There's been a spate of large-scale studies over the past decade that have turned up a consistent, and surprising, finding: gentrification doesn't, on average, produce a greater rate of turnover within the population of the gentrifying neighborhood.The pioneering work in the area was done by Lance Freeman at Columbia. He published a national study of gentrification which found near constant rates of turnover. The difference, in gentrifying neighborhoods, was that people who moved out of one housing unit were less likely to wind up someplace else in the same neighborhood, and more likely to be replaced by someone significantly higher up the socioeconomic scale. His study of New York City went a little further, finding that vulnerable populations actually turned over at lower rates in gentrifying areas.Other studies add nuance, but come to similar conclusions: Jacob Vigdor looked at Boston, for example. And if you pause to think about it, these findings make a great deal of sense. There's often a large quantity of abandoned housing stock and open space, easier to develop than occupied units that require displacement of existing residents. Among the curses of poverty is chronic instability - poor neighborhoods tend to have fairly high rates of turnover to begin with.Residents are often deeply attached to their neighborhoods, as Ta-Nehisi notes; they may be willing to pay a higher price to stay put, even in the face of rising rents. (Which should be a reminder that displacement is not the only potentially negative effect of gentrification; there may be other costs inflicted on those poorly equipped to bear them.)The most interesting study of the issue, though, comes from a team of researchers in Colorado, processing census data (1990-2000) at a fine-grained level. Their study found something surprising. The greatest share of the rise of income in gentrifying inner city neighborhoods came from black householders with high school degrees - 33% of the total. That's because they rise as a proportion of the neighborhood's population at the same time that they start to enjoy particularly large increases in income.Black householders without a high school degree, by contrast, enjoy only modest gains in income, and decline as a proportion of the whole. Similarly, white households with college degrees, particularly those under 40 with no children, account for large gains in neighborhood income; white households without college degrees do not. I'll quote the next portion of their findings:Synthetic cohort analysis of out-migration finds no evidence of displacement of non-white households, but does find evidence of disproportionate retention of black householders with a high school degree.In plain English, they're arguing that gentrification isn't forcing people out; it's bringing in yuppies and hipsters, and hanging on to upwardly-mobile minority households that would otherwise have decamped for the suburbs.And, in the process, it's altering the character of these neighborhoods. It's a useful reminder that 'black' is not a monolithic category - changes that benefit some segments of the community may well be resented by others.
Artist Mick Victor captures the ‘chaotic order’ of an urban landscape.