CityLab, April 5th, 2019: Where gentrification is an emergency, and where it’s not
Ron Daniels, president of the Baltimore-based civil-rights network Institute of the Black World 21st Century, assembled a group of some of the foremost African American social-justice advocates, thinkers and influencers to Newark this weekend for an emergency summit on gentrification. The emergency is that too many white people have been moving back from wherever they fled to into inner-city neighborhoods that have been culturally and racially defined as black communities for the past few decades. This white invasion is an “insidious onslaught” to African American life as we know it, as Daniels spelled out in a blog he penned last November, and so walls must be built, or rather, policies must be built to stop the occupation.
“Development” in Washington, D.C., the original “Chocolate City,” has displaced thousands of Black people, forcing them to move to surrounding suburban areas; the prosperous central city neighborhood and Black business district in Seattle, Washington has vanished as Blacks have been forced to flee to Tacoma and other outlying cities where housing is more affordable; in Los Angeles, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition is vigorously resisting a subway extension that would spur gentrification in one of the most storied communities in Black America; in neighborhood after neighborhood in New York City, from Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx to Harlem, gentrification is rapidly displacing hundreds of thousands of Black people.
Daniels is not the first to speak of gentrification in emergency terms, though some researchers lately have been quick to cite such talk as overblown. There is no shortage of studies over the years pointing to a tenuous connection between gentrification and the displacement of black or Latino residents.
“The supposed ills of gentrification—which might be more neutrally defined as poorer urban neighborhoods becoming wealthier—lack rigorous support,” reads a June 2018 article in The Economist. “The most careful empirical analyses conducted by urban economists have failed to detect a rise in displacement within gentrifying neighborhoods.”
That doesn’t mean that Daniels and the dozens of big policy thinkers gathered in Newark are wrong, though. In fact, there is plenty of data to support Daniels’ claim that it is a crisis, to a certain extent. Close to 111,000 African Americans were displaced from gentrifying neighborhoods in cities across the U.S. between 2000 and 2013, according to a recent report from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, and most of that displacement has occurred in the cities that Daniels named above.