents at a rate significantly lower than that of others.

Curiously, several studies have shown that gentrification can actually reduce shifting. Neighborhood improvements like bars, restaurants, waterfronts or better public transport can encourage less advantaged households to stay, provided they are not priced. A 2006 study found that only 6-10% of all moves in New York could be attributed to housing expenses, harassment of owners or displacement by private action, such as condos replacing low-income housing, between 1989 and 2002. AT Study 2011 also determined that rising neighborhood income did not significantly predict household exit rates. Factors like age, minority status and rental versus buying did.

This happens most in the biggest cities

Although you can look around and fear that gentrification will change the character of your neighborhood, the validity of the data depends on where you live. In 2013 Cleveland Fed Study found that extensive gentrification takes place largely in big cities like New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and Washington DC In contrast, in the majority of America’s 55 largest cities, less than 10% of neighborhoods have experienced gentrification from 2000 to 2007.

But where it does happen, gentrification can really have a quick and devastating impact. The urban displacement project notes that the median rent of a typical two-bedroom apartment increased by almost 70% between 2011 and 2017, according to Zillow Data. This can mean gentrification in areas like this will only get worse over time, as many low-income residents (and generally BIPOC) see rents rise beyond their own earning capacity.

Gentrification is complicated

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courtesy of University of Toronto Press

Gentrify (UTP Insights)

What makes gentrification so delicate is that most people, like my husband and I, don’t move to the neighborhoods to change them. And while the magnitude of our impact leaves us hanging, developers and businesses, as well as the federal, state and municipal governments that have divested from urban neighborhoods for decades, are doing more damage. Who does gentrification too. In their book Gentrify, co-authors John Joe Schlichtman, Jason Patch and Marc Lamont Hill recognize “entrenched” gentrifiers – middle-class people who feel “belonging” to their new neighborhood, as Hill did as a black man affluent moving to a low-income neighborhood – and “symbolic” gentrifiers, who have no original connection to a neighborhood.

Because while the displacement and laundering that can occur with gentrification is undeniably negative, increased investment in historically disadvantaged communities can benefit both old and new residents. This involves preserving low-cost housing and the participation of original residents in the development of the neighborhood, as well as a clear understanding of the complex facets that accompany it.

If you want to deepen the history, impact and complexity of gentrification, there are many res. Here are just a few:

  • The Color of the Law: A Forgotten Story of How Our Government Divided America by Richard Rothstein debunks the myth of factual segregation.
  • Gentrification, displacement and the role of public investment by Miriam Zuk, Ariel H. Bierbaum, Karen Chapple, Karolina Gorska and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris examines the relationship between gentrification and displacement.
  • Bare city: the death and life of authentic urban places by Sharon Zukin examines how the demand for “authenticity” drives out the very people and places that make a neighborhood feel great in the first place.
  • The View From Here podcast explores the history, politics and economics of housing affordability in Sacramento.
  • The urban displacement project created a practical video that breaks it down.

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