Are the social costs too high?

Executive Summary

Cities across the United States, from Boston to Seattle and San Francisco, are grappling with the consequences of gentrification as growth industries attract highly paid professionals. The influx of these professionals into urban neighborhoods pushes up housing costs and pushes out longtime residents. This surge in gentrification has prompted a debate: Supporters say the trend reflects a strong economy and the natural evolution of cities, while critics cite the social costs, such as rising inequality and changes in the character of neighborhoods. The consequences have included growing protests over perceived harbingers of gentrification, such as new coffee shops or bicycle lanes, and demands for a more controlled process of urban development.

Key takeaways include:

  • The rate of gentrification in lower-income U.S. neighborhoods has doubled in the past 15 years.

  • Cities once eager to grant incentives for corporate relocations are reconsidering such policies.

  • Some companies are seeking to mitigate their role in gentrification by offering funding for programs to help displaced residents.

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Resources for Further Study



Florida, Richard, “The New Urban Crisis,” Basic Books, 2017. A University of Toronto professor and senior editor at the Atlantic magazine looks at winner-take-all gentrifying cities and offers ideas on making cities capable of providing prosperity for everyone.

Hyra, Derek S., “Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City,” University of Chicago Press, 2017. An American University public policy professor who previously studied gentrification in Harlem and Bronxville assesses changes in Washington’s Shaw neighborhood.

Moscovitz, Peter, “How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality and the Fight for the Neighborhood,” Hachette Books, 2017. A Brooklyn-born journalist uncovers the causes and impact of gentrification in four U.S. cities and offers solutions on how residents can get their power back.

Schlichtman, John Joe, Jason Patch and Marc Lamont Hill, “Gentrifier,” University of Toronto Press, 2017. Three professors look at the United States’ fastest-growing cities from the viewpoints of both academics and gentrifiers.


Bousquet, Chris, “Using Mapping to Understand Gentrification, Prevent Displacement,” Government Technology Magazine, June 6, 2017, A researcher explains how some cities have found mapping to be a good way to identify gentrification trends and intervene before low-income residents are affected.

Cortright, Joe, “In Defense of Gentrification,” The Atlantic, Oct. 31, 2015, A journalist highlights research showing gentrification displaces fewer low-income families than generally thought and that residents of public housing in gentrified areas experience higher incomes and less violence.

Ellis, Emma Grey, “How Those Tech Campuses Hinder Diversity and Help Gentrification,” Wired, Feb. 18, 2017, A tech writer shows how enclosed campuses of companies such as Google and Facebook, with their private stores and amenities, can make gentrification worse.

Fuller, Thomas, “San Francisco Asks: Where Have All the Children Gone?” The New York Times, Jan. 21, 2017, A journalist highlights how gentrification has led to fewer kids and families living in San Francisco.

Maciag, Mike, “Gentrification in America Report,” Governing, February 2015, Census tract data from 2015 yield an exhaustive look at the U.S. gentrification boom.

Reports and Studies

Baum-Snow, Nathaniel, and Daniel Hartley, “Accounting for Central Neighborhood Change, 1980- 2010,” Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, September 2016, Researchers study why so many affluent, college-educated whites have returned to urban living.

Edlund, Lena, Cecilia Machado and Maria Micaela Sviatschi, “Bright Minds, Big Rent: Gentrification and Returning Rewards to Skill,” National Bureau of Economic Research, November 2015, Economists argue that a reduced tolerance for long commutes is one reason so many professionals are returning to the city to live.

Ellen, Ingrid Gould, Keren Mertens Horn and Davin Reed, “Has Falling Crime Invited Gentrification?” New York University Furman Center, Oct. 18, 2016, Researchers find falling crime has led to gentrification, as more whites gravitate to low-income neighborhoods near the central business district when they perceive them as safer.

Naik, Nikhil, et al., “Computer vision uncovers predictors of physical urban change,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, May 25, 2017, Researchers from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology use artificial intelligence to predict gentrification via Google Street View.

Wachsmuth, David, and Alexander Weisler, “Airbnb and the Rent Gap: Gentrification Through the Sharing Economy,” McGill University School of Planning, July 4, 2017, Two urbanologists quantify the impact Airbnb is having on rents in New York City.

The Next Step


Dai, Serena, “Locals Blast Crown Heights Bar as ‘Racist’ With Signs on Nostrand Avenue,” Eater New York, July 19, 2017, After a new “boozy sandwich shop,” Summerhill, in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, bragged about fake bullet holes as décor, incensed locals plastered the street nearby with signs declaring the establishment “racist,” “colonialist” and a “gentrifier.”

Kilkenny, Katie, “A Brief History of the Coffee Shop as a Symbol for Gentrification,” Pacific Standard, July 25, 2017, The arrival of high-end coffee shops often signals an incoming wave of gentrification to neighborhood residents, even though scholars remain divided on whether the trend actually influences housing costs.

Scheinin, Richard, “Real estate: Developer describes ‘epic’ impact of Google’s downtown San Jose plans,” The Mercury News, Aug. 14, 2017, Large tech businesses such as Google and Adobe are proposing development plans that would completely remake downtown San Jose.


Friedersdorf, Conor, “How Venice Beach Became a Neighborhood for the Wealthy,” The Atlantic, July 24, 2017, Residents of many Los Angeles districts and neighborhoods are growing increasingly irritated by large projects and subsequent changes caused by developers. Communities are forcing development projects to scale back, but have been unable to stop them altogether.

Hui, Mary, “D.C. cultural activist fights to preserve black art, history in gentrifying Southeast,” The Washington Post, Aug. 14, 2017, A Washington native, artist, curator and longtime cultural activist in the local arts community has launched Made East River, a directory of artists and creative services offered in Wards 7 and 8, areas facing encroaching gentrification. Made East River aims to help residents preserve their culture despite the risk of displacement from gentrification.

Rodriguez, Joe Fitzgerald, “Mission advocates resist bikeshare push, point to existing community programs,” San Francisco Examiner, Aug. 13, 2017, Some residents of the predominantly Latino Mission district of San Francisco have asked the bike share program Ford GoBike to stop putting new stations in their neighborhood. Groups representing the community say they fear the program would add to already increasing gentrification in the area.


Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th St., S.W., Washington, DC 20410
Federal department that administers housing programs and oversees community development assistance programs.

Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies
1 Bow St., Suite 400, Cambridge, MA 02138
Policy group that researches housing trends, policies and markets, known for annual affordability study.

Historic District Development Corporation
522 Auburn Ave., N.E., Atlanta, GA 30312
Community development group dedicated to the preservation, revitalization and non-displacement of residents in the Martin Luther King Jr. historical district in Atlanta.

LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation)
501 7th Ave., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10018
Nonprofit that provides assistance to community organizations and public entities focused on the redevelopment of urban and rural neighborhoods.

National Association of Realtors
430 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611-4087
Industry group that provides research and statistics on real estate.

San Francisco Planning Department
1650 Mission St., Suite 400, San Francisco, CA 94103-2479
City department tasked with regulating building and zoning in San Francisco.

DOI: 10.1177/237455680325.n1