Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

September 15, 2015

Gentrification and Displacement

By David Reiss

Joe Wolf

Miriam Zuk et al. have posted a Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Working Paper, Gentrification, Displacement and The Role of Public Investment: A Literature Review. The paper opens,

The United States’ metropolitan areas’ ever-changing economies, demographics, and morphologies have fostered opportunity for some and hardship for others. These differential experiences “land” in place, and specifically in neighborhoods. Generally, three dynamic processes can be identified as important determinants of neighborhood change: movement of people, public policies and investments, and flows of private capital. These influences are by no means mutually exclusive – in fact they are very much mutually dependent – and they each are mediated by conceptions of race, class, place, and scale. How scholars approach the study of neighborhood change and the relative emphasis that they place on these three influences shapes the questions asked and attendant interventions proposed.

These catalysts result in a range of transformations – physical, demographic, political, economic – along upward, downward, or flat trajectories. In urban studies and policy, scholars have devoted volumes to analyzing neighborhood decline and subsequent revitalization at the hands of government, market, and individual interventions. One particular category of neighborhood change is gentrification, definitions and impacts of which have been debated for at least fifty years. Central to these debates is confronting and documenting the differential impacts on incumbent and new residents, and questions of who bears the burden and who reaps the benefits of changes. Few studies have addressed the role of public investment, and more specifically transit investment, in gentrification. Moreover, little has been written about how transit investment may spur neighborhood disinvestment and decline. Yet, at a time when so many U.S. regions are considering how best to accommodate future growth via public investment, developing a better understanding of its relationship with neighborhood change is critical to crafting more effective public policy.

This literature review will document the vast bodies of scholarship that have sought to examine these issues. First, we contextualize the concept and study of neighborhood change. Second, we delve into the literature on neighborhood decline and ascent (gentrification). The third section examines the role of public investment, specifically transit investment, on neighborhood change. Next, we examine the range of studies that have tried to define and measure one of gentrification’s most pronounced negative impacts: displacement. After describing the evolution of urban simulation models and their ability to incorporate racial and income transition, we conclude with an examination of gentrification and displacement assessment tools. (2, footnote omitted)

Because gentrification is such a contested topic both within and without the academy, this literature review is very useful. Notwithstanding the fact that the results of many of the studies mentioned are mixed, the authors were able to identify certain findings that emerge from the literature. These include,

  • Neighborhoods change slowly, but over time are becoming more segregated by income, due in part to macro-level increases in income inequality.
  • Racial segregation harms life chances and persists due to patterns of in-migration, “tipping points,” and other processes; however, racial integration is increasing, particularly in growing cities.
  • Despite severe data and analytic challenges in measuring the extent of displacement, most studies agree that gentrification at a minimum leads to exclusionary displacement and may push out some renters as well. (44-45)

As hot cities like New York and San Francisco struggle with their changing housing markets, policy makers should make decisions based on the best available research on gentrification and displacement. This literature review provides a guide.

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