Contributor III

Photo by Ben Allan.Photo by Ben Allan.


Gentrification: How "Urban Renewal Projects" are Displacing and Erasing Diverse Communities


Urban renewal projects are often advertised as renovations to improve city safety and quality of life. However, the result is quite the opposite, commonly resulting in eviction, displacement, and homelessness for locals through gentrification. 


Definitions: Gentrification, Urban Renewal, and Up-and-Coming Neighborhoods.


Sociologist Ruth Glass first coined the term gentrification in her book London: Aspects of Change, where she described the displacement of the working class as upper-class Londoners moved into their neighborhoods. Glass states, "[gentrification] goes on until all or most of the original working-class occupiers are displaced, and the whole social character of the district is changed."


In the United States, gentrification typically begins with the promise of urban renewal and the popularization or romanticization of an "up-and-coming neighborhood."


Urban renewal, as described by Britannica, is a "comprehensive scheme to redress a complex of urban problems," such problems including but not limited to obsolete housing, haphazard land use, and urban decay. When urban renewal begins, areas previously perceived as unsafe and undesirable by the upper class are deemed "up-and-coming." 


In 2021, Salisbury, Cape Coral, Myrtle Beach, Jacksonville, and Chattanooga, were named the top five up-and-coming neighborhoods. 


When a neighborhood is declared "up-and-coming," it is perceived as a long-term economic investment by business and property owners and trendy hotspots by upper-class individuals. This is when gentrification typically begins. 


Salisbury, for example, has seen a 24.9% increase in housing permit growth from 2013 to 2018, indicating significant shifts in the area’s demographic makeup.


What Can Gentrification Look Like?: The Different Types of Gentrification


Although there isn't a singular clear indicator that an area has been gentrified or is going through gentrification, gentrification can look like numerous things for different communities.


In his blog, Corner Side Yard, urban planner Pete Saunders argues that there are four different types of gentrification: Expansive Gentrification, Concentrated Gentrification, Limited Gentrification, and Nascent Gentrification.


As gentrification rapidly expands in prominent metropolitan areas with under-represented groups and easily navigable street networks, a larger population, typically of upper-class white people, will begin to traverse through these regions and acquire a residence in lower-income communities; this is called Expansive Gentrification. Some of the strongest examples of Expansive Gentrification are in New York City, Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle.


In New York City, for example, the neighborhood of Williamsburg has seen a 78.7% percent change from 1990 to 2010-14. Similar changes can have occurred in Central Harlem, which has seen a 53.2% increase, and the Lower East Side, which has seen a 50.3% increase. 


Concentrated Gentrification, on the contrary, is when gentrification solely spreads to specific areas of a city, typically white, affluent areas. The difference in racial diversity and socio-economic income in different parts of cities resulting from Concentrated Gentrification often leads to inequality and social divides between residents. Some cities that have undergone Concentrated Gentrification are Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.


On a smaller scale, Limited Gentrification happens when gentrification must be contained to a smaller neighborhood. Some examples of Limited Gentrification are Phoenix, San Diego, and Las Vegas, as suburban areas geographically surround these cities. 


Nascent Gentrification occurs in southern cities that have recently undergone modernization. As these areas begin to experience a slower pace of development, gentrification is less common, and changes are gradual, giving them a relatively suburban feel. Houston, Memphis, and Charlotte are some noteworthy examples where Nascent Gentrification has taken place.


So, Who Does Gentrification Affect?: The Statistics


Gentrification affects those living in the neighborhood before its gentrification most negatively. Although the numbers differ in each city, some statistics on the populations affected by gentrification in the United States are below.


  • The percentage of low-income Black households declined from 46.4% in 1980 to 22.8% in 2018 in historically Black neighborhoods of Northwest Brooklyn.
  • Between 1970 and 2015, Black residents declined from 71% of the city’s population to 48% in Washington, D.C. The city's White population, however, increased during this time period. 
  • By 2015, 20% of low-income communities had experienced gentrification since the year 2000.
  • On average, neighborhoods gentrifying from 2000 to 2015 recorded increases in the population of non-Hispanic White residents by 4.3%.
  • From 2000 to 2013, a minimum of 135,000 Black and Hispanic residents were displaced due to gentrification. 


This data emphasizes the widespread and detrimental effects of gentrification on minority communities as they are disproportionately affected by displacement. The statistics underscore the urgent need for policymakers, urban planners, and community leaders to prioritize inclusive and equitable redevelopment strategies that prioritize affordable housing and community preservation.


Stay tuned for the upcoming articles in this series, where we will share accounts of individuals impacted by gentrification, outline the social justice actions taken by communities against gentrification, and provide resources for those adversely affected by gentrification.