Gentrification and neighborhood changes are hotly contested subjects.  In the past few years some very thoughtful and provocative work has been done that helps shed light on these issues.  Here we offer a baker’s dozen of some of the more interesting arguments that have been put forward.

  1. Daniel Kay Hertz explores the contradictions that emerge between our widely voiced aspiration for integration and the knee-jerk tendency to condemn segregation.
  2. Jonathan Rothwell and Douglas Massey present research showing that the education of one’s neighbors is nearly half to two-thirds as powerful in influencing children’s long term economic prospects as is the education of their own parents.
  3. In “Beyond Gentrification”, Stephanie Brown explores the complex and contradictory concepts that are conflated in the common use of the word gentrification and describes a new framework for thinking about neighborhood change in mixed-income multi-cultural communities.
  4. Margery Turner of the Urban Institute speaks to the connections between place and economic improvement.  She describes how mobility turns out to be an important way that families actually escape poverty. She argues that we need to move from place-based to place-conscious strategies, and explicitly allow for the fact that some neighborhoods will best be viewed as “launch pads” to help people get going.
  5. Barbara Sard and Douglas Rice document the limited reach of housing assistance programs.  They summarize the evidence that high-poverty neighborhoods, which are often violent, stressful, and environmentally hazardous, can impair children’s cognitive development, school performance, mental health, and long-term physical health.  Their article notes that despite abundant evidence of the negative effects of living in high poverty neighborhoods, federal housing assistance programs tend to concentrate the poor in existing neighborhoods of high poverty.
  6. Ed Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor review the evidence on changing patterns of racial segregation in the United States provided in Census 2010.  They conclude that the nation is becoming less segregated, chiefly by the decline of all-white neighborhoods.  But predominantly African-American neighborhoods have not transitioned to mixed race status.  They conclude that for every prominent example of a black neighborhood undergoing gentrification—in Harlem, Roxbury, or Columbia Heights—there are countless more neighborhoods witnessing no such trend. Instead, the dominant trend in predominantly black neighborhoods nationwide has been population loss.
  7. The media epicenter of the gentrification debate has been the Google buses that carry high tech workers from their homes in San Francisco to jobs in the Silicon Valley.  Tech Crunch’s Kim Mai Cutler offers a far-ranging analysis of the connections between economic growth, building restrictions, housing affordability and income distribution in her provocative essay:  “How Burrowing Owls Lead to Vomiting Anarchists (or SF’s Housing Crisis Explained).”
  8. Planner Pete Saunders writes that the move of talented young people back into cities creates the opportunity to strengthen the historically limited  job and social networks that have limited the economic opportunities of those living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. The challenge is that too often, neighborhood change is treated as a zero sum game.  We’re missing opportunities to use the attachment to place–through simple neighborhood-level means like picnics, sports leagues and similar events mediated by community groups to knit stronger bonds between long time residents and newcomers.
  9. Robert Sampson’s work points up the strong racial component to income segregation.   More than half of black kids born in 1995 in high poverty neighborhoods remained there in 2012; fewer than 15 percent had moved up to “low poverty.”  A third of black children growing up in low poverty ended up in high poverty neighborhoods; compared with 2 percent of white children.
  10. Patrick Sharkey’s book, Stuck in Place, shows when neighborhoods change, the original residents benefit substantially. In adulthood, black children whose neighborhoods changed around them in ways that lead to less concentrated poverty did much better in terms of income, earnings and wealth compared with other black children who started in very similar neighborhoods but whose neighborhoods did not see the same degree of change.

There is more to explore on this topic elsewhere, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. However, we think it’s a good start. To read more about associated topics like economic opportunity on our site, go here.