The term "gentrification" carries with it a substantial cargo of economic, social, and racial baggage. In general, it is a pejorative and Completed renovation of a vacant homeCompleted renovation of a vacant homeloaded word used to describe what might otherwise be seen as positive changes in a challenged neighborhood: increased investment in homes and influx of middle-class and wealthy occupants.

The negative aspect of gentrification is, of course, "displacement"

The Displacement Dilemma

In order to be adequately parsed, displacement due to gentrification must be subdivided into several categories:

  1. Displacement of homeowners due to rising property values - As properties are renovated, rising property values may impact long-term homeowners on fixed incomes who find themselves unable to keep up with property taxes.
  2. Displacement of renters due to rising rents - Increased property values, more desirable properties, and increased competition may lead to rent increases that existing tenants cannot accommodate.
  3. Displacement of minorities due to changing neighborhood demographics - Racial, religious, and social minorities may feel excluded or unwelcome in their own neighborhoods as the population demographics change.
  4. Displacement of poor families due to changes in available goods and services - As neighborhood economics change, so change the types of stores and services available to neighborhood residents.
  5. Displacement of criminals due to increased crime reporting and police response - With wealth comes political power, including the ability to do things like hire private security and influence resource allocation.

Clearly some of these categories are neutral, some good, and some negative. For example it may benefit one neighborhood to push criminal activity elsewhere, but unless the underlying issues are dealt with, it is a zero-sum game. Some other, less fortunate neighborhood will see an increase in crime.

Gentrification is sometimes associated with the creation of historic districts, but it doesn't have to be. Indeed, the antidote to gentrification is community development - community development is the process of revitalization from within, utilizing the intrinsic assets of a neighborhood (including the talents and skills of its residents) to promote sustainable positive change. Neighborhood assets can include but are not limited to its institutions, longtime residents, community activists, infrastructure, history, parks, schools, connections to other neighborhoods, proximity to regional assets.

Historic buildings are a great foundation upon which to build a long-term revitalization strategy. Not only can they provide a physical rallying point for organizing efforts, but the process of uncovering a neighborhood's individual story by definition encourages people to find common ground. Historic district designation brings with it the potential for outside investment to help restore the physical environment. Renovation work itself can provide jobs for neighborhood residents.

Gentrification occurs when people from outside a neighborhood recognize its potential before the people within.


Thanks for writing this article! What neighborhoods are currently in a bohemian or gentrified stage in Des Moines?

Smith | Nov 30th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

There are several key neighborhoods that are moving from distressed to desirable - Sherman Hill and Drake are two great examples. The City's NRP (Neighborhood Revitalization Program) does a good job of helping to reduce the effects of "gentrification" and turn it into true community development by building capacity from within the neighborhood rather than looking to oust current residents. That said, changing economics of desirable location and housing stock can shift the overall affordability of a neighborhood.

It's not an easy question to answer.

DMPerspective | Jan 24th, 2012 at 9:34 am

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