Is Gentrification A Myth?


John Buntin challenges the conventional wisdom:

That gentrification displaces poor people of color by well-off white people is a claim so commonplace that most people accept it as a widespread fact of urban life. It’s not. Gentrification of this sort is actually exceedingly rare. The socio-economic status of most neighborhoods is strikingly stable over time. When the ethnic compositions of low-income black neighborhoods do change, it’s typically because Latinos and other immigrants move into a neighborhood—and such in-migration is probably more beneficial than harmful. As for displacement—the most objectionable feature of gentrification—there’s actually very little evidence it happens. In fact, so-called gentrifying neighborhoods appear to experience less displacement than nongentrifying neighborhoods.

He shares some research by sociologist Patrick Sharkey showing gentrification’s surprising benefits:

Sometimes these changes can be difficult, resulting as they often do in new political leaders and changes to the character of the communities. But Sharkey’s research suggests they also bring real benefits. Black residents, particularly black youth, living in more diverse neighborhoods find significantly better jobs than peers with the same skill sets who live in less diverse neighborhoods. In short, writes Sharkey, “There is strong evidence that when neighborhood disadvantage declines, the economic fortunes of black youth improve, and improve rather substantially.”

In other words, the problem isn’t so much that gentrification hurts black neighborhoods; it’s that it too often bypasses them. Harvard sociologists Robert Sampson and Jackelyn Hwang have shown that neighborhoods that are more than 40 percent black gentrify much more slowly than other neighborhoods. The apparent unwillingness of other ethnic groups to move into and invest in predominantly black communities in turn perpetuates segregation and inequality in American society.

Previous Dish on gentrification here.

(Photo by Flickr user MsSaraKelly.)