Gentrification Management — Is it Possible?

Aerial view of Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, one of my faves but far from the radar of most.  Source: chuckmanplaces.wordpress.com

My descent into the rabbit hole that is the topic of gentrification has pushed me to exploring all sorts of research on the matter.  I think today’s urbanists, the young educateds who are leading today’s return to cities, would do well to seek out this research.

Speaking of many of today’s urbanists, I’m not sure many are aware of the gentrification management research that exists.  Many come to their preference for cities through the New Urbanism or Smart Growth movements, which emphasize quality urban design (New Urbanism) or the the policy framework needed for successful and sustainable cities (Smart Growth).  But people who have been working in the field of community development have been addressing this for years.  Perhaps it’s time for their work to see the light of day.

Let’s look at three examples.  In 2006, the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency worked with the Urban Land Institute to develop a “catalyst report” that would assist in managing impacts in a city undergoing dramatic change.  Also in 2006, the Urban Institute did a case study analysis of gentrification mitigation strategies in cities across the country, at various stages of gentrification — early, middle or late stage.  A year earlier in 2005, NeighborWorks America completed a report that looked at best practices in gentrification management in Washington, DC and Boston, and compared them to ongoing activities in Atlanta. 

In a sense, all sought to answer this question, from the executive summary of the Jersey City report:

“Is gentrification an inevitable part of the natural life cycle of real estate? Is it unavoidable in a thriving economy? Or can communities plan for mixed-income neighborhoods, reap the benefits of economic revitalization, and successfully retain their social and cultural heritage through this life cycle change?”

The findings from each report differ in terminology, but are strikingly similar.  Here’s what they say:

  • Address affordable housing needs.   Each report suggests that maintaining or increasing the amount of affordable housing in neighborhoods experiencing gentrification pressure — not those that are in the end stages of the process — is critical.  
  • Asset Building.  Homeownership programs for longtime renters in gentrifying areas, among other ideas, are necessary for mitigating income disparities.
  • Building Cohesiveness and Neighborhood Pride.  Neighborhoods need a social structure that welcomes change and addresses it head-on, instead of letting the change become a zero-sum game.
  • Strengthen Existing Social Institutions, and Create New Ones.  Churches, schools, nonprofits and other local institutions are just as challenged by gentrification pressures as residents.  If they receive support, they can help newcomers and longtimers navigate the transition.
  • Build the Skills of Existing Residents.  Job training and workforce development programs, as well as leadership development programs, can address any perceived imbalances in gentrifying communities.
This correlates well with work I did on quality-of-life plans for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) during this same time for the New Communities Program in several Chicago neighborhoods.
The strategies are there for effective management of gentrification.  We need to find the will to employ them at the local level.

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