If you haven’t heard of gentrification before, the usual narrative goes like this: a poor, usually inner city, neighbourhood has richer folks start to move in. This drives up real estate prices as the neighbourhood moves from undesirable to desirable, displacing many of its formerly poor residents as rents go up and apartments are turned into condos.
But, in summarizing a wealth of studies in the field, Richard Florida notes that, except for major creative hubs where gentrification is definitely happening and a huge concern (like San Francisco and Boston), the picture is more complex:
[Lance Freeman]’s 2004 study with Frank Braconi found that poor households in gentrifying neighborhoods of New York City were less likely to move than poor households in non-gentrifying neighborhoods… Counterintuitively, several studies have even found that gentrification can in some cases reduce displacement. Neighborhood improvements like bars, restaurants, waterfronts, or extended transit can and sometimes do encourage less advantaged households to stay put in the face of gentrification.
Long before gentrification becomes a concern, the lack of gentrification in uniformly poor neighbourhoods is a much larger concern:
[A]n even bigger issue is the neighborhoods that are untouched by gentrification and where concentrated poverty persists and deepens… The reality is that the displaced are getting pushed out of working class neighborhoods that are “good enough” to attract people and investment, while the poorest and most vulnerable neighborhoods remain mired in persistent poverty and concentrated disadvantage.
Gentrification and displacement, then, are symptoms of the scarcity of quality urbanism. The driving force behind both is the far larger process of spiky reurbanization—itself propelled by large-scale public and private investment in everything from transit, schools, and parks to private research institutions and housing redevelopment. All of which points to the biggest, most crucial task ahead: creating more inclusive cities and neighborhoods that can meet the needs of all urbanites.