If you suddenly find your affordable rental is within walking distance of an oat milk latte, you’re probably standing in a gentrifying neighborhood. According to a 2018 study, one of the leading indicators that housing prices are about to go up is the addition of a café in the neighborhood. What might seem like a delicious addition to the area to some might signal impending displacement to others.
What exactly is gentrification? Most of us recognize it when we see it but have a hard time defining what it is. “Gentrification is the process of property speculation that jacks up prices and the displacement of the people that cannot afford them,” says John J. Betancur, professor of urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-author of the study, The Trajectory and Impact of Ongoing Gentrification in Pilsen.
Gentrification happens when an area that has traditionally been home to low-income communities experiences an influx of new affluent residents that results in rapid development and a rise in residential and commercial real estate prices. As a result, long-time area residents are often forced to move out of their neighborhoods or close up their businesses because the rent is too high, while property owners are often forced to sell their homes because they cannot afford the higher property taxes.
Though this phenomenon isn’t new to urban life, it has intensified in recent decades. The reasons are complex and range from a lack of affordable housing to stagnant wages to city policies that perpetuate existing inequalities. Governing reports that since 2000, roughly 20% of lower income neighborhoods have experienced gentrification, compared to only 9% in the 90s. According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, most of these neighborhoods are concentrated in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and San Diego.
In addition to the economic concerns, there are reasons to worry about the cultural impact of gentrification. The communities most affected tend to be predominantly Black and Latinx, and their displacement often means the whitewashing of neighborhoods and possible erasure of marginalized groups.