Gentrification & Shark Week

During the summer of 2012, an overblown fear about a flesh-eating bacteria broke out across the country. A traveler came into contact with necrotizing fasciitis, but the story spread like wildfire. Although possibility of contracting the disease in the US was and still is minimal, the idea alone that someone could contract such a terrible bacteria from bodies of water was terrifying (and novel), especially in the summer months.

Due to its novelty and timing, news outlets everywhere highlighted the fascinating report, continuing to heighten hysteria. The disease is serious, but because it is so rare, the spread of the disease could never justify the fear induced by the media.

Another summer myth that preys on fear is shark hysteria. In reality, sharks only kill an average of 12 people a year in varying circumstances, while humans kill 11,417 sharks per hour. And yet, it is common to believe sharks are the predators when it is humans that should probably be considered as such.

Like necrotizing fasciitis and sharks, gentrification is a concept that draws significant media attention and now has much of the country concerned they are “gentrifying” or hurting large areas of our cities unintentionally. While gentrification is a serious issue in a few super star cities, the reality is concentrated poverty is hurting significantly more people than gentrification.

A recent study from the University of Minnesota explains 1) how few cities are actually affected by gentrification and 2) in contrast, how widespread the pockets of concentrated poverty are in most of our cities.

When we focus on an issue that is newer and interesting, we can accidentally lose sight of problems that have been with us all along. Forgetting about the poor in our cities or not investing in poverty stricken neighborhoods in fear that we may gentrify them means leaving poor families in dire situations without hope.

Or, in other words, this discussion is not about whether hip coffee shops should or should not be allowed. Instead, it is about remembering there are areas of our country that cannot even support the business of a quality grocery store. Battling economic segregation in these areas would help these neighborhoods grow and thrive.

Here is a summary of the reality in America’s 50 largest regions from this recent study:

  • The most common form of American neighborhood change, by far, is poverty concentration. About 36.5 million residents live in a tract that has undergone low-income concentration since 2000.

  • At the metropolitan level, low-income residents are invariably exposed to neighborhood decline more than gentrification. As of 2016, there was no metropolitan region in the nation where a low-income person was more likely to live in an economically expanding neighborhood than an economically declining neighborhood.

  • Low-income displacement is the predominant trend in a limited set of central cities, primarily located on the eastern and western coasts. Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. have the most widespread displacement.

  • On net, far fewer low-income residents are affected by displacement than concentration. Since 2000, the low-income population of economically expanding areas has fallen by 464,000, while the low-income population of economically declining areas has grown 5,369,000.

  • White flight corresponds strongly with neighborhood change. Between 2000 and 2016, the white population of economically expanding areas grew by 44 percent. In declining areas, white population fell by 22 percent over the same span.

  • Nonwhite residents are far more likely to live in economically declining areas. In 2016, nearly 35 percent of black residents lived in economically declining areas, while 9 percent lived in economically expanding areas.

Don’t let outlandish exaggerations of gentrification keep you from caring for poor communities in your city. Consider the stats about poverty above, and then do something about it.