5 Must-Read Perspectives on Gentrification

Is gentrification a detrimental force, causing harm in neighborhoods across the nation? Or is it a positive process by which neighborhoods improve? Is its impact overblown or uncritically assessed? What does the word "gentrification" even mean?

Today, we've got 5 important, wide-ranging perspectives that will help you consider these very questions and get a handle on one of the most talked about yet least understood concepts in America right now. 

1. "Gentrification" can mean many different things.

No two people seem to quite agree on what the word “gentrification” means. If you’re at all interested in what shapes our cities, you’re bound to find yourself in a conversation about gentrification eventually—and depending on who you tend to hang out with, you might find yourself in a fight.

To some, gentrification is synonymous with an inseparably interconnected web of violent acts; it’s a thing to be fought if we want to preserve compassion for the most vulnerable in our societies and guard against unmitigated greed. If we let the interests of wealthy developers control our landscapes, what happens to democracy for the common man?  To others, though, gentrification is the simple mechanism by which we make our cities better, tied up in our most basic economic processes... Read the rest of this essay by Kea Wilson.


2. Gentrification is a fundamental paradox.

Gentrification has two critical elements. First, there is outside capital that flows into a neighborhood in the form of investments. Second, those investments ultimately result in the displacement of people who lived in the neighborhood before the investments were made. The presumption that one must equal the other is where I’ve tended to throw up my hands and walk away from nearly every discussion on the issue... Read the rest of this essay by Charles Marohn.

3. Concerns about gentrification are complex and dynamic.

The subject of gentrification is inescapable in debates about urban development, demographics, and housing. Yet the word often sheds more heat than light, thanks to its negative connotations and lack of an agreed-upon meaning. Does it refer strictly to residential demographics? What about the commercial makeup of a neighborhood? Must it have a racial component? Does gentrification always imply new development or construction? Does it always mean displacement? Get twenty urbanists in a room and you'll get twenty answers.

Despite a large body of academic research on the phenomenon, the word is used in political discourse and everyday conversation to mean very different things than what scholars mean by it, and often with huge unexamined assumptions...

Read the rest of this four-part series by Daniel Herriges:

  1. By Any Other Name: Gentrification or Economic Exclusion?
  2. Who Benefits from Neighborhood Improvements?
  3. Rough Waters: Gentrification and Cataclysmic Money
  4. Calming the Waters: How to Address Both Gentrification and Concentrated Poverty

4. Rust Belt cities need investment, not gentrification worries.

There is a type of neighborhood that you never hear about in the gentrification story mostly told by writers living in the coastal centers of power. It is the type of neighborhood where the majority of ordinary people in ordinary cities like Akron actually live. This type of neighborhood is a lower-income, working-class, mixed-race community, comprised primarily of single-family homes, many of which are owner-occupied.

The standard gentrification narrative is typically about affluent newcomers displacing existing lower-income residents—driving up housing prices, rents, and property taxes to stratospheric heights. But there are millions of people throughout the cities of the Rust Belt living in neighborhoods with the opposite problem. They are lower-income, working-class homeowners, living in deteriorating homes, with no foreseeable prospects for property appreciation... Read the rest of this essay by Jason Segedy.


5. Concentrated poverty is a bigger problem than gentrification.

When most people say "gentrification," what they're really thinking of is when a neighborhood changes so radically that the people who used to live in that neighborhood are completely pushed out or displaced. I think the reason people are worried about gentrification is because of their perception that it's a big factor in making the lives of the poor worse. What we set out to do is provide some context to that by looking at high poverty neighborhoods in the United States and how they've changed over the last four decades to get a sense of what's going on and how big a factor gentrification and displacement actually are... We notice the volcanoes but we don't detect the soil erosion. And there aren't very many volcanoes, but soil erosion is happening on a massive scale... Listen to the rest of this podcast conversation with Joe Cortright.