Gentrification is the process of investing in the revitalization of deteriorated urban communities by replacing them with significant commercial development
Gentrification is the process of investing in the revitalization of deteriorated urban communities by replacing them with significant commercial development (Sturtevant 276). The United States Census Bureau has been historically tracking statistical data on gentrification for the largest 50 cities nationwide. In Governing’s “Gentrification in America Report”, editor Mike Maciag states that census data conveys “Nearly 20% of neighborhoods with lower incomes and home values have experienced gentrification since the year 2000, compared to only 9% during the 1990s” (Maciag). In recent discussions of gentrification, a controversial issue has been whether the renovation of urban neighborhoods is right or wrong. On the one hand, researchers argue that gentrification is beneficial, as it encourages economic development, improves urban infrastructure, and lowers crime rates in cities (Maher 982). From this perspective, an individual might argue the potential for economic prosperity in the gentrification of urban spaces outweighs the social costs. Dr. Rowland Atkinson, Research Chair in Inclusive Societies at The University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, adds additional perspective to this side of the argument. Dr. Atkinson explains that individuals who represent pro-gentrification beliefs, assert that the process promotes neighborhood “renaissance,” and revitalizes marginalized communities for the better, by removing both social problems and criminals who live within their boundaries (Atkinson 2344). On the contrary, other thinkers argue gentrification entails harsh repercussions, including racial displacement, homelessness, and the loss of identity within a community. In his article: “Why Gentrification is a Problem?”, Dr. Stephen Shepperd, Professor of Economics and a faculty member for the Center for Creative Community Development (C3D), at Williams College, speaks on behalf of the anti-gentrification argument when he proclaims that “Major source of disadvantage for lower income urban residents who, having established a community with all of its complex social networks, must now see it torn apart as they are displaced. Either by choice or compulsion to move to other housing that is less desirable, or alternatively remain behind to pay higher rents in a neighborhood they no longer feel is their own” (Sheppard). From such a point of view, one might argue the result of gentrification is a detrimental loss to the community’s own unique history and culture. This paper will effectively present how the inequality of race and class does not justify gentrification; as the unfair distribution of wealth and lack of diversity damages American societal ideals of equal opportunity for all.
This essay focuses on the impact of gentrification on lower-income African Americans in Washington D.C.; this can be traced back to the late 1990’s when the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) built an extension of the Metro mass transit system, by establishing stations located at many historically African American communities in the city. Because of the newly created metro stations, gentrification occurred, destroying many neighborhoods through redevelopment, to implement commercial retail, luxury homes, and apartments. As a result, many predominantly lower-income African American communities, such as Columbia Heights, were impacted by new populations of upper-income white renters and homebuyers (Maher 984). An examination of the African American neighborhoods negatively affected by renewal in our nation’s capital will convey the actual impact of renewal in the broader context. Urban policy scholar, Derek Hyra, of American University, explains the purpose of this specific examination of renovation when he proclaims that “A Washington, D.C. study can tell us much about the future of urban America, particularly as cities increasingly become dominated by an advanced service-sector economy” (Hyra, Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City 16). Since, Washington D.C. was historically known as the “Chocolate City” during the mid-1970s, comprising an approximately 70% black population, an examination is necessary, to understand how gentrification has played a pivotal role in the nation’s capital evolving change in race and class status (Sturtevant 280).
Though one can concede that urban renewal can stimulate economic wealth, it can also be stated that gentrification negatively impacts the demographics of urban areas by the inequitable distribution of wealth. For example, lower-income residents impacted by gentrification are often likely unable to live in their community due to the increased cost of living. Such an example has evidence through statistics of increased pricing and uneven distribution of wealth. As a prominent researcher in this field of study, Justin T. Maher conveys the essence of his argument of the major economic impact of gentrification. He proclaims “In the ten?years following, Columbia Heights continued to experience a massive amount of condo conversions and an influx of new market-rate housing and retail. From 1999 to 2011, the average home price and household income in the area both rose at twice the rate of the city as a whole” (Maher 984). From the data, we can see that gentrification cost of living went up when economic changes implemented gentrification in African American communities within the District of Columbia.
The current average cost of living and household income between races in D.C. can be analyzed to distinguish the income gap clearly. Scholar Jonathan Jackson uses statistical evidence from the U.S. Census Bureau to convey the significant difference in economic prosperity between races in the nation’s capital when he proclaims, “black families having a median household income of only $46,815 in 2012, compared with $173,255 for white families” (Jackson 358). Jackson proves there is a significant discrepancy in economic wealth and conveys whites have more income than their African American counterparts in D.C. As a result, African Americans with their relatively lower-income salaries when compared to their white counterparts, were unable to afford to live in the higher-income communities.
The social landscape of the District of Columbia has been known to have a lack of diversity due to gentrification. Through renovation, there has been a significant population shift in Washington D.C. in which the African American race has changed from the majority population to a minority population. Wealth discrepancy in Washington D.C.’s African American communities allows more profound insight into the actual impact of gentrification with changing racial demographics. By evaluating the human population shifts of D.C. during this period, one can observe how African Americans population decreased when economic change caused gentrification. Scholar Lisa Sturtevant references specific data from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau and states “The number of white residents in the District of Columbia increased from 159,178 in 2000 to 209,464 in 2010, an increase of 50,286 or 31.6% (Sturtevant 280). At the same time, the District of Columbia’s black population declined. In 2000, 340,088 African Americans lived in the District of Columbia. In 2010, the city’s African American population had fallen to 301,053, a decline of 39,035 people or 11.5%.” (Sturtevant 280). Sturtevant’s actual data sets connect to proves a drastic decline of the African American population in D.C, throughout a decade since its implementation. Strictly looking at rising costs, there is a logical correlation between gentrification and increasing living costs for African Americans. According to Sturtevant facts, we can prove that as economic changes implement gentrification, it will likely hit the minorities exponentially harder than their white counterparts. As a result, minorities are forced to leave their homes to seek lower-cost housing within the greater Washington, D.C. area.
Additional research in D.C. strengthens the argument against gentrification as the two closely interconnected factors of lack of distribution, and racial displacement plays a crucial part in the process. Shaw/U Street is one of the most iconic African American neighborhoods known to be the center of African American culture in Washington D.C. It is home to one of the most prestigious historical and symbolic black colleges of our nation, Howard University. However, since the implementation of gentrification, white individuals have overtaken the area replacing low-income African Americans, as the city appeals to a higher-income clientele seeking organic markets, stores, and luxury housing. Scholar Hyra now coins it the “Gilded Ghetto,” as city planners have been redeveloping beyond any sign of a black neighborhood, and unrecognizable regarding historical standpoint (Hyra, Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City 18). Hyra provides clear results of renewal when he proclaims:
Shaw/U Street experienced tremendous demographic shifts, as it redeveloped. In the 1970’s, the community was 90% Black; however, by 2010, African Americans comprised only 30% of its population. While the proportion of the community’s Black population declined, the percentage of White residents rose substantially, particularly in the 2000s. Whites represented 23% of the Shaw/U Street population in 2000, rising to 53% by 2010. As the community received an influx of Whites, property values dramatically increase 145% between 2000 and 2010.
(Hyra, Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City 8)
This particular case study provides a connection between the two major points in this essay that gentrification produces disparity in wealth and changing racial demographics that directly damages the racial and class groups it targets, which in this case is low-income African Americans.
Hyra submersed himself in the current culture of U-Street, spending nearly a year working alongside “Organizing Neighborhood Equity (ONE DC)” to gain a better perspective of the issue at hand by gaining real-life perspectives on the issue (Hyra, Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City 15). He interviewed African American stakeholders who were impacted firsthand to understand how gentrification has impacted them on a personal level. One of these individuals, Theresa, who is heavily reliant on subsidized housing in U Street, shared her thoughts on the idea that gentrification brings only opportunities to certain privileged residents. She states that “Just because you have a certain level of opportunity in your life does not mean that has transferred to everybody in your community…they newcomers think that they are improving community ’cause they want to do things like have dog parks. In their eyes, that is an improvement.” (Hyra, Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City 13). It is evident that Theresa is speaking not only on behalf of herself when she states but many African Americans personally impacted by gentrification in which she firmly denies the common misconceptions of equal “opportunities” of gentrification. This viewpoint allows us to see in the eyes of an impacted individual what it is the harsh realities of gentrification. Although individuals might object gentrification increases the standard of living, one would reply that even though it may help the area economically, its ability to hurt low-income African American communities outweigh any potential for economic gain from their white counterparts. The lower-income minority groups who have been directly impacted by gentrification, cannot afford the “benefits” that are the basis for which certain individuals advocate for gentrification. Lower-class African Americans stakeholders like Theresa who can barely afford to live in their home areas, let alone the necessities to live, do not care about the high-amenities such as organic markets and dog parks that gentrification offers.
In conclusion, the issue on gentrification is paramount because the revitalization of domestic urban spaces has an indirect impact on all Americans in the distribution of economic wealth and social demographics. The idea of renewal in D.C. reflects on current social issues in the country and appeals to a broader context of American public policy in how economic development in urban spaces creates a more significant disparity between minority races and their more affluent counterparts. Furthermore, it provides American citizens a better insight in the idea of marginalized cultural groups and further implications of how the continuation of gentrification and race displacement negatively impact the demographics in Washington D.C.; low-income African Americans will have no say in the cultural, social, and political makeup of their neighborhoods (“Commentary: Causes and Consequences of Gentrification” 173). Black Washingtonians unfairly have the least say in politics yet are the most impacted by the consequences that arise from gentrification. In the circumstances out of their control, lower-income African Americans in Washington D.C. that undergo renovation are forced to be submissive to white control. Scholar Hyra remarks on this when he boldly proclaims,” Through my gentrification research, I have witnessed how political and cultural displacement breeds intense social tensions, limits meaningful social interactions between longtime residents and newcomers and results in microlevel segregation. Without ample social interactions across race and class, the promise of mixed-income living environment benefits for the poor seems unlikely” (“Commentary: Causes and Consequences of Gentrification” 173). This quote exposes the actual realities of gentrification than the misleading conceptions of individuals that are for it. City managers should take different perspectives on this issue based on class and race, and they should note the individuals in the marginalized communities who are getting the most impact on gentrification must be of primary concern in addressing whether the renewal is good or bad for society. Gentrification makes American citizens reflect not only how it impacts D.C.’s diverse population, but other cities from across the nation and whether the changing of dynamics of various demographics are morally wrong as a result. Although gentrification may seem to concern only a small group of individuals about race, in fact, it should concern anyone who cares as a civic citizen about racial justice. Exposing the truths of gentrification and giving a voice to the voiceless such as the low-income African Americans in D.C. help address current social realities on general neglect in abiding by the fundamental American principles of equality. Regardless of class or race, Americans should hold in unity to the democratic ideals of which their predecessors built this nation