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What is Gentrification?

Michael Pollick
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Gentrification is a highly controversial process in which urban developers convert lower income neighborhoods and inner-city ghettos into more upscale communities with condominiums, loft apartments and wealthier tenants for renovated homes. Since the current residents often cannot afford to pay the higher rents or assume a mortgage, gentrification efforts usually force them into even lower class areas with even higher crime rates. Meanwhile, local businesses which formerly catered to the needs of working-class residents may either have to relocate, close or sell out to new investors. Gentrification does achieve its stated goal of renovation and renewal, but it can also create an entirely new set of social and economic problems for those who have been displaced.

The concept of planned urban renewal is not a new one, but the practice of gentrification first appeared in the 1950s as many city planners looked for ways to eliminate urban blight. Local landlords and politicians also appreciated the economic wisdom of inner-city renovation as a means to attract middle and upper class workers to the area. Government funds earmarked for urban renewal were commonly used to finance the wholesale gentrification of working-class or poor neighborhoods. In San Francisco during the 1960s, for example, the Haight-Ashbury district became a popular refuge for young adults displaced by gentrification efforts elsewhere.

A British sociologist first identified the trend towards urban renewal as gentrification in the 1960s, noting that many of these efforts only benefited the developers and the landlords, leaving current residents trapped in an untenable position. Many could not afford to leave the area voluntarily, but they also could not afford the raised rents imposed by landlords seeking to cash in on the gentrification efforts. These frustrations often led to confrontations between the established residents and the new affluent tenants of renovated housing.

Gentrification does have a significant amount of tangible benefits for the city, however, which makes criticism of the practice difficult. The creation of more affluent neighborhoods through gentrification does raise a city's tax base, which in turn could lead to better services for all of its citizens. Once a gentrified area gains a favorable reputation, other areas may also agree to similar gentrification efforts. In this way, city leaders appear to reduce crime and improve blighted inner-city regions, which often helps to allay fears keeping the new wealthy class from moving into certain parts of the city.

There are a number of pros and cons surrounding the practice of gentrification, so it helps to do some research before deciding if a particular renovation project would help or harm a neighborhood in decay. Sometimes the solution is to help current low-income residents find suitable and affordable housing elsewhere before allowing gentrification efforts to completely overtake the affected area.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon978913 — On Nov 22, 2014

Gentrification affects everyone! Everything in life is about economics nowadays. It has nothing to do with race or skin color anymore. I've worked with affluent and low-income families of all races and they're all getting pushed out of their homes and their communities.

It's the same thing with education. Education is becoming completely elitist. If you have the money, you're cool. Good luck if you don't. Look at what's going on at UC Berkeley. They went ahead and spiked tuition fees despite student protests. THEY keep asking for more and more money and We the people keep getting less and less of everything. I'm even afraid that soon enough we won't be able to get anything.

By the way, if you live here in Northern California, I say start stashing water away. That I fear is the next thing to be monopolized. At least in this state.

By anon329346 — On Apr 09, 2013

Trust me, I am White and gentrification has destroyed my mostly white neighborhood. It affects everyone and yes, there are still poor white people.

Boston's culture has been destroyed around here. If you have a Boston accent, the newcomers look at you like you are a savage. They say thing like, "Get an education." This crap benefits no one except the politicians. They destroy the bedrock of the neighborhood and move in people who agree with their view of things or people who do not care and allow them to philander with impunity.

By anon291686 — On Sep 15, 2012

Forcing any person out of their only home in order to provide a new place for those who do have alternatives to live is never a good thing! It is selfish and malicious, not to mention simply greedy!

Build the neighborhoods up while the original residents can still benefit from it and we'll take another look at the situation.

By anon264023 — On Apr 26, 2012

This article never once mentions race; it says "lower income residents." The fact that people are automatically associating that with people of color is the real problem.

By anon236476 — On Dec 23, 2011

What about those of us who are white, have lived in a city our whole lives (are not transplants) and want to be home owners? I live in DC - a city where housing prices have priced out working middle-class families from large chunks of the city. I want to buy a home, but the only neighborhoods I can afford are gentrifying areas.

For all the angry commenters above: what do you expect me to do? Leave the city where I work, where my family is and where I grew up to find a home? Rent my whole life and simply renounce the desire to own a home? Or save my whole life and hope that I can maybe one day afford the massively overpriced $700k houses in the neighborhoods that are "white enough" that no one will be upset with me?

By anon228649 — On Nov 09, 2011

I'm really sick of seeing everyone hating on white people. There are poor white people, too. It's always "people of color" whether it's blacks, mexicans, asians, or whatever who are accusing everyone who is white of being bad. There are just as many bad people who aren't white. There are rich black people, just like there are rich white people.

So stop your griping and stop discriminating, yourselves. It's so easy for everyone to point their fingers at white people and say we discriminate. What the hell do you think you're doing? Exactly.

By anon88418 — On Jun 04, 2010

"Gentrification is a good thing." Gentrification is not a good thing. there are plenty of places for high income families to live without affecting the living conditions of low income and impoverished peoples.

"anyone can make money if they put their mind to it. they just don't have the willpower." Many of the impoverished families in the inner city have more willpower to make money than the people who have money.

People with stable careers have something to fall back on, experience, education. Inner city and impoverished families don't have the same resources available that people who aren't in poverty like situations. A lot of the time they are forced to result to criminal activities in order to put food in their children's mouths, clothes on their children's backs and a roof over their family's head.

When you grow up in a poverty like situation, your main focus isn't education and long term careers. It's short term how do i survive until the next paycheck.

Obviously you Mr/Ms Anon86183 don't know what it's like to sleep on a park bench. you don't know what it's like to be forced to look for a new place to call home because the landlord raised the rent in order to get you out of your apartment building so they can renew it.

you don't know what it's like with a loaf of bread as your food for a week. Look at it from both sides dude.

By anon86183 — On May 24, 2010

Gentrification is a good thing. it's a good idea to get the poor together so we can tackle the problems in one go rather than going from place to place. yes they had to move on but i don't feel sorry for them. anyone can make money if they put their mind to it. they just don't have the willpower.

By anon15818 — On Jul 22, 2008

Gentrification is just another form of discrimination. Basically whites kicking

poor people of color out of their communities.

By lamaestra — On Apr 21, 2008

Gentrification is really truly just another way to say chase the poor people out. People talk about how great gentrification is because it makes cities better and home prices go up, but they fail to mention that the people who need the help are also chased out. It makes me sad, we see this a lot in the San Francisco Bay Area where it is supposed to be a good thing: "Oh look, this city has been gentrified!" But the people who lived there have to move to the Central Valley because it was gentrified at their expense and they can't afford to live there any longer.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
Learn more
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