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17.5D: Urban Gentrification

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    Gentrification occurs when wealthier people buy or rent property in a low-income or working class neighborhood, displacing residents.

    Learning Objectives

    • Discuss the process of gentrification based on three models – demographic, sociocultural and political/economy

    Key Points

    • While gentrification can bring about higher tax revenues from higher property values, gentrification also dislocates pre-gentrification residents by raising rents beyond their price ranges.
    • Gentrification has encountered backlash from the original residents of a community, many of whom organize to fight against the white and wealthy incoming population.
    • Several explanations for gentrification exist, including a demographic-ecological model, a sociocultural model, and a political economic model.

    Key Terms

    • baby boomer generation: The baby boomer generation, or those born during the spike in births in the twenty years following World War II, is starting to reach senior citizenship, and will soon pull from the public funds of Social Security and Medicare.
    • urban pioneers: In the 1970s, the first few suburban transplants were called urban pioneers and demonstrated that cities were actually appropriate and viable places to live.
    • gentrification: The process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces earlier usually poorer residents.

    Gentrification has gained attention over the last 50 years, as sociologists attempt to explain the influx of middle-class people to cities and neighborhoods and the displacement of lower-class working residents. Gentrification occurs when wealthier people buy or rent property in low- income or working class neighborhoods, driving up property values and rent. While it brings money into blighted urban areas, it often comes at the expense of poorer, pre-gentrification residents who cannot afford increased rents and property taxes.

    How to Gentrify Your Neighborhood – A Video Parody: This comedy video raises many critiques of gentrification by parodying the gentrification of Brooklyn, NY. Many critics of gentrification point to its effects on racial composition of the neighborhood as low-income residents are displaced.

    The first urban pioneers in a gentrifying neighborhood may have lower incomes, but possess the cultural capital (e.g., education) characteristic of suburban residents. They are often socially and professionally dominant while economically marginalized. Partially due to their age and low-incomes, these individuals frequently reside in households with roommates and are more tolerant of the perceived evils of the city, such as crime, poor schools, and insufficient public services. Thus, they are willing to move into marginal neighborhoods. When the number of urban pioneers reaches such a critical mass, it attracts business investment and new amenities such as bars, restaurants, and art galleries. Once the urban pioneers and businesses have taken the financial risk out of the community, risk-averse investors and residents may enter the newly gentrified neighborhood. Renewed business attracts more investment capital and new residents, increasing local property values. Ironically, upon full gentrification, the urban pioneers are frequently evicted as rents and taxes rise, and the young, poor professionals can no longer afford to live in the area.

    Gentrification is often resisted by those displaced by rising rents. However, while protests have an economic dimension, claims are usually articulated as a loss of culture or dismay over the homogenization and flattening of a formerly diverse neighborhood: gentrification generally increases the proportion of young, white, middle- to upper-income residents.

    Explanations of Gentrification


    The demographic explanation emphasizes the impact of the baby boomer generation, born after World War II. In the 1970s, this led to a spike in the young adult population, increasing demand for housing. To meet the demand, urban areas had to be “recycled,” or gentrified. The new baby boomer residents departed from the suburban family idea, marrying later and having fewer children; women in the baby boomer generation were the first to enter the workforce in serious numbers. New urban residents were composed of higher, dual-income couples without children, less concerned about space for large families—one of the main draws to the suburbs for their parents. Instead, they were interested in living in cities close to their careers and enjoying the amenities their higher incomes could afford.


    Artists move into Williamsburg: In Williamsburg and other parts of Brooklyn, New York, artists have adopted industrial spaces as studios and galleries. This cultural redevelopment is evidence of gentrification.

    The sociocultural explanation is based on the assumption that values and beliefs influence behavior. It focuses on the changing lifestyles and values of the middle- and upper-classes in the 1970s. At this time, the suburban ideal was falling out of favor; fewer people were moving to suburbs and more were moving back to cities. These first few suburban transplants, or urban pioneers, demonstrated that cities were viable places to live and began developing a type of inner-city chic that was attractive to other baby boomers, which in turn brought an influx of young affluence to inner cities.

    Political Economy

    Political economic explanations argue new economic or policy incentives contribute to gentrification. In part, the changing political climate of the 1950s and 1960s produced new civil rights legislation, such as anti-discrimination laws in housing and employment and desegregation laws. These policies enabled black families to move out of urban centers and into the suburbs, thus decreasing the availability of suburban land, while integrationist policies encouraged white movement into traditionally black urban areas.

    An alternative explanation suggests that developers and government encouraged gentrification with an eye toward profit. Gentrification may be driven by governments hoping to raise property values and increase revenue from taxes. It may be the result of fluctuating relationships between capital investments and the production of urban space. During the two decades following World War II, low rents in the city’s periphery encouraged suburban development; as capital investment moved to suburbs, inner-city property values fell. Developers were able to see that they could purchase the devalued urban land, redevelop the properties, and turn a profit.

    17.5D: Urban Gentrification is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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