Gentrification: The Cause of Modern-Day Segregation
Gentrification as a defined and measurable social problem
Gentrification meets all the qualities of a social problem. It has been defined as a condition that threatens the values of minority groups, specifically cultural and social values. It effects a large number of people, with a conservative estimate of 2.5 million people being displaced in the U.S. per year (LeGates and Hartman, 1986 US). It is also a condition that can be remedied by collective action.
The word gentrification leaves a sour taste in ones mouth. Even the people who practice it cringe when it’s mentioned. Gentrification is the process of renewal and rebuilding that accompanies the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas/communities, which often displaces lower income residents. When a person first thinks about, it doesn’t sound like it’s such a bad thing. Who wouldn’t want to renovate abandoned areas into something more useful and productive; Rebuild decaying, run-down communities and give them a more livelier and livable atmosphere? It all sounds pleasing, but the key word to why it is a social problem is in the definition- gentrification displaces lower income residents, who are disproportionally minorities such as women and people of color. Displacement in itself is a social problem that can be defined as a process whereby families and residents have their housing choices constrained by the actions of another social group. It is a form of modern day segregation.
Where Gentrification Manifests & Who it Affects
Gentrification manifests in metropolitan cities such as New York, Philadelphia, London, Seattle, and Miami. Downtown Miami is a prime example of Gentrification; the Design District, Bayside, the Marlin’s Baseball Stadium, and Brickell all have been or are going to be gentrified in Miami, Florida alone. Low-income houses are turned into condominiums or luxury housing available for purchase, malls and high-end entertainment complexes are built, old buildings and residences are torn down, and the upper class begin to flock to these areas. Area property values skyrocket to the point that displacement occurs.
Those affected most are low-income families and residents, the elderly, female headed households and middle class blue collar workers. The extent to which those that are effected by gentrification and displacement is not limited to just the economic realm, gentrification often involves a change in a neighborhood’s racial and ethnic composition, which further alters a communities characteristics, leading to potential tension within the community. Those that are displaced may end up homeless due too harassment and eviction and lack of affordable housing.
Strategies to Minimize the Negative Consequences
We must create an equitable living environments and communities designed with intention and the belief that communities are not just for residential/commercial use, but are clusters of opportunity. Affordable housing for all incomes must be available. Mixed-income communities can be developed, which would offer a range of housing prices. Incentives, such as tax cuts or breaks, could be given to developers, planners, and local governments who aim to minimize displacement. Inclusionary zoning policies can be enacted, which is a policy strategy that requires developers to make a percentage of the rental or for-sale units in housing developments for low- and moderate-income residents. Most importantly, we must engage the community. They need to be fully allowed to provide input into the design and redevelopment of their community. In this way, we can change the process of gentrification into the process of building just, equal communities of opportunity.
The Consequences & Social, Psychological, and Health Costs of Gentrification
There is a broad range of consequences that can arise from gentrification. Services that the displaced groups rely on are also at great risk of becoming overpriced or lost all together. Homelessness is increased as affordable housing disappears and unsustainable speculative property prices increase. Gentrification does not only affect the area which was gentrified. Gentrification of one neighborhood can increase rent and prices and have other effects on surrounding neighborhoods.
Gentrification also has a range of social and psychological costs. Gaps in mutual social support structures are left in the wake of displacement. The sustainability of community networks are threatened. There’s also a strong racial component as the majority of new, higher-income residents are white and the former, lower-income residents are racial or ethnic minorities. This change can lead to tensions along racial or ethnic lines in the gentrified neighborhood (Kennedy and Leonard 2001). With gentrification comes a huge loss of social diversity and mix and a very apparent segregation of classes, which causes community conflict & resentment, among other issues.
In terms of the health of a community, gentrification causes a myriad of negative consequences. Socioeconomic status, land use, environmental injustice, and race/ethnicity all create disparities in the health of the community. Displacement in itself has many negative health consequences that contribute to disparities among member of racial/ethnic minorities, the poor, women, children, and the elderly (special populations). These members of special populations have an increased risk of health issues due to the negative consequences of gentrification. Studies show that they typically have shorter life expectancy, higher cancer rates, greater infant mortality rates, and more birth defects than non-vulnerable populations. They also have a greater incidence of diabetes, asthma, and cardiovascular disease.