Gentrification Isn’t The Problem

Displacement is the real enemy. The only way to solve it is more housing and better protections.

Coby Lefkowitz

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“Gentrify This!!!” billboard Source: Newcastle University Urban Design

Gentrification is the most misunderstood concept in America today. Much needed investment and newcomers do not equal displacement. Let’s set the record straight.

The Urban Displacement Project, a Cal Berkeley initiative that aims to understand the nature of gentrification and displacement in American cities, defines gentrification as:

“a process of neighborhood change that includes economic change in a historically disinvested neighborhood — by means of real estate investment and new higher-income residents moving in — as well as demographic change — not only in terms of income level, but also in terms of changes in the education level or racial make-up of residents.”

In simpler terms, this process can be broken down to mean people of higher relative wealth moving into an area of lower relative wealth, and the investment that accompanies these moves. These people are usually demographically different than the prevailing make up of the neighborhood they move into. If a renter who makes $30,000 a year with a college degree moves into an apartment in a neighborhood with low educational attainment where the median income is $25,000, they are, by definition, gentrifying the area. But this doesn’t comport with the popular narrative of who a gentrifier is. Popular evocations roughly take the shape of a banker or consultant who makes 6 figures, dons the midtown uniform on weekdays, and sips “margs” on Saturday mornings with his brunch crew. Both he and our $30,000 renter are technically gentrifiers.

I draw this comparison not to smugly shoot down the popular narrative of what gentrification looks like, but to show that higher income groups moving into lower income neighborhoods is not inherently a problem. Higher income residents both invest in, and draw investment to, the neighborhoods they live in. If they move into historically disinvested neighborhoods, those places will see meaningful benefits, which should accrue to existing residents, including but not limited to:

  • Improvement of day to day services (transit, healthcare, & community centers)

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Coby Lefkowitz

Urbanist, Developer, Writer, & Optimist working to create more beautiful, sustainable, healthy, equitable and people-oriented places.