Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why we Shouldn't Fear Gentrification

The word “Gentrification” conjures up all sorts of negative images. Historic houses demolished for Mcmansions. Mom and pop stores replaced by Starbucks. Poor people forced out by rising rents. There’s also the misconception that if neighborhood ‘a’ is gentrified, all the poor people will move to neighborhood ‘b’ – in turn ruining it.

The last complaints have been proven wrong by urban planning professor Lance Freeman and economist Jacob Vigdor. Their research shows that few residents are actually forced from neighborhoods as a result of gentrification. People move away, but not in greater numbers than move from non-gentrifying neighborhoods. [i]

In fact, their research suggested that gentrification can actually make it more likely that people will stay. That’s because gentrification has benefits. Businesses move in – and with them jobs. The tax base increases. Crime decreases. The schools improve. The same forces that attract the rich to a gentrified neighborhood, also encourage the poor to stay.

This should come as no surprise. Look at a neighborhood that has gentrified. You can’t point to another neighborhood and say “that’s where all the poor people went.” But people want to leave bad neighborhoods – and when they can, they do.

Cities are dynamic things. Gentrifying one neighborhood doesn’t mean ruining another. Quite the contrary. Gentrification benefits people in their own neighborhoods. We shouldn’t be afraid of it.

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