Two new studies have added enormous credence to the argument that, far from being a capitalist evil, gentrification is a social good, especially for the earlier residents of the neighborhood. Gentrification is generally known as the process whereby wealthier, better-educated residents move into a poorer, less-educated neighborhood. For years, progressives have claimed this has horrible negative effects on those replaced, but the new studies paint the opposite picture.
Separate studies at the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank and New York University showed that gentrification’s positive benefits for existing communities far outweigh the negative effects for the few who leave the neighborhood.
Kay Hymowitz sums up one important finding from the PDRB study here: “The first surprise? Gentrification displaces very few people. An influx of college-educated residents into formerly lower-income neighborhoods—the accepted definition of gentrification—increases the probability that vulnerable, less-educated renters move to another neighborhood by about 3 percentage points. The effect on resident moves to a neighborhood at least one mile away is higher, at about 5 percentage points.”
Hymowitz, who wrote the 2017 book, “The New Brooklyn; What It Takes To Bring A City Back,” deserves something of a victory lap here. In her book she describes almost everything revealed in the studies. Frankly, for anyone who lives in or close to a gentrified or gentrifying neighborhood, some of this should have been obvious. In almost all cases it looks less like people being replaced, and more like the population of the neighborhood being added to and becoming diversified in myriad ways.
Once that diversity begins, studies say that, “exposure to higher-income neighborhoods has important benefits for low-income residents, such as improving the mental and physical health of adults and increasing the long-term educational attainment and earning of children.”
As with any public policy, there are winners and losers, but both studies found more of the former in their dives into gentrification. What should happen next is for the term to lose its stigma and for gentrification to be more aggressively pursued by cities looking to improve downtrodden neighborhoods.
Some leftist politicians such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have argued that gentrification is a bad thing. It explained at least some of her sadly successful opposition to Amazon building a headquarters in her district. Ironically, much of Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory over incumbent Joe Crowley relied on votes from gentrified Queens neighborhoods near Manhattan. Surely, she thinks her own election was a good thing for her constituents.
For too long, urban planning and local governments have been hamfisted about gentrification and its benefits. In her book, Hymowitz aptly lays out how it transformed Brooklyn under the leadership of mayor Michael Bloomberg, but she also offers some hope that it can help other struggling cities.
If we really care about places like Baltimore, and don’t simply want to use them as footballs in a game of identity politics, then gentrification has to be an important tool in the kit. We should no longer be hampered by antiquated ideas that seem obvious but turn out to be wrong.
The path to more vibrant and prosperous neighborhoods that are better for almost everyone turns out to be, at least in part, income integration. Should it really surprise us that cities do better when, rather than being segregated, all kinds of people live on the same blocks? Now we no longer have to guess if this is true.