Thursday, January 23, 2014

Becoming Invisible in Your Own Neighborhood

Yesterday, Morning Edition put out a story about how the process of gentrification might actually be beneficial to those who have always lived in the neighborhood, and they focused on H Street. This isn't too surprising that NPR chose H Street, given their new headquarters only a few blocks away, but regardless, I was heartened by the news that by moving to H Street I wasn’t kicking somebody’s grandmother out into the cold.
The article explores how the process of gentrification improves parks, schools and other amenities. That isn’t exactly newsworthy, in and of itself. But NPR went on to look at new studies which seems to imply that not only do long-time residents stay in the gentrified neighborhoods, there are many other side benefits, including better credit scores, new jobs, and a safer environment.
If this is true, it’s good news. What’s puzzling to me is why it doesn’t seem to be true. The social scientists were just as surprised as I am. They were gathering data to see how much displacement gentrification caused, but instead they found gentrification increased retention, and they were shocked. They must have been shocked because when gentrification happens, it doesn't seem like the people who lived there before are still there. 
This is what troubles me: If the people who have always lived in the neighborhood are still here and present, why does it seem as though the people who lived here before have been displaced? What has changed so much in newly gentrified community that it seems as though the people who lived there before have suddenly become invisible? Are our social groups so totally closed off, with different hang out spots, different work and life schedules, that they never overlap in meaningful ways? 
And if we are actually so isolated that we never see or interact with each other, what is it that would make our neighborhood a neighborhood, not just a ZIP code?

PS If you have thoughts on this -- why it seems like people aren't there anymore -- please leave them in the comments, I am genuinely curious!


  1. From the perspective of visiting friends in the Greenpoint area of Brooklyn as it gentrified, and living in a neighborhood now that has partially done so, it appears to me that rather than replace the current residents and fixtures, those brought in by gentrification add their flavor to the neighborhood, and sometimes that can be overpowering. Depending on how the neighborhood was previously, there may be vacancies, and once filled with new folk and new businesses, the new stuff always seems louder by its newness.

  2. Besides the fact that change and newness is always more noticeable than no change, I think the perception that gentrification changes demographics is accurate, but not to to the point that people are being forced out. Rather, all neighborhoods have flow of people moving in and movning out; as long as there is no gentrification, the people moving in are similar in demographics to the people moving out. Gentrification happens when the people moving in are different than the people moving out. These studies are all about the people who stay.