You know the old saying, "There goes the neighborhood"? In today's urban American real estate climate, it's more likely to mean that yuppies are moving into a lower-income neighborhood which ultimately will succumb to higher real estate prices, than that a neighborhood is becoming blighted by crime.
Pockets of my own neighborhood are getting gentrified, and I wanted to learn more about how the process played out in other neighborhoods. I interviewed three experts in urban gentrification research, who told me stories about 10 neighborhoods and enclaves that were redefined by gentrification. What I learned is that the process is complex, and rarely (but occasionally) totally changes the character of a neighborhood or enclave. Did what they tell me make me less nervous about the possibility of getting priced out of my own neighborhood? Honestly, no. Still, it is interesting to see that the process of gentrification operates slightly differently in each city and enclave.
This list is just a sample of parts of cities that have been changed by "urban pioneers", real estate developers and commercial expansion. It's by no means exhaustive, and I invite you to discuss other gentrified neighborhoods and enclaves in the comments.
1. Andersonville, Chicago
"There were several different waves of gentrification," said Dr. Japonica Brown-Saracino, a faculty member in the department of Sociology at Boston University whose book A Neighborhood That Never Changes: Gentrification, Social Preservation, and the Search for Authenticity (The Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries Series of the University of Chicago Press, 2009) explores the Chicago neighborhoods Andersonville and Argyle.
Andersonville's retail strip has become a destination for gourmet eating and one-of-a-kind boutique shopping. It's also known as a destination for lesbians and to a lesser extent gay men. Dr. John Betancur, Associate Professor in the Department of Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, tells the story: "Andersonville has always been pretty much working-to-middle class…In that particular strip there was a large concentration of immigrants from Northern Europe, Swedish in particular. And therefore there was a strong Swedish identity and Swedish retail strip, but it was pretty much limited to that strip. The rest of the neighborhood had very different, distinct areas."
"First lesbians had moved in and participated in the gentrification of the neighborhood in the late 1970's early 1980's. After that the neighborhood started to become attractive to others. Artists moved in around the same time. Later more white, middle class families moved in and by the time that I was studying the neighborhood a lot of gay men had moved in and it was becoming quite expensive and more and more of a destination, whether it be for tourists or people within the city looking for a place to shop or go to dinner. So, on the one hand we could say it was sort of an organic process of resident-driven gentrification, but on the other hand there was a chamber of commerce, a coalition of business owners, that was really thinking about how to expand the commercial district of Andersonville to keep it hot and profitable. So they were strategically thinking about how to extend at least the neighborhood's commercial district north and south," Dr. Brown-Saracino said. She added that the city invested Neighborhoods Alive! funds to "beautify" streets and sidewalks.
According to Dr. Brown-Saracino, Andersonville has expanded into multiple portions of Uptown (to the south) and Edgewater (to the north). Neither has disappeared; they have just been made smaller by the changing boundaries.
"Uptown is a very racially diverse neighborhood in Chicago with a relatively high poverty rate with pockets of gentrification and pockets of concentrated poverty. The Argyle portion of Uptown has a [relatively large] population of Asian immigrants; a lot of Vietnamese and Chinese residents; a fair number of African Americans [and Latinos]; a long tradition of 'Lefty' activism in the neighborhood as well; and a lot of SRO's housing people with various disabilities," said Dr. Brown-Saracino. While some residents of Uptown have been pushed out by rising real estate prices, Dr. Brown-Saracino said that some of the housing there has remained affordable due to community activism.
2. Halsted Street North, Chicago
"Halsted Street North is a part of Lakeview, which used to be very much kind of deteriorated corridor and now it has become a destination for anyone who wants to go and have a night of gay life, or a day, because there is a clustering of gay-oriented retail, and that has made that strip change identity completely," said Dr. Betancur. "Now it is viewed as a gay enclave which is mostly because of the retail, not because of who lives there. It is a very expensive neighborhood and it's not a necessarily a residential gay enclave, it's more like a gay motif that gave identity to that strip," he said.
"It's also called 'Boys Town'. It goes from Belmont Street to Grace along Halsted Street –
a quite long strip. If you get out of that strip it is a whole different world. Clark Street, which is the next large thoroughfare and retail street west to it, is geared toward people who go to the Cubs games," said Dr. Betancur.
3. Pilsen, Chicago
"Pilsen is one of the best-known communities in Chicago and the last identity was Mexican, and before that the identity was Czechoslovakian. The east side of Pilsen has been very much gentrified and the main core and identity has been art," said Dr. Betancur.
"There was the formation of an art colony there that concentrated on open galleries that started doing shows and catered to the public. It became a cultural enclave destination within a Mexican neighborhood, carved out at the expense of Mexicans; now it's predominantly white. It didn't take the whole neighborhood, it took a corner of it," Dr. Betancur said.
4. Wicker Park, Chicago
"The real estate industry is big in changing the names of places," said Dr. Betancur. "Wicker Park is a section of a neighborhood in Chicago traditionally called 'West Town'. But the real estate people, as part of the effort to attract people to the neighborhood, focused in an area at the center of the neighborhood that was named after a local park, Wicker Park, and the name became better-known now than 'West Town', a much larger community area. In fact, for the most part people know where Wicker Park is but they don't know where West Town is, because West Town is a larger area. Wicker Park is like the heart of West Town. But the branding was so strong that it named the entire area as Wicker Park. It is an area in Chicago that has been totally gentrified. It is undergoing regentrification which means that the early gentrifiers (principally artists who developed a Bohemian style destination around the intersection of Milwaukee, North and Damen Avenues) could not afford to stay there and higher-income gentrifiers are replacing them," he said.
"Real estate agencies and gentrifiers use 'sexy' names, particularly including the name 'Park' or 'Village'. A strategy of the real estate industry is to give unique identities to a subsection and it becomes very much a new entity carved out of an old geography," said Dr. Betancur.
5. The West End, Boston
The West End in Boston "no longer exists," according to Herbert Gans, whose sociology classic Urban Villagers: Group and Class in the Life of Italian-Americans reports on the working-class immigrant community that dwelled there. The West End was an enclave of Boston's central business district, and was torn down between 1958 and 1960 "under the federal renewal program" (Gans, xiii). Though the West End was declared to be "a slum", Gans lived there for about two years, and did not judge it to be a slum. Nevertheless, the low-rent tenements of the West End were torn down and its predominantly Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrant residents dispersed across the city.
60 years later, the West End has faded from public memory. "I had an undergrad who decided to go and stand on a street corner in the neighborhood that was the West End and ask people, 'Do you know what neighborhood you're in?' and nobody said 'the West End'. Even public memory of the neighborhood and of what happened there is disappearing as well," said Dr. Brown-Saracino.
6. The Pearl District, Portland, OR
The Pearl District changed from a warehouse district to a Bohemian enclave to an expensive magnet for aging baby boomers. "It was all manufacturing and industrial space and really started from the ground up. It was not a central business district at all," said Steven Pedigo, Director of Research for the Creative Class Group, an economic think tank. "Up until the mid-90's it was warehouses…That neighborhood transformed really from arts and culture and bohemians. Portland has a reputation for being a very friendly place for the 'creative class'. The Pearl District is a neighborhood where because of its industrial space and its large loft-type spaces you started to see galleries pop up. With the galleries you started to see more restaurants. From there it has become really developed, from a housing development perspective. In fact what happened is, now the Pearl District is expensive," said Pedigo.
"What you now see is that a lot of artists and bohemians have left the Pearl District and it's now become an enclave for high end restaurants, high end boutiques. Not to say that the neighborhood is bad, but the fabric of the neighborhood is different…It's become very popular with [older] couples who have moved to Portland and are looking to down size. There are a large number of baby boomers in this area. So now you see these artists and Bohemians who were the first frontier-folks of this neighborhood have moved out because it became too expensive and now they are occupying areas in northeast Portland," said Pedigo.
7. U Street Corridor, Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. has had pronounced waves of gentrification, as young, educated people flock to its central business districts seeking amenities not available in the suburbs. According to Steven Pedigo, the U Street Corridor underwent a measurable wave of gentrification. "It was predominantly an African American neighborhood…U Street has a strong presence in art and culture. A lot of the old theaters are there…you had the bones of what used to be in its heyday, the 1950's and 1960's, a vibrant cultural central business district that over time had become run down. Because you still had the bones of this central business district in the way that it was laid out, and its proximity to these other more desirable areas, you had the bones for the transformation of a neighborhood," he said.
Pedigo said, "In the late 90's it was still ridden with crime. But what you saw around 2000, 2003, and 2004 was investment. People started to open up restaurants, some gallery space opened and some arts and culture spaces opened…with that came a huge new onslaught of new housing. This is happening in Washington, DC block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood."
Much like Chicago's Uptown, U Street is adjacent to a bustling epicenter for gay and lesbian life. Pedigo said, "U Street is near Dupont Circle. I think the gay and lesbian community played a huge part. As Dupont Circle became too expensive, you started to see these 'urban pioneers' push westward. Part of that is because of the proximity of that location to U Street. [That it was] less expensive made it possible for small business owners and entrepreneurs to make a play in that area."
8. SoHo, Manhattan
"SoHo is a name that was given to a large area but in reality the one that is identified with the galleries and all the boutiques and all the more trendy activities is not such a large area. It was either factories or warehouses that had been abandoned or were hosting sweatshops so they were just reoccupied. That is what some people call 'commercial gentrification'," said Dr. Betancur. Want to buy a loft in SoHo with a custom roof deck? There are plenty of renovated lofts there to buy, but they could cost you in the millions.
9. El Barrio, Harlem, Manhattan
Harlem made news in the past decade as real estate developers and yuppies discovered its treasure trove of Brownstones. The restoration of these Brownstones employs a fair number of NYC remodeling contractors (jobs are good), but has changed the identity of pockets of Harlem (displacement of lower-income residents). "There are sections of Harlem where you see a real displacement, however there isn't much of a crisis over displacement because Harlem is big and many of the people who are displaced from a corner find accommodation in the same Harlem in a different corner," said Dr. Betancur.
"There has been much more conflict in the Harlem where Puerto Ricans are, between Puerto Ricans and non-Puerto Ricans coming to gentrify; but it's also between Mexicans who are coming by the droves to live there and are slowly becoming [a] larger [presence] than Puerto Ricans, which is another kind of change. The area is branded as Puerto Rican and the Mexican branding has not come yet," said Dr. Betancur.
10. Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan
In the past 20 years, Hell's Kitchen (a neighborhood on the west side of mid-town Manhattan) has changed from a rough bastion for immigrants and low-rises to an area populated by high rise buildings and sky-high rents. Real estate developers like to call it "Clinton", after Dewitt Clinton Park, a park inside the enclave. (As Professor Betancur said, real estate developers like to name enclaves after parks.)
Thanks to Dr. Betancur, Dr. Brown-Saracino and Steven Pedigo for discussing gentrification with me. Have you witnessed gentrification in your neighborhood? What's your take on this kind of urban development? Please share your opinions and stories in the comments.