A new study by the sociologist Sharon Zukin—known for her earlier work on lofts, artists, and gentrification—along with Scarlett Lindeman and Laurie Hurson of the City University of New York, sheds new light on the connection between gentrification, restaurants, and race. The study examines this nexus by using Yelp reviews of restaurants in two rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhoods with very different populations: Greenpoint and Bedford-Stuyvesant, or Bed-Stuy.
Greenpoint is a historically Polish neighborhood: It’s 57 percent white and just 3 percent black, with a declining Hispanic population. Bed-Stuy is a historically black neighborhood (it’s now 59 percent black), but it has seen a 700 percent increase in its white population between 2000 and 2010.
The study focuses on two categories of reviews—the top 10 “most reviewed” restaurants, largely consisting of “trendy” restaurants that opened since 2005, and the top 10 “traditional” restaurants, focused on ethnic foods related to that neighborhood (in this case, Polish restaurants in Greenpoint and African-American soul food and Caribbean food in Bed-Stuy). Ultimately, the study included more than 7,000 reviews. Because most reviews, however, do not mention the neighborhood—and those that did were much more likely to mention Bed-Stuy—the authors focused on a more targeted sample of 1,056 reviews that explicitly mention one of the two Brooklyn neighborhoods (of which there were 720 for Bed-Stuy and 336 for Greenpoint). The authors then scrutinized the ways in which these Yelp reviews framed perceptions of the two different neighborhoods.