Gentrification: Displacement or Succession?

Gentrification is a loaded word. At issue – the character of a neighborhood and its local institutions, and above all, the displacement of the often lower income residents who lived there before.

But is the conventional wisdom reality? To what degree does gentrification oust established residents?

“It’s not a simple question,” said Kim McKeller, a broker at Halstead Properties’ Harlem office. “It’s complex.”

Lance Freeman, an associate professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University, and author of There Goes the Hood: Views of Gentrification from the Ground Up, said that his research shows that there is little if any relationship between gentrification and displacement

“Displacement is when people are forced out because their rent is too high, but people move out all the time,” he said.

Freeman found that low-income residents tend to move out of a gentrifying neighborhood at about the same rate that they move from other areas. Demographic changes, he said, are the result not of displacement but of “succession,” whereby those who move out are replaced by more affluent and more educated residents.

The bottom line for established residents, they said, is keeping the best of Old Harlem, Old Bushwick, Old Newark and others while bringing in the new businesses, services and the new blood that can help them flourish.

The study found that while gentrification didn’t push out residents, it did create neighborhoods where middle class minorities wanted to live, he said.

Furthermore, said Freeman, many prior residents actually welcome the changes to their neighborhood.

Vigil Chime, an author and filmmaker, has been living in Harlem for 20 years and is happy with what she has seen happening over the past decade.

”In the early 90’s while I was going to Columbia I was teaching on 114th street between 7th and 8th and that was a blighted area,” she said. “There were abandoned buildings to my right, there were abandoned buildings to my left and always you heard about murders.”

“We are investing in our neighborhood so that our children can walk down the street and be safe,” she said. “ Gentrification to me is a good thing. “

The bottom line for established residents, they said, is keeping the best of Old Harlem, Old Bushwick, Old Newark and others while bringing in the new businesses, services and the new blood that can help them flourish.

“New” Bushwick resident Pamela Capalad, a financial planner and financial educator who recently bought a house in Bushwick with her boyfriend, rapper Dyalekt agreed. “I think making yourself a part of the existing community is really important – being friends with your neighbors, shopping at the local stores, and remaining humble,” she said. “ I believe a place only becomes truly gentrified (in a bad sense) when a new population develops a sense of entitlement to the area that is detrimental to the community as a whole.”

About Jacqueline Rivkin

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