Moving Forward Means Moving Up!

GET MOVING: A SERIES ON GENTRIFICATION

This is part 2 in a series discussing low-income neighborhood dynamics and new research asking the question, “Is gentrification helpful or harmful?” 

Quick recap:

Did you know that when college-educated people move into a low-income community, rent for the original residence location does not rise and displacement is minimal? These recent research results are a big surprise because they challenge common understandings of how gentrification impacts poor people.

Now, the question is, does anything else happen (good or bad) if more highly-educated individuals move into a neighborhood? The answer is YES.

WHEN EDUCATION MOVES IN, OPPORTUNITY GOES UP!

Study Summary: 

In case you’re just joining this conversation, here’s a refresher on this new research. CityLab did a fantastic job summarizing how Brummet and Reed conducted their study,

The study looks at original residents of low-income, central-city neighborhoods of the 100 largest metro areas using census data from 2000 and American Community Survey data from 2010 to 2014... Quentin Brummet and Davin Reed tracked changes in educational achievement and household status among less-educated renters and homeowners as well as more-educated renters and homeowners. While some of these neighborhoods saw gentrification, not all did, providing a basis for comparison.

The even briefer version? Some researchers meticulously tracked a lot of Americans over a long period of time. Ultimately, Brummet and Reed were able to discern that when a neighborhood gentrifies, original residents (children and adults) experience:

  1. Reduced exposure to poverty

  2. Higher home values

  3. Higher exposure to neighborhood education and employment levels

  4. Higher educational achievement

IN OTHER WORDS…

More educated people mean significant improvements in neighborhood well-being. Breaking down the list, here’s why. “Reduced exposure to poverty” translates as fewer difficult circumstances for families. Children who are exposed to uniformly poor neighborhoods are in for a lifetime of higher health risks - less healthy beginning with birth (low weight, etc.) and continuing to higher rates of teen pregnancy, heart disease, asthma, diabetes, etc. as they get older. Even life-expectancy is lower for residents of areas of concentrated poverty. The Center for Disease Control describes the importance of neighborhood well-being as a “social determinants of health.”

“Reduced exposure to poverty” is a fancy way of saying that almost everything gets better.  The whole neighborhood is healthier. The whole neighborhood is safer. And in particular, children have more opportunities to succeed in the future and create better life outcomes for the generation that follows them.

Higher home values also mean an increase in family financial circumstances. Even if a family does not want to sell their home, higher real estate values reflect numerous positives that the family now enjoys. 

And then there’s higher exposure to education and employment levels. As Raj Chetty describes in his analysis of opportunity, neighborhood is part of a child’s “social capital,” a clear determining factor in success. In his interview with the Atlantic, social capital was defined as, “...the set of connections that ease a person’s way through the world, providing support and inspiration and opening doors.”

In other words, unless a child has contact with others who have some social and financial capital, it’s hard to imagine that child moving beyond what he or she sees and experiences in the community. However, when a neighbor graduates from college or a neighbor is a manager at the local store, it is easier to imagine one’s self achieving similar goals. Not to mention, people who both have more education and value education may also act as a support for community members who aspire to more opportunity. 

And finally, better education attainment simply means more opportunity for upward mobility.

WHY THIS MATTERS…

We frequently write about how bad schools create bad neighborhoods. When studying population changes and neighborhoods, there are significantly less school-aged children in places with poor school opportunities. Why? Because financially-secure families can leave those neighborhoods while families with no choices are stuck.

Finding ways to minimize the damage caused by school district lines could bring back people who currently feel compelled to leave because they really care about quality education. In the past when we’ve written about this concept, many respond with, “More people would want to live there if they could attend any school. So, are you suggesting we gentrify communities?”  (Read with implied “gentrification is bad” tone).

OUR ANSWER?

Neighborhoods that are thoughtfully developed to integrate diverse cultures and income levels are clearly a positive for everyone involved. When people who have more education and who care about education move in, it only creates opportunity for original residents. 

The better question might be, what about neighborhoods of concentrated poverty that seem to have no hope of change? What about the places where some small degree of gentrification would be welcomed? Those are the neighborhoods that need our help the most, and those are the neighborhoods where we hope that our methods will be put to good use. Just remember that helping neighborhoods move forward doesn’t mean leaving neighbors behind.