Is Gentrification A New Form Of Racial and Economic Segregation?

April V. Taylor

The trend of white, more affluent residents moving into urban neighborhoods that have historically been made up of less affluent people of color, known as gentrification,  is a trend that is on the rise in cities across the country.  The term gentrification was first used to describe this movement of middle class families into former working-class neighborhoods in London in 1964.  While some bill gentrification as a positive process that revitalizes blighted communities, improves services and returns wealth, others view it as a desecration of authentic and autonomous neighborhoods that puts low income and minority residents at a disadvantage and destroys the social fabric of their communities.  The answer about whether or not residents, who are either displaced or choose to stay behind, are worse off because of gentrification depends on what data sets are being analyzed, but what is consistent across the board is that segregation and concentrated poverty are increasing as gentrification increases across the country.

It is important to point out that it is not just local governments that are responsible for the policy changes that allow gentrification to happen, the federal government has spent more than $120 billion since 1974 in Community Development Block Grants through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  As billions have been poured into “revitalization efforts,” residential patterns of U.S. households have become increasingly segregated.  This increase in segregation is both racial and socioeconomic.

Statistics that highlight this trend include the fact that major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. are considered hypersegregated with more than 35 percent of the country’s Black population living in hypersegregated places.  The number of high poverty urban neighborhoods tripled between 1970 and 1990 causing social isolation and spatial isolation to interact in a way that makes advancement by minorities difficult.  As gentrification perpetuates concentrated poverty, people become stuck in disadvantaged neighborhoods for generations with many cities becoming a “patchwork of concentrated disadvantage juxtaposed with concentrated advantage,” according to Harvard University’s Robert Sampson.

One of the interesting statistical trends of gentrification that illustrates the persistence of segregation in American cities is the type of neighborhoods that are most prone to gentrification.  Researchers have found that the racial composition of a neighborhood has a threshold effect that prevents most neighborhoods with a Black population over 40 percent from being gentrified.  In other words, neighborhoods that are more black tend to stay that way.  The separation of American neighborhoods by race is coupled with the existence of concentrated poverty.  A statistic that highlights this is that for every single neighborhood that has been gentrified since 1970, there are 10 neighborhoods that have remained poor and 12 that have slipped into poverty, meaning wealth and poverty are becoming increasingly concentrated in separate neighborhoods.

American cities are also becoming increasingly segregated in terms of level of education due to gentrification according to Stanford economist Rebecca Diamond.  As the cost of living has started to dramatically vary in ways that have not been historically true, cities with higher costs of living have become affordable only to those with college degrees and less educated residents are pushed out by an inability to afford housing and services.  Diamond attributes this not just to the wage gap between high school and college graduates, which increased by 50 percent between 1980 and 2000, but also to the larger increase in the economic well-being gap.

As many policymakers and academics have focused the national conversation on helping those who are displaced by gentrification, the bigger issue of increasing racial, academic and socioeconomic segregation has become the elephant in the room that few are acknowledging.  Those who are paying attention are realizing that the national trend toward gentrification is in fact a new, multi-pronged form of segregation.  The solution to equality and shared upward mobility across race and class may not be simply in ending gentrification but in understanding the factors that are perpetuating and increasing the segregation of American neighborhoods and cities.

SOURCE 1, 2, 3, 4

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There are 8 comments for this article
  1. Peggy Seats at 4:47 pm

    I think the author of this article needs to check her facts, keeping in mind also that governmental demogrsphic data is, on average, ten years in arears from the reality of the data documented. Not to mention the built in inaccuracies based on skewed and non-inclusive reporting by the US Census Bureau.

    The reality is that about every 50-60 years blacks are displaced from utban areas as gas prices sky rocket and former white surburban communities major cities across Americs, especially the premier ones like Washington, DC, whrre blacks have and/or soon will be run out of each and every inch of all comminities, including those that have been considered slums where whites formerly would not be caught in day or night.

    These former ghetto slumd have now been taken over, "gentrified" with massive redevelopment overha i ls, outdoor cafes, a plethora of trendy new restaurants, dog parks, etc. And this is occurring in Chicago, NY, everywhere but no where to the extent of DC – new home to the globally wealthy and now the most expensive city in Americs.

    So, if you you're going to write an article about the injustices of life, don't sugarcoat it, tell the truth.

    American slavery has only been modernized, but the disenfranchisement of black people is alive and well, even against the miseducated who believe that being in denial and extreme assimilation is their meal ticket to the "American Dream" which has become the American Nightmare, even for those with skin privilegr, unbeknownst to them. The madness of the enslavement of the masses by the plutocractic oligarchs is destroying us all, as well as Mother Planet, Soon it will become evidently clear to everyone that the insatiably greedy are endlaving us all.
    See the movie "Elysium" get a clue.

    We all have a need for clean food snd water and shelter and human compassion. These are all near extinction no matter how "successful" you think you are. Until we wake up as a community of himan beings and realize that we"re all INTERDEPENDENT and
    have no interplanetary haven
    to run off to for those who think
    they got it all covered with their
    "wealth" and trinkets and toys, they
    are soon going to be in for a rude awskening. God not only lives, but Gof rules; and God don't like ugly as
    in hste, and greed, and genicide and evil. Love., humility, kindness, sharing and caring is the answer.

    All of this junk and status symbols and egotism and hate that people are obsessed with is not only juvenile, but UGLY and EVIL- not chic..

    Afterall, you can't take it with you. Didn't we learn anything from the Egyptians?

  2. Allen Shaw at 6:32 pm

    To me this is a strange way to look at gentrification!
    My understanding of this movement is the “rich” taking back the center of the community which they abandoned in the 60’s. The areas that they take back are usually blighted and are turned back into viable areas for the "rich" to use. I have not heard of any area where race was a part of the newly renewed areas.
    Certainly, the poor are disadvantaged!
    I doubt if it could really be proven that this is a racially motivated movement, the poor are always going to be disadvantaged and if a person fails to see the many projects to provide better accommodations for the poor and concentrate on those who suffer they will always have a story to write!
    How many new and improved public housing units were constructed during the period that this article covered?

  3. james at 6:11 pm

    If we ate the majority in the community, why don’t we just repair the buildings and homes?? Live in them or sale at a profit!

    In most cities we live in what is now the most desirable physical locations but mostly we don’t take advantage of it!

    I personally do not have a problem with whites !moving in, they enhance their property and increase the overall value of homes.

    Note; if you depend upon the government you will always be disadvantage, they can’t make you middle-class or rich! Improve your own community!

  4. Kendall J. Calvin Sr. at 2:32 pm

    Pray for our children! Pray that what they have learned from us and our neighbors will not make them strangers and enemies with God. Pray that our values and responses to events are aligned with good stewardship and love. We are a people saved by Grace and given freedom to a better way of doing things. We should pray that we are not like the people who enslaved us, gave us away to foreign traders, raped us, filled our communities with drugs that killed us, and done all that they could do to demean our existence. Pray for the hearts and minds of our young men and women. Pray for each other, and ourselves. ~KJC~

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