FERGUSON: Don’t ignore the benefits of gentrification

Myths portraying gentrification as a form of systemic oppression don’t accurately represent urban renewal

Gentrification remains one of the most controversial issues related to urban development and revitalization, in part because of the perception that it is a form of oppression against inner-city minority populations. However, the idea that the forces of gentrification work against the majority of disadvantaged inner-city populations is a misconception. According to John Buntin, staff correspondent for “Governing” magazine, 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.” The arguments against gentrification are misguided, and overall it serves as a positive force in cities which benefit residents, both new and old. 

Opponents of gentrification claim that it causes a disproportionate amount of the original residents of neighborhoods to be displaced. A 1983 study of residents in Boston, Cincinnati, Denver, Richmond and Seattle found that almost a quarter of residents in urban neighborhoods in those areas were displaced because of eviction, increases in rent or the sale of previously rented-out homes. However, assigning gentrification as the sole cause of lower-income residents leaving neighborhoods ignores the many other forces which are at work in cities that cause shifts in populations. Instead, gentrification has shown to have increased the rates at which residents stay in their neighborhoods. Economist Jacob Vigdor found that lower-income residents moved out of gentrifying neighborhoods in Boston at a lower rate than non-gentrifying neighborhoods. Lance Freeman of Columbia University and Frank Braconi also found similar trends in New York City. Despite the fact that a rise in rent rates often coincides with gentrification, the Freeman and Braconi study found that residents were less likely to move when rent increased. 

Another argument opponents use is the claim that gentrification is a form of oppression against minority communities, as racial and ethnic demographic often change when low-income black neighborhoods gentrify. However, Buntin explains that “it’s typically because Latinos and other immigrants move into a neighborhood.” 

One of the most contradictory aspects of arguments against gentrification is that they are often prefaced with a list of positive outcomes of gentrification, such as decreased crime rates, increases in home values and better schools. These benefits alone make neighborhoods better for all residents and serve as a case in favor of gentrification in and of themselves. A study conducted by the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity in partnership with New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy found that public housing residents in higher-income neighborhoods have a higher quality of life than residents of exclusively poor neighborhoods. 

It is likely that gentrification is going to remain a relevant trend in urban development and renewal. According to Pete Saunders, contributor to “Forbes” magazine, data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey indicates that college-educated millennials are increasingly moving into cities at a slightly higher rate than outlying suburban areas. This trend foreshadows positive outcomes for disadvantaged inner-city communities because the evidence in favor of gentrification has been growing. Numerous studies, such as Vigdor’s and Freeman’s, discount the myth that gentrification leads to original residents being displaced at a macro level. Other studies have positively concluded that the revitalization of neighborhoods brings tangible economic benefit to residents. The facts supporting gentrification refute the misconception that it is a force oppressing inner-city minority communities, and decaying urban communities in need of renewal cannot afford to dismiss gentrification when it provides solutions to issues plaguing them.

Thomas Ferguson is a Viewpoint writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

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