Gentrification question
December 10, 2015 11:11 AM   Subscribe

What USA cities are not being gentrified? Or is this a nationwide/worldwide thing and thus a nonsensical question? If it is nonsensical, when can we say this idea was rendered such?
posted by josher71 to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I think you could point to incredibly affluent places as examples of cities not being gentrified.

off the top of my head:

carmel, ca

blackhawk, ca
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:19 AM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Detroit and other rust belt cities are still bleeding people. There's some work going on in those cities to revitalize their downtowns, but it's fairly limited as far as I understand.

And while many global cities are experiencing gentrification on some level, they didn't have the massive suburbanization and white flight seen in the U.S in the middle of last century. The gentrification that North America is experiencing is fairly unique.
posted by lunalaguna at 11:29 AM on December 10, 2015 [8 favorites]

Not sure if there's city specific data for this, but you can certainly look at what counties are hemorrhaging people. This will give you a general idea on the trends of internal migration. I've seen a few maps, but Pew has a decent one here, and the data is from last year.

Forbes has a pretty good detailed map that is also broken down by county, but lets you search for city-areas too. This map only goes up to 2010, sadly.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:42 AM on December 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Peoria hasn't gentrified; it is still suburbanizing, and the chuckleheads on the city council continue to encourage a sprawly, car-centric, white-flight pattern of development that draws tax dollars off of the central business district and older neighborhoods, and pumps them out into economically inefficient suburban-style development on the far fringe of the city which cost far more in utility and road maintenance than they pay in property taxes, but they shriek bitterly that they pay more on their $250,000 houses than inner-city folks pay on their $40,000 houses, despite the fact that the smaller lot sizes mean the $40,000's taxes come a lot closer to carrying its full maintenance weight. (Um ... I have feelings.)

It is maddening to watch; the city's own expert development staff and people who actually live in the city keep developing plans for urban revitalization and mixed-use neo-urbanist zoning and reduced parking requirements and better public transit, but as soon as some jerk who already moved to the suburbs says, "You know why I don't live in Peoria? I like having a great big lot and living on a cul-de-sac that's wasteful and inefficient to plow. And also, living amongst other white people and not paying any taxes. You should do more of that," the city council gives them an exemption to the zoning code and hands them MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN DEVELOPMENT INCENTIVES to build suburban-style developments to big developers who don't need the money and put off street repairs in the central business district because surely! this! new! suburban! development! will! save! our! city! And then the assholes who already moved to the suburbs don't move back into the city and the city council is shocked and amazed that IT DIDN'T WORK THIS TIME EITHER JUST LIKE THE LAST SIXTEEN TIMES IT DIDN'T WORK.

Anyway, no gentrification because the city is busy racing the suburbs for rich white people who don't like to pay taxes or go to integrated schools (people are shockingly up front about this, it would make you very sad) and cannot accept that is a lost market and they should focus on their core constituency of those of us who like living in cities. So those of us who live here on purpose have coalesced around a loose agreement on a series of policies we think are necessary for the city (overlay zoning, multimodal transit, sidewalks) which everyone from the housing authority residents' association to the "we own old mansions and renovated them for kicks" club agrees are the direction we want to go, and the city council just ignores it because they're still chasing the 1980s and cannot figure out that the future of cities is smaller, tighter, more transit-oriented, more urban, more energy-efficient, and that people don't move into a city because they want to live in a fucking suburb.

By the time they figure this out, in 10 or 20 years, they will have suburbanized the city to the point where it's unrecoverable and we spend all our taxes on maintaining crumbling roads in low-density developments that we couldn't afford in the first place. In fact, they just hiked my property AND sales taxes this week specifically to pay to maintain crumbling roads and sewers in low-density post-1970 suburban-style developments that they have finally admitted they can't afford even a little. THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS ARMAGEDDON.

Anyway, the city can't accept there might be money in gentrification, so they continue to chase suburbanization, and I'm pretty convinced they will chase it until they kill the city dead, barring a catastrophic price shock to oil and natural gas (such that cars are too expensive to operate and big houses aren't worth heating).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:43 AM on December 10, 2015 [38 favorites]

Milwaukee, despite going to hell in a handbasket crime-wise, is still gentrifying in a number of areas.
posted by Slinga at 11:46 AM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd say Rust Belt cities are squarely being gentrified. I'm not saying Detroit is going to be San Francisco or Manhattan/Brooklyn any time soon, but you can definitely get your artisan pie fix. (sorry Sister Pie! I think you're cool still!)

This is anecdotal and I'm not sure how to find information on it but I feel like second-tier cities aren't gentrifying the same way their higher-population neighbors are. Camden or Trenton aren't, Philadelphia is (neither is Wilmington, DE, but I think that's a different story); Wheeling, WV isn't, Pittsburgh is; Akron isn't, Cleveland is; Toledo and Flint aren't, Detroit is; Dayton isn't (Daytonites might disagree; again, this is just anecdotal) while Cincinnati and Columbus and Indianapolis are.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 11:48 AM on December 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

This Slate article has a predictably click-baity title but refers to a lot of interesting studies: The Gentrification Myth.

Before you can decide which cities are an are not gentrifying, you kind of have to come up with some way of defining it... is an artisan pie shop enough? is it about cities getting "nicer" or is it about the displacement of existing (low-income, minority) residents?
posted by mskyle at 11:53 AM on December 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Cleveland is

Cleveland went from a population of 460,000 in 2005 to 390,000 as of 2013. Insofar as it's "gentrifying," that means only that the bleeding has slowed.
posted by deanc at 11:53 AM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Smaller rustbelt cities. Racine, WI as an example. Instead they are slowly dying.
posted by rtimmel at 11:57 AM on December 10, 2015

Yes I think this needs to be clarified. Does gentrification mean displacing low-income, minority neighborhoods with new condos and cupcake shops for rich white people?
Or just a general reversal of population from suburbs to city? (Which also usually means some displacement of poor people, too, but it's a bit of a different thing)?

Are you looking for rising populations in urban areas or rising incomes?
posted by littlewater at 12:00 PM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

My intuition is that cities don't gentrify, neighborhoods do. There are blocks in Chicago that are gentrifying and they're a stone's throw from blocks that are most definitely not gentrifying. Whatever gentrifying means, anyway. I don't think "city" is a good unit.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:04 PM on December 10, 2015 [23 favorites]

This is a bit orthogonal to your question, but I think this new piece on job growth in big cities by demographer Jed Kolko might point you in some interesting directions. I would not be surprised if the metro areas with the weakest job growth (led by inland California) are places with the least gentrification.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 12:08 PM on December 10, 2015

I'm a Detroiter. Yes, there are people leaving some parts of the city, but the downtown and midtown areas are being noticeably gentrified.
posted by Shouraku at 12:09 PM on December 10, 2015

I'll go with this from MW: the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents
posted by josher71 at 12:17 PM on December 10, 2015

Pittsburgh definitely is in a huge phase of gentrification right now but there are lots of small satellite cities around the core city, mostly along the rivers, that have zero development activity going on. They're mostly towns that were built around mills (steel, coke, glass, aluminum) and when the mills left in the seventies and eighties, everyone in those towns scattered. Gentrification has definitely skipped these places like McKeesport, New Kensington, Monaca, Uniontown, Aliquippa because without the mills, there very little reason for them to exist at all.
posted by octothorpe at 12:33 PM on December 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you want to find places that aren't gentrified, look at places where automobile traffic is low.

Because, you want to recognize the difference between gentrification and new development.

For example, people point to many neighborhoods in Seattle and say they're gentrified. But when you look at the history, they were underdeveloped or wrongly developed compared to population demographics and demand. That leads to more people living in outlying areas using their cars to commute, and resulting traffic problems. Cities often respond by approving urban housing development. The new development to meet the demand gets tagged as gentrification, regardless of what the housing/commercial situation was before.

The Seattle neighborhood Belltown and neighboring areas are a classic example of this. Belltown wasn't gentrified. It was light industrial and warehouse spaces. There weren't many people living there in the first place. With the Amazon campus moving into downtown, the demand for housing exploded, and there's tons of new construction.

And traffic. Lots of traffic.

Low traffic, low demand, no development.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:37 PM on December 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

There is an international housing crisis. Even in depressed areas, there is involuntary displacement. Gentrification is controversial, but I think most people can see the problems with involuntary displacement, which may overlap with gentrification. (I think I learned that here on metafilter.)
posted by latkes at 12:37 PM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

rtimmel nailed it. The smaller the city, the less gentrification. Gentrification is a tricky concept, because it's a continuous variable, not a discrete one. I doubt you'll find a single city that has not experienced any gentrification whatsoever, but there are significant differences in degree. To wit: I grew up in Springfield, Ohio, which is a small city that has lost a third of its population in my lifetime. There are some signs of turnaround, shops and galleries and stuff opening in formerly abandoned buildings downtown, people restoring old houses in an historic (but low-income) neighborhood, etc. My brother lived for a while in Lima, Ohio, which is an even smaller city, and I'm not aware of any notable gentrification there. My wife is from Buffalo, which has bled a ton of people and jobs, but has neighborhoods that are noticeably gentrifying. We currently live in Columbus, Ohio, which is a pretty large city where gentrification is intense. And my wife's sister lives in Brooklyn, which is basically a synonym for gentrification. For my job, I travel to some pretty obscure small towns (Independence, Iowa; Minonk, Ill.; Brandon, Wisc.; Williamston, NC, etc.), and they don't seem to exhibit many signs of redevelopment. It's a pretty clear correlation with size. There are obvious exceptions, such as college towns, tourist destinations, and state capitals, but that's a pretty good rule of thumb.

Another thing to keep an eye on is the per-capita income, and the distribution of income, in a town. In most of these places I named above, there simply isn't enough money for affluent people to push out poor people. There are only a handful of affluent people to begin with. There are only 462 people in Independence, Iowa. The top 10% is maybe 25 households. And in heavily-unionized towns, the "working class" areas probably make as much as many of the white-collar middle class people.

So basically, small, poor towns.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:41 PM on December 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

What USA cities are not being gentrified? - All cities everywhere in the developed world go through economic and demographic changes due to a wide variety of factors. In the US, where regulation of capitalism is low, the changes are fast and involve the displacement or voluntary flight of people from different income levels into and from various places. Some people call that gentrification.

"when can we say this idea was rendered such?"

Cars are about 100 years old. Gentrification as we know it is tied to the process of people being able to live far away from where they work. So the fact is, nobody has any idea what long term effect these technologies will have on where people live, nor whether they will continue forever or eventually stabilize due to other technological advances. People used to view the change that happened in the 20th Century in the US, when cars became ubiquitous and middle class people created enclaves far outside the industrial and business centers, as inevitable and irreversible demographic shifts. Now it is more clear that demographics are more fluid, and that technology (creating ability to work from home, or revolutionize an entire industry) will continue to move the middle class around. Meanwhile the real estate & construction industries (among others) thrive off of this instability. As long as there isn't regulation that controls it somehow, it will continue, everywhere, all the time.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:45 PM on December 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Cleveland went from a population of 460,000 in 2005 to 390,000 as of 2013. Insofar as it's "gentrifying," that means only that the bleeding has slowed.

I don't think gentrification necessarily increases population all that much, if at all. Brooklyn, the latest gentrification poster child, still has fewer people than it did in 1940, and it added more people in the 1990s (when gentrification in NYC was still more focused on Manhattan), than in the 2000s (when the word "artisinal" began to pop up in NY Times articles about Brooklyn). Boston, which is pretty well gentrified, has been growing, but is still below its 1950 peak. San Francisco is at a population peak now, but it took awhile to get back there, and its growth rates have been anemic.

The older North American cities that have seen the biggest population growth in the past 15 or 20 years - NYC, LA, Toronto - are gentrifying, but they are also magnets for immigrants. I'd bet it's the latter that really drives the population growth.
posted by breakin' the law at 12:56 PM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, to answer the OP's question: I think it's three categories.

-secondary cities in large metro areas - Trenton, Camden, Newark, Bridgeport.
-second-tier Rust Belt cities that do not have a substantial reason (eg, a university) to gentrify - Fort Wayne, Peoria.
-second-tier Sun Belt cities that lack substantial urban amenities - Bakersfield, Amarillo.

Gentrification is, indeed, a tricky concept. It does exist, but it's hard to pin down and it's impacts aren't totally clear (and are arguably more cultural than economic).
posted by breakin' the law at 1:03 PM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't think gentrification necessarily increases population all that much, if at all.

Yeah I want to really strongly second this. In Chicago, for example, rich people will knock down four houses to build a megamansion, or buy a three-flat and deconvert it to an SFH. This has been happening in my neighborhood the last few years and it's radically driven up the rent and property values, while also driving down the population (as we're much less dense now that so many apartment buildings have turned into fancy rich people houses). You see population hemorrhaging in a lot of desirable, gentrifying neighborhoods here.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 1:04 PM on December 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

NYC, LA, and Toronto are also major magnets for internal migration. International immigration may be the reason for an increase in total population, but I would imagine the internal migrants, who tend to be more affluent than non-migrants, drive much of the actual gentrification.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:06 PM on December 10, 2015

I don't think gentrification necessarily increases population all that much, if at all.

Anecdotal but my mostly gentrified neighborhood has a fraction of the population that it had when it was a poorer area. Houses that previously had been carved into as many as ten apartments now just house a single small family or even a single person. And young professional types tend to have few or even no children. The neighborhood had as many as 3,000 residents in the past but now has less than 500 with pretty much the same number of buildings.
posted by octothorpe at 1:10 PM on December 10, 2015

You see population hemorrhaging in a lot of desirable, gentrifying neighborhoods here.

Also, gentrifiers tend to skew young and childless, and thus have smaller households.

NYC, LA, and Toronto are also major magnets for internal migration. International immigration may be the reason for an increase in total population, but I would imagine the internal migrants, who tend to be more affluent than non-migrants, drive much of the actual gentrification.

I should probably get back to work rather than go and look this up, but I'm fairly sure that NYC and LA actually lose people on internal migration, but make it back and then some on immigration. And, anecdotally anyhow, your observation is correct, so...I'm sure we can do the math.
posted by breakin' the law at 1:13 PM on December 10, 2015

NYC, LA, and Chicago all lose many more people to internal migration than they gain, yes.
posted by Justinian at 1:20 PM on December 10, 2015

Reading Eyebrows McGee's comments on Peoria, I feel the same kind of thing is happening in St. Louis, MO. Although there are a few areas which could be considered gentrified -- the Arch and Loop areas have been experiencing a lot of development -- almost no one over the age of 30 would consider moving to the city itself, in my experience. St. Louis County is more than 500 square miles, and is separate from St. Louis the city. The racial and class lines are very stark between the two. Although moving the city of St. Louis back into the county has been proposed many times, county government is strictly against the possibility.
posted by possibilityleft at 1:27 PM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'll go with this from MW: the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents

Some places have deteriorating areas that are not getting improved. It gets called blight and is a worse problem than gentrification. Others are just full of nosebleed prices and there are relatively few areas with poorer residents. Poorer residents are either in some little mobile home park or sharing tiny apartments to split the rent or homeless.

When I was in downtown San Diego, supposedly there were about 10,000 homeless people in a city of 1.3 million residents. They also had nosebleed prices for housing and all throughout the county, you had a handful of mobile home parks here and there and all other housing was just not remotely affordable. Some of the cheapest (still not "affordable" in my opinion) apartments in Carlsbad backed up on a park where everyone walked their dog and a lot of those folks seemed basically crazy. I kind of suspect many of them were either working two shitty jobs to make rent and their dog was practically all the social life they had or sharing a too small apartment with a total stranger to make rent and their dog was their only escape/solace. Them and their dogs were mostly pretty ill behaved. If you walked anywhere, people on bikes would yell at you EXCUSE ME for having your sorry pedestrian ass on the goddamn sidewalk in a tone of voice that made it clear they meant "Get the fuck out of my way, bitch!" when they were supposed to be in the bike lane, not on the sidewalk where you were walking like you were supposed to be.

And then I left and went someplace cheaper. From the stats I have seen, homelessness is something like half-ish what it was in San Diego, on a per capita basis. People who are walking dogs mostly have control of their animals and are polite and respectful and friendly. Cyclists don't try to run my ass over while acting like I am in the wrong for being on the sidewalk on foot. They go around. People are generally polite and friendly. People say "Hi" here instead of "EXCUSE ME!" as they pass by me on foot or on a bike.

So some cities (and even entire counties) are just basically already too expensive for poor people. The poor don't own houses to be pushed out of. They are doubled up in little overpriced apartments with no life or homeless or in trailer courts or something. They aren't homeowners. Homeownership is just too crazily out of reach in some places.

So I would say a lot of more expensive areas in the U.S. aren't undergoing gentrification because they are well past the point where "poor" people can own houses to be pushed out of -- except for a few trailers, which I guess could still be pushed out by improvements to the area because they are typically in shitty places with few amenities and that's why there isn't a luxury condo on that spot instead. When I was looking at the possibility of buying a house in San Diego County, the only cheap houses in Carlsbad were manufactured houses in an area where there were no major grocery stores or other mainstream shopping in walking distance.

This is part of why I decided to leave the county: I want to buy a house at some point and there just weren't any places from downtown San Diego to the northern border of the county with any Single Family Detached Houses in non-blighted neighborhoods where it would be feasible to live a decent life without a car that weren't just you need to win-the-lottery levels of expensive. A lot of places that were close enough to shopping were apartments I didn't want to live in, condos I didn't want to live in, and million dollar single family detached houses with postage stamp yards and multi-million dollar single family detached housing that I wouldn't want to live in even if I had that kind of money.

The problems of gentrification are minor compared to the problems of places like that.
posted by Michele in California at 1:34 PM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Minneapolis is very mixed. Some neighborhoods are rapidly gentrifying. Other neighborhoods are exactly like they were 50 years ago (and don't have high crime or anything else obvious that keeps hipsters out). Parts of the city are post-gentrification -- Uptown used to be the center of all things hip, and now it has massive empty storefronts and little new construction. Many younger people still go to the suburbs to buy their first house.
posted by miyabo at 2:12 PM on December 10, 2015

I stand corrected; after looking up the stats, NYC loses a ton of people to internal migration.

That said, there are also a lot of people in NYC, especially the gentrified parts, who didn't live there ten years ago. They are obviously attracting internal migrants. There are just many more leaving, so the net is a loss. I'd like to see the demographic breakdown of the incoming and outgoing migrants. I suspect this might be the process of gentrification itself at work. My hypothesis is that the incoming migrants are more affluent; the outgoing migrants are less so, and may in fact be migrating because gentrification has raised housing prices beyond their means. If that's the case, the net internal migration stats may not be a good indicator of gentrification. And indeed, many of the highest net internal migration destinations don't seem to be areas that are "gentrified"; many of them are brand new cities in the Sun Belt. The migration is not displacing anyone; it is new housing.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:19 PM on December 10, 2015

. you want to recognize the difference between gentrification and new development.

Those are orthogonal. It doesn't matter if the same number of people live there now, more people or even fewer than previously - if the previous population was low income and richer people moved in, did up the place and pushed out the lower income group, that's gentrification. Belltown is a fantastic example of this happening, really. The people that used to live there were low income, they don't live there any more.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:22 PM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Those are orthogonal.

Gentrification is very multi-faceted, but constructing an apartment building in a vacant lot isn't it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:37 PM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

My intuition is that cities don't gentrify, neighborhoods do. There are blocks in Chicago that are gentrifying and they're a stone's throw from blocks that are most definitely not gentrifying. Whatever gentrifying means, anyway. I don't think "city" is a good unit.

To use Seattle as an example again, yea, i agree with this.

My favorite example right now is columbia city, a neighborhood in south Seattle. That little area itself gentrified at a pretty intense pace, but the areas around it have not... And probably wont for many years if they ever do at all. Because they're "dangerous", ostensibly because they're full of brown people and "scary".

A ton of people are moving to seattle, but the "knowledge" gets passed down to them that everything south of like Jackson st is the land of sideways glocks and carjackings. A whole lot of the city is gentrifying, but there's neighborhoods that completely aren't.

Lake city would be another good example of this. A few new apartment buildings have gone up on the main streets, but most of the place doesn't even have sidewalks and is just crumbling 1950s/60s development with some of the cheapest rent in the city and no one really moving in.
posted by emptythought at 6:02 PM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

San Bernardino isn't.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:44 AM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Minneapolis/St. Paul MN urban area apparently is not gentrifying.
...a new study [PDF] from the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity released this week seeks to debunk gentrification concerns. According to the data going back 15 years, by nearly any measure gentrification isn’t actually happening in core areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
posted by jillithd at 12:56 PM on January 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

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