Gentrification, which is commonly understood to be the process by which higher income residents displace lower income residents of a community, has become a talking point in nearly every city. However, the process isn’t quite as simple as wealthier people moving in, and low-income communities being pushed out. The problem with this definition is that it invites the assumption that gentrification is a natural, inevitable process, when in reality gentrification is a highly complex issue, involving intersections of government policies and private interests. In this article I will examine some of the factors that contribute to gentrification, and illustrate that gentrification is not a result of natural processes, but rather the result of deliberate policies and actions.
To begin to examine this vast issue it is important to have an understanding of what characterizes gentrification, as well as the policies that have exacerbated the problem over the years. The Uprooted Project from the University of Texas explains that gentrification is mainly categorized by three things. First is the displacement of lower income residents, second is the physical changing of the neighborhood, including upgrades of residential spaces and changing commercial spaces. The last thing that categorizes gentrification is a change in the “cultural character” of the neighborhood, spaces where the community used to gather, like a park or a local restaurant being changed or going out of business (The Uprooted Project). If gentrification is understood to be the changing of declining areas, marked by poor physical conditions, poverty, and racial segregation (The Uprooted Project) one must ask, how did these neighborhoods come to be in this rundown state? The answer to this question lies in historical policies like redlining, in combination with predatory private real estate practices. The term redlining refers to the historical United States’ practice of ranking neighborhoods in more than two hundred cities in the US by mortgage security; an A rating would signify low risk to lenders, while a D rating would signify high risk (The Uprooted Project). To establish these rankings evaluators relied on a variety of metrics, but the most prominent factor they used to grade neighborhoods was race. In an article from the Harvard University Medical School Primary Review, they detail how in Birmingham, Alabama, a neighborhood described as having “executives, businessmen, and retired professional men”, was given an A rating, while a nearby neighborhood was described as “negro low-cost slum clearance project”, and was given a D rating (Harvard University Medical School) These blatantly racist policies were repeated throughout the US, and created a cycle of divestment in low-income, minority communities. In doing this, the United States government ultimately set the stage for the gentrification to come, because it created low-income neighborhoods with lower quality of life, areas that would eventually become attractive to wealthier individuals enticed by the lower cost of living.
Gentrification is an extremely important area of study because it is an intersection of many different issues present in the United States, such as race, income-disparity, and a disconnection between communities and the government that exists to serve them. Gentrification is an extremely dense and layered issue, with roots reaching back to historical policies like the redlining of the 1950s; The factors that play into it are more than simply income-inequality or rising property values. Rather, the current state of gentrification is the result of deliberate planning and processes that are built into our cities.
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