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ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY

ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY

Gentrification

Gentrification

Gentrification is a process of change currently underway in many American cities. Gentrification brings conflict between longtime residents of old neighborhoods and new arrivals.

Grades

5 - 8

Subjects

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

Image

Gentrification in Bushwick

Gentrification is underway in many U.S. neighborhoods like Bushwick in Brooklyn, New York. This process can disrupt the traditional makeup of a neighborhood with the influx of wealthier people moving into downtrodden, largely minority, urban neighborhoods

Photograph by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Gentrification describes a process where wealthy, college-educated individuals begin to move into poor or working-class communities, often originally occupied by communities of color. The people and businesses that move into gentrifying neighborhoods may have goals for their new homes that are at odds with the goals of people who have lived there for a long time. Rising costs of living and a changing community culture can make for a difficult adjustment for longtime residents. These changes may drive out people of color and minority-owned businesses. At the same time, gentrification brings much needed investment into long-neglected areas. Gentrification is thus a complicated issue that involves many different stakeholders and perspectives.

The poor communities of color who tend to inhabit neighborhoods targeted for gentrification were often the victims of unfair housing policies from the end of World War II. During the postwar economic boom, many suburbs appeared, located on the outskirts of cities. They provided the advantages of urban environments without the disadvantages of living in close proximity to others. In order 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 majority-African American 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. As a result, the low cost of moving into those neighborhoods opened them up to gentrification.

As a neighborhood gentrifies, the economic opportunity that it represents increases. More people move into the area to take advantage of those opportunities, and then the desirability of that area increases even more. Developers begin to tear down old housing to build new. Old shops, restaurants, and other neighborhood features may be driven out by storefronts that cater to new residents. Perhaps worst of all, the old residents themselves may be forced to leave. Rising costs of living and a changing landscape for jobs mean that the benefits gentrification brings to an area are often distributed unequally.

Because the potential economic benefits of gentrifying neighborhoods are very great, however, there are lively debates about whether gentrification is good or bad and whether it should be embraced or resisted. There is even some research that suggests that black, working-class families tend to stay in gentrified neighborhoods rather than leave them, and that the economic benefits of gentrification do indeed reach all residents. For now, cities and their residents must find paths toward economic improvement that benefit both old communities and new ones.

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Director
Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Author
National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Producer
Clint Parks,
other
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

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