Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Fastest Gentrifying Neighborhoods?

The Post discussed a report on the fastest gentrifying zip codes the US. The author of the report listed those zip codes with the largest increases in the white percentage of the population from 2000 to 2010. In the report, the fastest gentrifying zip code is in Columbia, SC, and similar zip codes exist in DC and NYC. Ideally, as the author noted, gentrification should be measured by class or income, but the Census 2010 income data is not yet public. However, technically, gentrification is the displacement of lower-income or working-class people with higher-income or professional people (the "gentry"). Therefore, it should be measured by class or income, though race directly shapes income, employment, and housing opportunities.

Several of the zip codes mentioned have so few residents, like 100 or 200, that the movement of even a handful of people can look like an exodus when put in percentages. In the #1 fastest gentrifying zip code in the country (Columbia, SC's 29202), the white population increased by 35 people over a ten year period (1). Now, it might be more interesting to ask where the 133 African Americans went; maybe they passed away, maybe they moved away, maybe they were displaced by a new business? Many of these areas with low populations, such as #1 and #4 Roanoke, seem to be commercial or industrial areas. It is difficult to say that these area are gentrifying, though industrial areas can become centers of "loft living" as discussed by Sharon Zukin and can become centers of gentrifying lifestyles with certain kinds of cafes, restaurants, entertainment, etc.

Measuring gentrification by race does not capture the essence of gentrification. Poor whites do exist and do move. The #2 fastest gentrifying zip code is Chattanooga's 37408, which overlaps with Census Tracts 16 and 2. Census Tract 16 has 25% whites and, at the same time, 97% of the households make under $30,000 and their median income has decreased 24% over the past ten years to under $10,000 (2). This is an area with many low-income elderly residents. Census Tract 2's median income has increased 15% over the past 10 years to just over $14,000. There is similar poverty around the #17 zip code also in Chattanooga, located very close to #2. These areas seem to be outside the commonly accepted definition of gentrification.

Gentrification is happening, but this kind of list does not help us to understand it. Gentrification as the movement of higher-income people into a city is not inevitable or just random, but rather is usually the result of targeted and organized investments by cities, real estate developers, and companies offering jobs and lifestyles (certain kinds of cafes, restaurants, entertainment, etc.) that lure these people to specific cities and to specific neighborhoods. We can definitely see such investments and their resulting migrations in Brooklyn, Washington, DC, and other large coastal cities, though more research is needed to say whether and how it might be happening elsewhere. If poor and working-class people are leaving cities, then where are they going? To the second-tier non-coastal cities? To suburbs? To small towns? The Census 2010 income data, as well as other wealth data, will help us understand today's gentrification much better!

(1) I am not certain whether this "white" category includes Hispanics, but I do believe it does. This data comes from the Census 2000 and Census 2010. 
(2) This data comes from the American Community Survey 2005-2009 data in the great NYT interactive map.

1 comment:

  1. Gentrification as the movement of higher-income people into a city is not inevitable or just random, but rather is usually the result of targeted and organized investments by cities, real estate developers, and companies offering jobs and lifestyles (certain kinds of cafes, restaurants, entertainment, etc.) that lure these people to specific cities and to specific neighborhoods

    This is both true, and not true. I'd argue that the main driver is an emergent cultural one--both a matter of the younger generation wanting to live in the city, and the decreased quality of life in the suburbs due to population pressure.

    There are a handful of urban centers in the US that are experiencing an influx of middle-class residents: DC, NYC, a few others. The middle-class residents arrive first, then the commercial entities to service them.

    If you don't believe me, go open a place like Toki Underground in a crime-riddled, dilapidated neighborhood in Detroit. Don't hold your breath waiting for the "gentrifiers" to arrive.

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