Gentrification is a clash between the power of private capital and government policy and the power of people in targeted communities to preserve their homes and heritage.


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Anthropology, Sociology, Social Studies, U.S. History, Human Geography

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Gentrification is a demographic and economic shift that displaces established working-class communities and communities of color in favor of wealthier newcomers and real estate development companies. Heavy private investment in target neighborhoods causes price to rise sharply, and amenities enjoyed by the new residents, such as more expensive shopping and dining, drive out businesses that were supported by the established community. The process can leave neighborhoods that generations have called home transformed in just a few years.

Photojournalist John Langmore documented this time of change in the African American community of East Austin in his book Fault Lines. His photographs capture the character of the community between 2006 and 2010, a time of very rapid gentrification. Co-author Wilhelmina Delco expressed the pain of dislocation for the community, not merely as an injustice, but as a broader loss: “I fear we’re losing something of real value to our city, both in terms of a history and for Black people. My plea is simply that all this change not come at such high a cost—that is, that Austin not forget the important contribution East Austin’s Black community made to the city.”1

Many of the gentrified communities in the United States, and areas where gentrification is in process, developed because of racist housing policies dating back to the 1940s. Housing discrimination based on race was legal in the United States until 1968 and, in practice, it carried on much longer. People of color were often segregated into areas that white people found less desirable. When the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka integrated public schools in 1954, many white Americans moved away from cities and into suburbs that were largely white and excluded people of color. The phenomenon was called “white flight.”

To encourage people to move into suburbs, real estate brokers practiced something called blockbusting. They encouraged Black families to pay a premium to move into particular urban neighborhoods so that white families would sell their houses at a low price to move out to the suburbs. After this process was complete, the new minority communities were denied the money they needed to invest in improvements to their neighborhoods through a practice called redlining. These factors combined to reduce opportunities in many urban areas. Capital investment shifted away from cities and segregated communities into predominantly white communities. Because public services are funded by taxes, a smaller, less affluent tax base left many communities underserved.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the U.S. government passed the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credit, which created an incentive for developers to invest in urban areas that had been all but abandoned by affluent white people. In 2000, the federal government enacted the New Markets Tax Credit, which made tens of billions of dollars in government money available for urban revitalization projects in low-income communities. Urban neighborhoods that had been overlooked by investors became more attractive. The economic benefits to the city often came at the expense of existing residents of these areas, who were displaced.

In the early 2000s, affluent professionals began to reject suburban life for a chance to live in cities, where they could live close to work and enjoy the cultural amenities of a large urban center. Many moved to city neighborhoods that were home to people of color and working-class families.

The trend toward gentrification is not entirely limited to the United States, though the economic and social factors underpinning it are not the same in other counties. For example, both East London and Rome’s Testaccio district were traditionally working-class or minority neighborhoods. Both areas have experienced an influx of wealthier residents and increased real estate development. As India’s economy expanded dramatically in recent decades, the country has experienced rapid urbanization. Urbanization is a phenomenon that resembles gentrification in that less affluent communities are displaced by more affluent residents. The economic benefits of urbanization for developers and governments clash with the needs of villagers who are forced from the land that sustains them to make way for massive new or expanded cities. In the state of Gujarat, a rapidly urbanizing area, people facing the seizure of their agricultural land by the government have organized and protested. But activists see a grim future for the villagers. Persis Ginwalla of the advocacy group Jameen Adhikar Andolan warns, “Industries and urban centres need disposable low-wage workers, and those displaced from their villages will provide just that.”2

In the United States, local organizers in communities vulnerable to gentrification have had some success in pushing for preservation efforts in their neighborhoods. Increasingly, real estate developers and city leaders have worked together with community organizers to create a shared vision for development projects. This approach is often called “equitable development”—a new experiment in urban planning with yet-unknown results.

Carlton Eley, a senior official of the Environmental Protection Agency and driver of the equitable development concept, says equitable development is an approach to the challenges faced by cities and their citizens that could produce healthy, resilient, thriving communities without displacement. “Obviously there is no one-size-fits-all way to address [gentrification],” Eley says. Equitable development, he explains, is “a way whereby we can try to encourage more parity and better outcomes through the process of changing how we plan and develop communities.”3


1. John Langmore et al., Fault Lines: Portraits of East Austin (San Antonio: Maverick Books/Trinity University Press, 2019).

2. Kumar, Raksha. “‘Leave Us Alone’: India’s Villagers Rebel against Urbanisation.” The Guardian, February 12, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/12/india-villagers-rebel-urbanisation-gujarat

3. Mock, Brentin. “Urban Planners May Have Finally Found How to Get to Sesame Street.” Grist, February 13, 2015. https://grist.org/cities/urban-planners-may-have-finally-found-how-to-get-to-sesame-street/

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Last Updated

October 30, 2023

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