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Gentrification

Gentrification

You're walking down a bustling street lined with your favorite stores. Suddenly, you see an old building that doesn't seem to belong. You might wonder, "Why don't they remove or renovate this old thing?" Well, that "old thing" could be evidence of a greater phenomenon called gentrification! As new residents move in and invest in an area, older buildings and architecture are thrown out. What replaces those older buildings? And what about the people previously in them? Let's explore these questions in this explanation on gentrification.

Gentrification Definition Geography

Gentrification is a sequence of urban change events occurring currently all over the US. It begins when middle and upper-class individuals move into traditionally working-class areas in a city, renovating or building homes and businesses, which raise property values. In turn, increased property values also increase rent prices, making housing too expensive for the original working-class tenants, who are primarily renters. These original residents then have to move to cheaper areas outside their homes and communities; this process is called displacement.

Gentrification is occurring in many cities all over the world, but in many areas, gentrification is often tied to issues of race and ethnicity. Many countries, including the US, have a complicated history with race relations. Historical displacement through residential segregation, blockbusting, and redlining, have shaped the design of American cities and towns. To understand the discussion on gentrification, it's crucial to take a dive into American urban history of discriminatory land use development.

Gentrification Figure 1 Signs of apartheid in South Africa Gentrification Definition History StudySmarterFig. 1 - Signs of apartheid in South Africa

Residential segregation, much like social segregation, is the process of separating neighborhoods based on race. Many American cities, whether through blockbusting, redlining, or white flight, established some form of residential segregation in their cities. This meant minority groups lived in specific neighborhoods, primarily inner city areas.

Blockbusting is a prejudice-driven real estate practice of persuading residents to sell land or property at a loss so that real estate companies can resell that property at a higher price. Blockbusting was historically associated with a perceived threat of racial minorities moving into an area and causing real estate value to decrease. Fearmongering through racist practices led to panic selling, allowing real estate and mortgage companies to profit.

Gentrification Figure 1 Redlining Map of Chicago (1939) Gentrification definition geography StudySmarterRedlining Map of Chicago (1939); areas in red are primarily where minority groups lived

Although blockbusting was a harmful practice, redlining directly prevented minority groups to access home loans. This was done primarily by banks, which deemed certain areas in cities as a poor financial risk and would not lend money to potential homeowners. In many cases, these same areas that used to be redlined as high financial risks are now the same ones being invested into and gentrified.

Residential segregation, blockbusting, and redlining practices became illegal with the Fair Housing Act of 1968. This act prohibited the discrimination of sale or financing of housing based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, or disability. At the time, it was part of a set of civil rights laws that passed in the 1960s attempting to target segregation in the US. However, most American cities were built when these practices were still legal, and established land patterns and side effects are still felt by residents to this day.

See the explanations on Housing Discrimination Issues, Redlining, and Blockbusting to learn more!

Characteristics of Gentrification

As mentioned previously, due to historical displacement practices, minority groups were often forced either by circumstance or choice to settle in areas they could afford and were allowed to live in. Many of those places were in inner-city urban areas.

It's important to discuss why inner-city urban areas, traditionally close to the central business districts and businesses, were dominated by working-class minority communities. In addition to various racist practices we mentioned above, white flight was a common phenomenon beginning in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. White flight is the process wherein white people, or people of different European ancestries, moved out of mixed urban areas to economically and racially homogenous suburban and rural areas.

White flight, in combination with redlining and segregation, removed many resources from inner-city neighborhoods. With a major tax base departing for the suburbs, the focus on building schools, housing, supermarkets, and other amenities was directed towards new, predominantly white suburban communities. This led many inner cities to experience urban decay, the process of parts of a city falling into disrepair or deterioration—entire areas neglected and ignored. This can take the form of degeneration and abandonment of infrastructure; high crime and/or high unemployment rates; and general depopulation.

Urban decay is often associated with racism in the United States, but that is not always the case. It can occur even in ethnically and racially homogenous cities. Urban decay has the potential to occur when any socioeconomically wealthy group leaves an urban area, taking their patronage and their money with them. Urban decay can also be caused by government or corporation mismanagement.

Gentrification Figure 2 Urban decay in Tanzania Characteristics of Gentrification StudySmarterFig. 2 - Urban decay in the Ng'ambo district of Zanzibar City, Tanzania

The areas that are most likely to be gentrified today are the areas that are experiencing urban decay. The property values in these areas are usually the cheapest, so they are the easiest to purchase and re-work into something more profitable. Gentrified urban areas are characterized by several sudden changes in their urban and social landscape. Common characteristics of gentrification include shifts in demographics, an increase in real estate prices, and changes in land use patterns and culture:

  • Demographic change: an increase in median income as wealthier couples or single people move into an area and lower-income (often minority) residents move out
  • Real estate prices: new luxury housing causes surrounding apartment and home prices to increase, leading to evictions and fewer rental units
  • Land use patterns: a change in development patterns, usually from industrial to residential or mixed-use (residential and commercial)
  • Culture: different needs and wants emerge with regard to amenities, architecture, and neighbors

For the APHG Exam, remember these characteristics for defining gentrification!

Why is there an interest in these inner-city areas?

The US is predominantly a suburban country, characterized by sprawling land use development and heavy car dependency. The recent shift back to city life is driven by younger generations who want to be closer to jobs and amenities within walking, cycling, or public transit distance and are interested in new investment opportunities. Unfortunately, very few inner-city neighborhoods have been built since the suburban explosion of the 1960s, leading to high competition for inner-city locations.

Types of Gentrification

There are different types of gentrification depending on how far along an urban area has been gentrified. The first type usually includes younger individuals from middle to higher-income groups (such as college students and artists) moving in looking for cheaper housing close to other services and amenities. In this phase, there are minor renovations and no displacement is seen or felt.

In the second type, renovations begin to pick up, changing the aesthetic and architecture of the district. This attracts other middle and higher-income groups, usually families and professionals, which buy more real estate, flipping homes or building new ones. At this point, changes are physically visible in the character of a neighborhood. For instance, new luxury housing is built that looks aesthetically different from the previous, older housing.

Gentrification Figure 3 Gentrification in Mexico City Types of Gentrification StudySmarterFig. 3 - Gentrification in Mexico City; old, historical housing in contrast to new apartment development

Generally, once you can see visibly see gentrification, both public and private investment begin to occur. In the third type of gentrification, real estate companies may take advantage of the momentum and move in to buy cheaper land and build more luxury housing to rent or own. Public investment may take the form of urban renewal projects, such as building nicer schools or facilities (such as parks or libraries) that weren't previously there with older residents. At this point, land and rent prices will sharply go up, leading to the displacement of not only the original, lower-income residents but also the residents from types 1 and 2. Through their displacement, a further cycle of gentrification can occur.

Gentrification Examples

Gentrification is a global phenomenon occurring in different cities for diverse reasons. For instance, some consider San Francisco to be one of the most gentrified cities in the US. This is due to its urban history in building dense, street-grid designs, allowing residents to walk or take public transit to their destinations. For decades, lower-class and working-class residents primarily resided in inner-city areas while wealthier residents moved out to the suburbs (like Berkley, Oakland, and San Jose). With the tech boom of the 1990s, new skilled workers and startups moved in, creating the initial phases of gentrification that have completely changed the urban landscape of San Francisco.

Gentrification Figure 4 Gentrified Chinatown in San Francisco Examples of Gentrification StudySmarterFig. 4 - Chinatown, a gentrified neighborhood in San Francisco, CA

Another example of gentrification in the US is Austin, Texas. Austin has seen an explosion in population, with the attraction and investment of many tech companies in recent years. Much of the wealth was concentrated on the west side of Austin along the sprawling hills. Many minority groups, specifically working-class Latinos, occupied much of the east side of Austin. In recent years, the east side neighborhoods have been experiencing rapid gentrification, with new businesses and luxury apartment construction.

Gentrification Figure 5 Luxury apartments in East Austin Examples of Gentrification StudySmarterFig. 5 - Luxury apartments built in East Riverside, Austin, TX

Gentrification Pros and Cons

The debate on gentrification has to do with conflicts at the social, economic, and governmental levels. There are several factors naturally encouraging gentrification in cities. For instance, gentrification leads to an increase in economic development in areas that previously had little or no economic activity. However, some argue the negative effects of displacement and affordable housing are not being taken into account. Higher rates of evictions and homelessness due to a loss of affordable housing are linked to gentrification. A breakdown of pros and cons to gentrification are listed in the table below.

ProsCons
  • Increased property value and local business revenue
  • Opportunities for business development
  • Less crime and unemployment
  • Increase local tax base
  • Loss of affordable housing
  • Homelessness may increase
  • Displacement of original residents through land value increase
  • Loss of original demographics
  • Social conflict through price changes

Solutions to Gentrification

Balancing the pros and cons of gentrification is essential for communities and governments in order to meet the needs and wants of all residents. There are several ways to alleviate the cons of gentrification. Affordable housing programs such as rent control; rent subsidies; requiring developers to offer affordable units; or building new affordable public housing can give residents the opportunity to remain in their communities. Historical preservation laws to preserve the original architecture and character of homes in the area can preserve the homes of low-income residents.

Finally, governments can invest in urban renewal projects before gentrification begins and provide original residents with more livable communities. This can be done by developing and investing in community services in education and health. In turn, this investment can allow for wealth to grow within historically underprivileged neighborhoods instead of seeking external investments which can be out of touch with the needs of the community.

Gentrification - Key takeaways

  • Gentrification is the process where middle and upper-class individuals move into traditionally working-class areas in a city, renovating or building homes and businesses which raise property values and displace original residents.
  • Gentrification is part of a greater complicated history of racial and minority displacement through historical residential segregation, blockbusting, and redlining.
  • Common characteristics of gentrification include shifts in demographics, real estate prices, land use patterns, and culture.
  • There are pros and cons to gentrification, and government intervention is a possible solution to mitigate negative effects.

References

  1. Fig. 1, Signs of apartheid in South Africa (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DurbanSign1989.jpg), by Guinnog (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Guinnog), licensed by CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 2, Urban decay in the Ng'ambo district of Zanzibar City, Tanzania (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Urban_blight_at_the_Michenzani_housing_project,_Zanzibar_town,_Tanzania.JPG) by Loranchet, Licensed by CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
  3. Fig. 3, Gentrification in Mexico City (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mexico_City%27s_Roma_neighborhood_gentrification_2016.jpg), by Francisco Peláez (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Francisco_Pel%C3%A1ez), licensed by CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
  4. Fig. 4, Chinatown, a gentrified neighborhood in San Francisco, CA (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grant_Avenue,_looking_North_by_California_Street,_San_Francisco_(16163162316).jpg), by Michael Beaton (https://www.flickr.com/people/65822993@N05), licensed by CC-BY-2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)
  5. Fig. 5, Luxury apartments built in East Riverside, Austin, TX (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:One-by-five_Apartments_Austin,_TX.jpg), by Sk5893 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Sk5893&action=edit&redlink=1), licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Gentrification

Gentrification is the process of middle and upper-class individuals moving into traditionally lower and working-class areas in a city, displacing original residents as greater investment and prices begin to rise. 

An example of gentrification is a new luxury home being built next to an older home model. 

The positive effects of gentrification are increased business revenue, land value, and revival. The negative effects of gentrification are displacement of original residents through increased rent prices, increased homelessness, and social conflict between old and new residents. 

Causes of gentrification in geography are due to historical residential segregation, blockbusting, redlining, and white flight. As a result, areas in inner cities were abandoned and ignored for decades. Now, younger generations are interested in these areas, triggering patterns of gentrification.

Gentrification affects land use by changing zoning laws, usually from industrial to residential or mixed-use (residential and commercial). In some cases, it can create more density in cities as people move into less-sprawled development.

Some solutions to gentrification are affordable housing programs, historical preservation laws, and urban renewal programs from the government. 

Final Gentrification Quiz

Question

What is gentrification?

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Answer

a process where middle and upper-class individuals move into traditionally working-class areas in a city, renovating or building homes and businesses which raise property values and displace original residents

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Question

What are historical racial displacement methods that led to gentrification?

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Answer

Residential segregation, blockbusting, redlining, and white flight

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Question

What is residential segregation?

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Answer

The process of separating neighborhoods based on race

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Question

What is blockbusting?

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Answer

a prejudice-driven real estate practice of persuading residents to sell land or property at a loss and real estate companies resell at a higher price

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Question

What is redlining?

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Answer

a practice in which banks deemed certain areas in cities as a poor financial risk and would not lend money to potential homeowners

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Question

What is white flight?

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Answer

the process where white people or people of different European ancestries moved out of mixed urban areas to economically and racially homogenous suburban and rural areas

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Question

What is the demographic change during gentrification?

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Answer

an increase in median income as wealthier couples or single people move into an area and lower-income, minority residents move out

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Question

What happens to real estate prices during gentrification?

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Answer

Increase

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Question

What are common characteristics of gentrification?

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Answer

shifts in demographics, real estate prices, land use patterns, and culture

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Question

What is the first phase of gentrification?

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Answer

Younger individuals from middle to higher-income groups moving in looking for cheaper housing within close proximity to other services and amenities

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Question

What is the second phase in gentrification?

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Answer

Middle and higher-income groups buy real estate, physically changing the character of the neighborhood

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What is the third phase of gentrification?

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Answer

Middle and higher-income groups buy real estate, physically changing the character of the neighborhood

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Question

What are pros of gentrification?

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Answer

Loss of affordable housing

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Question

What are cons of gentrification?

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Answer

Increased local tax base

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Question

What are solutions to gentrification?

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Answer

Investment in urban renewal projects for current residents

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