Ten More you should read about Gentrification, Integration and Concentrated Poverty

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 ten more of the more interesting arguments that have been put forward as a follow up to our previous post, as well as our report on gentrification and poverty.

  1. Myron Orfield and Thomas Luce looked at the racial composition of urban neighborhoods over the past three decades and conclude that contrary to widespread fears of gentrification, the data clearly show that once a neighborhood becomes predominantly non-white it virtually never reverts to predominantly white. Just two census tracts out of the nearly 1,500 that were predominantly non-white in 1980 became predominantly white in the next three decades, and only seven percent of them became diverse.
  2. Next Cities Sandy Smith outlines some of the strategies that cities are pursuing to minimize displacement of populations in those neighborhoods that are experiencing gentrification.
  3. Daniel Hartley’s study for the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank of gentrifying neighborhoods shows that neighborhood upgrading is associated with economic improvements for existing residents, in the form of higher credit scores than otherwise similar residents living in neighborhoods that don’t experience gentrification.  Hartley studied credit scores in the gentrifying neighborhoods of 55 cities and found the numbers went up for original residents, whether they owned property or rented.
  4. In his new book, The Concentration of Poverty in the New Millenium, Paul Jargowsky presented data on the number of persons living in census tracts with extremely high rates of poverty (40 percent or greater).  His work shows that the biggest increases in concentrated poverty have been in the Midwest and in smaller to medium sized metropolitan areas.
  5. In their 2011 paper for the Brookings Institution, Alan Berube and Elizabeth Kneebone track the number of neighborhoods of extreme poverty (census tracts with poverty rates of 40 percent or higher) using data from the 2005-09 American Community Survey.  While concentrated poverty had eased during the 1990s, their analysis–The Re-Emergence of Concentrated Poverty: Metropolitan Trends in the 2000s–showed that it had increased substantially and especially affected Midwestern metropolitan areas.
  6. For the past several months, the Furman Center at New York University has been sponsoring a “slow debate” on gentrification, neighborhood change and integration.  Entitled “The Dream Revisited: A Discussion on Neighborhood Gentrification” you’ll find a series of point-counterpoint essays by experts in the field including Lance Freeman and Rachel Godsil
  7. Writing this year in a paper prepared for the American Assembly, Todd Swanstrom considers whether the process of gentrification is different in “legacy cities”–older slower growing or declining industrial cities.  Swanstrom argues that gentrification has been studied mostly in “strong market” cities with high and rising real estate prices, and that the nature and impacts of gentrification are far different in places with weaker real estate markets.   
  8. Concerns about the adverse effects of gentrification on rents often prompts local alliances between renters and community groups to oppose new development.  In an article in Dissent, “Fighting Gentrification, but to what end?” Ben Ross challenges whether opposing development actually protects affordability.  Limiting development limits supply, pushing prices–and rents-higher.  As long as the demand for dense, walkable neighborhoods exceeds the supply, lower income households will find it difficult to afford such neighborhoods.  Instead of opposing density, he argues, we ought to be looking for ways to increase it in places where it makes the most sense.
  9. Kendra Bischoff and Sean Reardon trace out the connections between growing income inequality and growing economic segregation in the nation’s metropolitan areas in the Russell Sage report “More Unequal and More Separate: Growth in the Residential Segregation of Families by Income, 1970-2009.”  Their analysis shows that the number of families living in middle income neighborhoods has declined, and that we are increasingly segregated into high income and local income neighborhoods.
  10. In their pathbreaking work studying intergenerational economic mobility, Raj Chetty and his colleagues at Harvard and Berkeley have generated an impressive body of data about the connections between place and economic opportunity.  They look at the chances that children growing up in the poorest families grow up to have higher levels of income and find that one of the correlates of economic mobility is income segregation:  metropolitan areas with areas of concentrated poverty have less economic mobility.

Ten things you should read about Gentrification, Integration and Concentrated Poverty

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.