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How were Neighborhoods made gentrifiable?

Tue, Oct 22, 2019    1pm

The causes and consequences of gentrification are well-studied, the conditions that make neighbor- hoods vulnerable to gentrification have been considered less frequently. I consider the following def- inition: a gentrifiable neighborhood features attractive physical amenities and is home low-income or otherwise marginalized communities. Such neighborhoods are rare. Throughout US history, attractive neighborhoods are generally home to wealthy residents (Lee & Lin, 2018). This paper explores the creation of gentrifiable neighborhoods through the expansion of polluting industry, housing policy and financing, and the siting of freeways. These actions diminished the amenities in once-attractive locations, lowering the quality of life as well as the price of housing. Price-sensitive families—especially the internal migrants of the Great Migration, and later immigrants following the Hart-Celler Act—were obliged to call them home. At the same time, parallel policies of in- vestment favored white neighborhoods both in central neighborhoods and in exclusionary suburbs, especially prior to the Civil Rights movement and the Fair Housing Act. By the late 1900s, many of the features tamping down most firmly on the quality of life were removed. The flight of industry, the passing of the EPA, and the increase in suburban commute time gave central neighborhoods a leg up—and thus they were made gentrifiable.

Devin Michelle Bunten is a writer and economist. Her research uses economic theory and empirical tools to study a range of urban topics, including gentrification and neighborhood change, restrictive zoning, and the white supremacist history and present of housing policy. In addition to her own research, she teaches courses on “Housing Markets, Policy, and Social Stratification” (11.S946) and “Microeconomics /Planning Economics” (11.203/11.202) at MIT. Previously, she was an economist at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, DC and completed a PhD (UCLA, 2016) and an MA (Colorado State, 2010) in economics. Her BA (University of Colorado-Denver, 2005) was in film studies. She also helped co-found the group Abundant Housing Los Angeles to organize for more housing production in the LA region.