2 Half-Truths about Gentrification and Displacement

Hellloooo Detroiters, PPPers, and those of you who have ever been "more probable than not...at least generally aware of inappropriate activities."

                                                Equipment malfunctions happen!

                                                Equipment malfunctions happen!

                   Yeah Tom, we know.

                   Yeah Tom, we know.


Summary for busy PPPer's:  The public narrative about gentrification during the revitalization of urban neighborhoods perpetuates a number of half-truths.  Here are two of them:

  1.  The gentrifiers are the new white people moving into the neighborhood; and
  2.  Gentrification and displacement occurs when the hipsters start moving in.

These are both half-truths.  Here's a quick synopsis of my five whole truths in response: 

  1. Not all gentrifiers are white;
  2. Gentrifiers not only include the new residents, but also the people who originally spurred the gentrification (I call these folks the Original Gentrifiers or OGs);
  3. Many of the people who gentrify a neighborhood never move into it;
  4. Hipsters moving into a 'hood are more likely to be an effect of gentrification than a cause of it;
  5. If you start fighting displacement when you see hipsters moving in, you're too late.

These clarifications are critical because we can't fight displacement if we don't start with the whole truth. 

We can’t bring more social equity to neighborhood revitalization if we are fighting the wrong battles against the wrong enemy at the wrong time.
— Calvin Gladney

Half Truth #1:  The gentrifiers are the new white people moving into the neighborhood.

The Whole Truth #1:  Many gentrifiers are white but they also hail from other racial groups.  Gentrifiers also include the people who spurred the original gentrification who may never actually move into the neighborhood.  No need to belabor the racial point - not all gentrifiers are white.  Despite what you mostly see and read, that's just factual.  Moreover, gentrifiers are not just new residents, but also include the public, private and non-profit actors who implemented the original redevelopment plans that spurred the gentrification.  This whole class of gentrifiers are often left out of the public conversation. 

Many of the gentrifiers of urban neighborhoods are the government officials, urban planners, brokers and developers who started the wheels of gentrification moving years before the neighborhood changed.

I call these folks the Original Gentrifiers (OG's for short), and most of them will never move into the neighborhood, and many of them are not white.   Whatever their racial makeup, I also hold the OGs (particularly the public sector OGs) at least partially responsible for not putting in place mitigation and prevention strategies to counteract any negative effects that may occur when gentrification does happen.

    When I say OGs, I mean the Original Gentrifiers, not OGs like Cube from Boyz N the Hood.

    When I say OGs, I mean the Original Gentrifiers, not OGs like Cube from Boyz N the Hood.


Half Truth #2:  Gentrification and displacement occurs when the hipsters start moving in.

                                                                Hi neighbor.

                                                                Hi neighbor.

Whole Truth #2:   Gentrification really starts when the neighborhood redevelopment plan is laid out, not when the hipsters are moving in.  Much of the public narrative about gentrification is misfocused on hipsters and their plaid shirt wearing, bicycle-riding brethren.  There's some truth that hipsters are a sign of gentrification when they arrive in droves, but I think they are more likely to be an effect of gentrification, not a cause.  The hipsters get labeled as gentrifiers, but they are not OGs.  Gentrification starts when the neighborhood redevelopment plan is laid out, and properties are bought and sold.  Gentrification starts to happen when certain people already in the neighborhood start re-naming areas that already had names. Gentrification begins way before the hipsters and higher-income people start moving in.

Final Truth:  If you start fighting displacement when you see hipsters moving in, you're too late.  Displacement is a real problem that can occur during the revitalization of a neighborhood.  The root causes of gentrification-based displacement can be best addressed when the gentrification process starts, not when the hipsters move in.  These clarifications of half-truths are important because we can't fight displacement if we don't start with the whole truth.  We can't bring more social equity to neighborhood revitalization if we are fighting the wrong battles against the wrong enemy at the wrong time. 

Up Next in Part 2:  Public discourse also tends to ignore an important segment of the ranks of the gentrified:  The local businesses who made it through urban disinvestment, riots and downturns, but could not survive the gale force winds of gentrification.  

Posted on May 15, 2015 and filed under Most Read.