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Christopher Bell

University of Delaware

UAPP 423/703


This paper provides an in-depth analysis on the benefits and costs of gentrification. First, an

overview is conducted on the literature of gentrification as well as what motivates this urban

renewal process. Next, a distinction is placed between gentrification vs neighborhood

revitalization. A debate then is offered as to whether gentrification is a profit matter or a

sustainability matter. Throughout the paper discussion shows if gentrification is used solely for

urban renewal and it is considered an evasion of social responsibility among the government.

Policy recommendations and future work are also offered in the conclusion that could potentially

limit the adverse side effects of gentrification. In addition, Washington, D.C. is used as the case

study to look at the current and future effects of gentrification.



Picture your typical visit to the doctor. You’re not feeling well, and usually he/she

will prescribe you some sort of medicine. All medicine has some sort of side effect. Each side

effect varies in impact and can be different in magnitude depending on the individual

affected. This scenario describes gentrification perfectly. Gentrification, just like a

prescription, has good intentions but can have serious side effects. And depending on the

viewpoint looked at during the gentrification process, one can see who suffers from these

side effects and to what extent. This paper will discuss if gentrification is truly a beneficial

process, or if urban revitalization should receive more emphasis. And finally, the case study

for this paper will be my hometown, Washington D.C.

Gentrification is defined as a general term for the arrival of wealthier people in an

existing urban district, a related increase in rents and property values, and changes in the

district’s character and culture. The process of gentrification includes re-development. The

process of re-developing provides luring amenities such as luxury townhomes/condos near a

downtown area that will provide various sources of entertainment and lifestyle. This can

include but not limited to clubs, restaurants, and affluent shopping districts. All of that is

provided to attract a wealthy base of individuals to move into that area to increase the city’s

tax base and raise property value. In turn, the demand for housing in this area will increase

due to the new-found popularity of urban areas. Finally, current residents that either live in

that redevelopment or near it will almost systematically begin to move out to different areas

due to unaffordability causing displacement.

Consequently, gentrification is often used negatively. And it suggests the

displacement of poor communities by rich outsiders. But the effects of this process are


complex, contradictory, and its real impact varies (“Flag Wars” premiered June 17, 2003, part

of the Point of View Series of the Public Broadcasting System). The population that

gentrification usually brings is defined as a new class of highly skilled and highly paid

residents. Who are typical business service professionals living in small-sized, non-familial

households –which can bring displacement of the neighborhood’s initial population (Van

Criekingen & Decroly, 2003). More than likely, gentrifiers are oblivious and ignorant to the

realities of people that inhabit the neighborhood that they come into. The original residents

are, in a sense, replaced because of increase in property, taxes and the destruction of a social

community (Keating, 2000). Nevertheless, despite fierce academic debate about whether

gentrification leads to displacement segregation and social polarization is increasingly

promoted in policy circles both in Europe and North America with the assumption that it will

lead to less segregated and more sustainable and diverse communities (Lees, 2008).

Terms like urban renaissance, urban revitalization, urban regeneration and urban

sustainability are used instead, avoiding the class constitution of the processes involved and

neutralizing the negative image that the process of gentrification brings with it (Lees, 2008).

But in all actuality, urban revitalization is defined as the process of a city or neighborhood

improving, after being labeled undesirable. This distinction must be made clear between the

two terms to provide a fair and accurate comparison.



There are multiple reasons for why gentrification happens. Due to the complexities of

the causes, literature on the motivating factors of gentrification has received much

speculation in current texts (Vandergrift, 2006). One possible reason as to why gentrification

happens is that people identify themselves with neighborhoods. People also look places

where “people like us” will live and where they can participate in the cultural milieu and

occupational influences (Butler & Robson, 2003). Another reason for gentrification the

government might state it is “cleaning up” an urban space. “Cleaning up” means the

redevelopment of public housing [in the US], and is a form of ‘exclusive’ development that is

designed to exclude the very poor from the revitalized spaces and render them safe for

resettlement by the wealthy and affluent (Gotham, 2001). However, alternative options,

including programs of renewal often seek to encourage homeownership. These programs are

supposed effects on economic self-reliance, entrepreneurship, and community pride.

Therefore, gentrification is to be encouraged, because it will mean the replacement of non-

property owners to an active, responsible, and improving population of homeowners

(Blomley, 2004). Most of the neighborhoods that are primed for gentrification consist of

historic, low-density houses that are typically proximate to the central business district and

convenient to mass transit (Helms, 2003).


Case Study: Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. used to be referred to as “Chocolate City”, the nickname given to

the city due to the number of African Americans that resided here. But now, it has become a

hotbed for mixed used housing as well as much diversity in the population. A major growth

in population comes from young, college-educated white people. Particularly in the areas of

U & 14th St, Columbia Heights and Rhode Island Ave (Shin, 2013). If you asked residents

that lived/grew up in the area during the early 2000s like me, why the sudden change, most

would respond “gentrification”.

Gentrification began in DC in the 1990s (4.9% of eligible tracts gentrified) but really

bloomed in the 2000s. Since 2000, per the U.S Census, the percentage of eligible tracts that

gentrified in DC was 51.9 percent (54/104 census tracts). This was only 2nd in the nation to

Portland, OR. One major tipping point to start the gentrification process was after a

community lobbying effort to obtain a Whole Foods Market to P Street, between 14th and

15th streets. Once this took place, many local businesses went out as more high-class

businesses came in. For example, carryouts, which are famous for their chicken and “mumbo

sauce” were put out of business. Meanwhile sit-down Thai restaurants and fitness studios

were brought in. When these local stores such as carryouts were forced to move. It then

caused a hit to the sense of community individuals feel. These numerous actions positioned

14th Street — and, to a lesser extent, H Street NE, Shaw, Navy Yard and other rapidly

gentrifying parts of the city — to take advantage of a unique set of conditions created by the

recession, per real estate experts (Shin, 2013). Another essential piece to the gentrification

boom was Washington’s status as an oasis of job security made it one of the nation’s top


destinations for the young, highly educated and affluent (Shin, 2013). This is why areas such

as Florida Ave percentage of adults with a college degree since 2000 almost jumped 20%,

from 20.638.1%.

Fortunately, there are many benefits that come from this urban renewal process. Tax

base increases, crime rate seems to go down in the areas effected, and property value go up.

What is not talked about so much are the cons to this urban renewal process. For example,

Tim Christensen, president of the Logan Circle Community Association, talks about his

neighborhood’s future. Christensen states he is starting to worry that the flood of restaurants

will drive out other businesses that assist residents. Because of spiraling rents galleries have

already been forced to leave for Northeast Washington (Shin, 2013). Another study was done

by Cunningham (2000), and in his critique of HOPE VI in Washington DC, he argues that

HOPE VI has not aided the revitalization of depressed neighborhoods. Rather it has reduced

affordable housing and caused spiraling high rents and increased prices. Another vital

consequence is displacement. This happens to many former residents who can no longer

afford the rent or the homeowners who get bought out. For example, the massive

redevelopment off Rhode Island Avenue NE has become a symbol of the problems faced by

those of modest means. Tenants’ advocates, interpret the owner’s assertions as a polite way of

saying that the company is worried that the multi-generational families will make the soon-

to-be-rebranded “Brentwood Village”. Which is a harder sell to the affluent professionals

flocking to the nation’s capital (Duggan, 2016).



“Profit” (for gentrification) vs Sustainability (anti-gentrification)

There are multiple differences in perspective as to whether gentrification in urban

neighborhoods acts as a “savior” or whether it is a “destroyer of central city vitality”

(Atkinson, 2013). Overall, gentrification may be overstated but pursuing gentrification as an

urban renewal is an evasion of social responsibility. The assumed social advantages of the

balanced community have been at the heart of nearly all debate on new towns and urban

renewal. The difficulty with the concept is despite numerous empirical investigations, very

little is known about the advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of mix, nor at what

level—street, neighborhood, district, community—social balance would be a worthwhile

goal for policy objectives (Pitt, 1977). Often the gentrification debate is between “Profit” vs


I believe the “profit” side leans on the notion of increasing the city’s economy. The

‘defending the neighborhood’ argument claims middle-class people are stronger advocate for

public resources, and that socially mixed neighborhoods will fare better than those without

middle-class households (Schoon, 2001). For example, public schools are usually better in

more affluent neighborhoods. Secondly, the claim states socioeconomically mixed

neighborhoods can support a stronger local economy than areas of concentrated poverty

(Schoon, 2001). There is also scholarly researched conducted to show as the community

tends to gentrify, disorder should begin to decline as people begin to socially organize more

(Papachristos et al, 2011). The rationale behind this is the neighborhood initiates to change in


socioeconomic class and increases with more people who have similar interests. People are

less likely to commit crimes against people who share the same interests and activities.

Additionally, housing rehabilitation, which is certainly the most visible evidence of

gentrification, improves the city’s physical health by forestalling further decay of the housing

stock. And it also improves its fiscal health by boosting the property tax base (Helms, 2003).

The “profit” side is aware of the displacement that gentrification produces but then compares

it to a worse circumstance such as city decline or crumbling neighborhoods. These positive

effects are what will be used as a tool to justify the negative effects of gentrification.

However, studies show that displacement may often be overemphasized and under researched

and more often assumed (Freeman, 2005 & Atkinson, 2004). Yet there is poor evidence for

this policy of ‘positive gentrification’—for, as the gentrification literature exhibits, despite

the new middle classes’ desire for diversity and difference. Overall, gentrification is part of

an aggressive, revanchist ideology designed to retake the inner city for the middle classes

(Lees, 2008).

On the other hand, the “sustainability” side is for sustaining historical and close-knit

communities which includes anti-displacement. This side of the debate leans on the notion

that the process of gentrification is extremely threatening to local neighborhood populations

and historic and social preservation. For example, many former residents who are forced into

a gentrified area may feel that these newcomers do not want to be socially involved with

them and instead adopt a me vs. you attitude. This is not always the case but more than likely

will be a pre-conceived notion until proven otherwise by new residents. To further the claim

of old vs new residents, there is a poor evidence base for the widespread policy assumption

that gentrification will help increase the social mix and thereby increases the social capital


and social cohesion of inner city communities (Rose, 2004). Moreover, it is not clear exactly

what kind of ‘mix’ is most desirable, or what sort of mix matters most in producing the

expected positive outcomes (Walks & Maaranen, 2008). Butler & Robson (2003) have

argued that the spatial proximity of middle-class and working-class groups in gentrified

neighborhoods does not automatically generate neighborhood-level social mixing. This

literature supports the pre-conceived notion and adopted mindset that new residents will not

try and reach out to old residents of the community. Nevertheless, quantitative studies of

displacement, which is the most direct negative consequence of gentrification, are often

difficult because of differentiating between displacement and normal turnover that would

happen regardless of gentrification (Freeman, 2005).

Many individuals from the “Profit” side will argue that the benefits of gentrification

are far greater than the costs. The benefits and costs are so unevenly distributed that one must

look not at some overall equation but at different segments of the population which refers to

my prescription/pill metaphor stated at the introduction. The new affluent residents seem to

receive numerous benefits or side effects. These benefits include prime location in housing,

low crime rates, and other amenities. Whereas the old and low income residents seem to

receive numerous disadvantages or side effects including loss sense of community and

displacement. Williams and Smith (1986) support this claim stating there are distinct losers

as well as winners. And the consistent losers are the poor and the working class who will be

displaced as gentrification proceeds. These people will confront higher housing costs in tight

markets (Williams and Smith, 1986).


Conclusion & Future Work

As previously stated, pursuing gentrification as an urban renewal is an evasion of

social responsibility. The lesson for policy-makers is that if they want to intervene to ensure

proportionate levels of social mix and retain a more balanced social structure, they should be

aiming to limit, rather than promote, gentrification (Walks and Maaranen, 2008).

Governments and developers should be more challenged to institute urban revitalization

plans rather than “creating lenient policies that will attract developers to gentrify

communities” (Duggan, 2016). If the government continues to push for gentrification as a

form of urban renewal numerous spillover effects will developed, such as hypersegregation.

Thus, low-income communities will become some of the most hostile and dangerous places

to live. Dangerous conditions can possibly lead to the diminishing reputation of a city like

Chicago, or “Ch-Iraq” as it has been infamously nicknamed. Bad reputations tremendously

hurt market value in an area. Hypersegregation will only repeat a never-ending cycle of low-

income individuals who will possibly turn to illegal means to generate income.

Research has shown there are damaging effects of gentrification. The displacement of

low income populations and a disruption of crucial social networks is just one of them. Social

networks are social support systems. And when gentrification comes along, it can interfere or

destroy these social support systems. Even though the displacement of the individuals might

seem to be swept under the rug, it will cause major problems in the future if it continues to

persist and cluster low-income individuals in one area. These hyper-segregated areas will

then be resource-neglected by the government and will not provide any sort of opportunities

for economic advancement. Quality public education and other municipal services needed for


an efficient community are opportunities which are an essential part of a community. When

individuals feel as if the government or the people that are supposed to help, no longer care

for them it builds even more of a resistance to any type of assistance eventually provided. At

that point if policymakers and elected officials finally decide to intervene and try to improve

the communities, it could possibly be too late.

Looking into the future, Washington D.C will become more gentrified. As local

officials see it, too many benefits are coming from this urban renewal process and the cons

are simply hard to show in empirical data. Many negative effects will not show until years

later. And consequently, will be labeled spillover effects. For example, displacement and loss

of community cannot be shown in data as effectively as tax base and property value

increasing. Many people who cannot afford to live in the city are now moving to Prince

George’s County Maryland, right outside of Washington D.C. It will be interesting to see

how the result of displacement impacts Prince George’s County. In five years the data will

show if crime has increased. Furthermore, if tax bases and property value continue to

increase it will show prominent areas of displacement.

To prevent my projected outcome of the city, innovative urban revitalization plans

must be developed and implemented in the targeted gentrification areas as soon as possible.

Once they are implemented, follow up research must be completed to provide a necessary

blueprint for future urban revitalization plans. This will possibly incorporate more advocacy

planning needed for future development. Civic associations and community leaders will also

need to be involved more in future redevelopment plans. Then, inclusionary zoning will need

to be executed in each area of redevelopment. Some incentives could be provided from the

government to better motivate owners to make a certain percentage of homes affordable for


low and moderate income residents. All these possible policy solutions are easier said than

done but it will make the necessary difference to limit gentrification. By bringing in a new

group of affluent individuals, but also not creating an area only they can afford will not only

keep long-time residents happy, but the tax base will broaden. Broadening the tax base allows

more flexibility in a city’s budget. However, it is then up to the elected officials to efficiently

divert money in the budget that needs it the most.



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