The Gentrification Debates: Perceptions and Realities of Neighborhood Change

Gentrification and the real and perceived impacts that neighborhood change has on longtime local residents as well as new dwellers, is complicated to unpack and define.  Many believe displacement is an inherent byproduct of gentrification, yet little research exists to quantify or even confirm if and how displacement occurs.  We are left to speculate about whether residents being priced out of their rents; do owners chose to “cash out” and sell their properties; or do people of color chose to leave the neighborhood because the longstanding cultural character and amenities are eroding.

So what definition of gentrification are we to rely on to improve our understanding of neighborhood change.  The gentrification definition that relies on the statistics commonly measured by inflation in housing prices, increases in median household income, and changes in educational attainment, might confirm that neighborhood change through gentrification is real.   Or what about the definition of neighborhood change as presented in the 2014 “Lost in Place” report highlighting that only 100 out of 1,100 urban areas saw reductions in poverty levels between 1970-2010, a change that may be a function of backfilling four decades of neighborhood population decline rather than the upward mobility of long time low-income households.  This report is telling us we are obsessed with the wrong neighborhood change phenomenon– that instead of tracking the smaller percentage of urban areas that are truly “gentrifying”, we should instead be more focused on why the other 1,000 out of 1,100 urban areas and its residents are no better off than they were 40 years ago!

This seminar will explore the debate about the causes and effects of gentrification, and attempt to document the real and perceived impacts of such change on the physical, economic, social and cultural dynamics of community.  Students will prepare a position paper, offering a rigorous defense of both the positive and negative impacts of gentrification through the lens of multiple stakeholders.  The course will use national articles on gentrification; neighborhood change measurement methodologies; examine a local Boston neighborhood using data research and field observation; guest lectures and panel discussions; and case studies on effective strategies for addressing the negative impacts and advancing positive impacts of gentrification.