Could gentrification become integration?

We believe in changing neighborhoods where urban blight has occurred, and we believe in enhancing economic development and opportunity for those stuck in concentrated poverty. How? By attracting and/or keeping a diverse group of income levels in a neighborhood through educational options.

But frequently, when audiences learn about this concept, they have concerns about gentrification. This post will not define or defend against concerns about gentrification since Dr. Danielsen wrote about that here.

Instead, this post highlights recent positive research about the effects of gentrification. The new findings are from the UCLA Civil Rights Project whose mission is, in short, equity for all. Contrary to what many may think, this study asserts gentrification is an opportunity for integration. Both gentrification and school choice are sometimes blamed for making segregation issues worse. But this research out of D.C. shows there is potential for neighborhood revitalization that breeds opportunity for all without displacement or segregation.

The Civil Rights Project researched areas of D.C. that experienced significant gentrification since 2000.  When comparing non-gentrified areas and gentrified areas of D.C. in 2014, non-gentrified schools were more likely to be "hyper-segregated" (99-100% non-white enrollment) than schools in gentrified areas. Although intense segregation still persists in our country’s capital, gentrified schools districts maintained the same share of black enrollment while the numbers of white and Hispanic students increased dramatically.

Although the Civil Rights Project focused on the social aspects of a community more than the economics, they too assert that the flight of the middle class to the suburbs isolates the poor, both socially and economically. But, unlike past claims about gentrification, this study shows that revitalizing neighborhoods can create “equitable and integrated school opportunities for children who have lacked them for generations.”

But there’s more - Similar to Dr. Danielsen’s work, the Civil Rights Project warns that displacement could happen without thoughtful housing policy. Highlighting the need for policy is an important point because too often the wrong type of policy determines the destiny of neighborhoods. The drawing and redrawing of district lines create a different form of displacement, causing families to “vote with their feet” and leave behind concentrated poverty. So, in order for gentrification to be an opportunity for integration, housing experts, not education bureaucrats, should be consulted for maintaining a healthy equilibrium in our neighborhoods.

So, here’s Tuesday’s takeaway - Revitalizing neighborhoods with the right policies can lead to powerful economic growth, environmental responsibility, social equity, and of course, better education outcomes.

Dr. Gary Orfield, Research Professor of Education, Law, Political Science and Urban Planning at UCLA and Co-Director of the Civil Rights Project, summed up this research, stating:

“What young white professional families with children desire for their children’s future is much the same as what African American and Hispanic families want -- DC schools that help children realize their dreams. I think about these possibilities not only as someone who is deeply interested in school integration and civil rights, but also as a parent and a former DC PTA leader. It is about bringing together diverse communities who share common dreams for their children, and supporting real integration in schools and neighborhoods.”

Want more surprisingly positive insights about gentrification? Read more here, here, and here.