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 are being priced out of their rents; do owners chose to “cash out” and sell their properties; and/or do people of color choose to leave the neighborhood because the longstanding cultural character and amenities are eroding. Is displacement inevitable, is it voluntary or involuntary; and if so, is it economic or cultural?

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!

But what about the upside of new investment in historically disinvestment neighborhoods? The addition of new, and often better quality amenities, should be a benefit to all residents, incoming and existing.  Long-time homeowners who have not seen increases in the value of their homes should now see increases in their long-term household wealth.  And areas of the city that have been steeped in income and racial divide can become places of mixed income and mixed-race, enabling a more productive social and economic ecosystem of community life.  Does this type of investment always have to be seen as disruptive?

This course 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.  The course will use national and city-specific research on gentrification; neighborhood change measurement methodologies; examine the neighborhood change using data research, literature and media articles and guest lectures.  Students will prepare 1) an opinion-editorial essay, offering a definition of gentrification; 2) participate in a team debate arguing either the positive or negative impacts of gentrification; 3) assign indicators and metrics for measuring the presence of gentrification and 4) prepare a case study presentation on  effective strategies for addressing either the negative impacts and advancing positive impacts of gentrification.

Upon completion of the course, students will be able to: 
– Analyze the causes, characteristics, consequences, actors and tenure of gentrification 
– Develop a working definition of gentrification, indicators for measuring neighborhood change, and the ability to ascertain whether gentrification is occurring 
– Identify the positive and negative impacts of gentrification on multiple stakeholders
– Document examples that mitigate negative impacts or advance positive impacts of gentrification 

5 weeks of Asynchronous (1.0 hour/class) and Synchronous learning (1.5 hours/class)
3 weeks of Synchronous student debates and presentations (3 hours/class)
4 weeks of Synchronous guest speaker presentations and discussion groups (2 hours/class)

The course Zoom site will remain open for an additional hour within the class time for student informal discussion groups and team collaboration as needed.