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The Debate Over Whether Gentrification Exists

January 26, 2015

Gentrification is most commonly debated about in the sense that people disagree on how to counter its negative effects. However, there are also some who debate whether gentrification is actually harmful at all. Some people think it’s is one of the biggest urban issues in the developed world, some acknowledge that it’s not good but feel that there are bigger problems to worry about, and others deny that the negative effects of gentrification are nearly as abundant as the media make them out to be.

A recent Slate article argues that for the most part, the negative effects of gentrification are hugely exaggerated, to the point where gentrification is more of a myth than an established urban phenomenon. After all, gentrification in which a previously poor neighborhood becomes overtaken by upper and middle class residents is extremely rare, and the article argues there is little proof that displacement happens in gentrifying neighborhoods any more than it happens in non-gentrifying neighborhoods. Socioeconomic status of most neighborhoods is quite stable over time, and neighborhoods that have had rises in average income actually reap some benefits from it.

Others vehemently disagree. Looking at New York, which is one of the most illustrative cases of gentrification, we can see a definite and dramatic change in racial and income demographics over the last couple decades. The black population in many neighborhoods decreased while the white population increased, along with an increase in income. Subsidized affordable rentals are far more likely to convert to market rate in gentrified neighborhoods, driving out lower income residents who will no longer be able to afford the cost of housing.

This City Limits survey shows that while some people think that gentrification is a good thing, the majority of readers feel that gentrification is problematic, though they vastly disagree about how to counter it or whether it can even be remedied. If there’s one thing the debate over gentrification shows, it’s that the issue is complex and nuanced, and that no easy answers will be appearing anytime soon.


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