Demographic Displacement: Fact or Fiction?

Plowing through an abundant amount of literature, I stumbled upon an interesting piece of scholarship that casted a different light on gentrification’s most notorious offspring: Displacement.

As an influx of wealthier residents – and the new businesses that cater to them – moves into Bedford-Stuyvesant, the generally held belief is that low-income residents are ultimately pushed out.

However, some experts on the subject argue that this assumption may be based on casual observations versus comprehensive quantitative evidence and, in fact, the numbers of those actually displaced has been a difficult occurrence to track.

In 2003, Lance Freeman, associate professor of urban planning at Columbia University, and Frank Braconi, adjunct professor of real estate at New York University, conducted a study to find the level of displacement between 1990 and 1999 that occurred in a number of gentrifying New York neighborhoods: Chelsea, Harlem, the Lower East Side, and Morningside Heights in Manhattan and Fort Greene, Park Slope and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

In his book, There Goes the ’Hood, Freeman discussed the unexpected results of his research. The study examined residential mobility among disadvantaged households in New York using the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey. According to Freeman, Poor residents and those without a college education were actually less likely to move if they resided in gentrifying neighborhoods.”

The results suggest that displacement and residential mobility play little if any role at all in gentrifying neighborhoods, but instead demographic change was a result of “normal succession.” In other words, this shift can occur as a result of a move out of the neighborhood stemming anywhere, from a new union or an addition to the family, to a father moving his family to a new state.

Freeman and Braconi’s research is not the lone bearer of startling news. In 2001, Jacob Vigdor, professor of public policy and economics at Duke University, found similar results after analyzing Boston neighborhoods. In a conversation with Freeman his personal sentiment was that while displacement due to gentrification is still plausible, his research showed otherwise.

For many people, these findings are not aligned with what they are experiencing in Bed-Stuy. Note that Freeman and Braconi’s research was focused solely on low-income residents. However, the discussion of gentrification and displacement can affect a neighborhood in a multitude of ways, many of which I will explore in my next column.

This article originally appeared in Bed-Stuy Patch as part of the gentrification column Change for a Dollar.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.