What's Race Got to Do with It? Looking for the Racial Dimensions of Gentrification

By Kirkland, Elizabeth | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

What's Race Got to Do with It? Looking for the Racial Dimensions of Gentrification


Kirkland, Elizabeth, The Western Journal of Black Studies


"White people walking their dogs." This simple sight has eyebrows raised and heads turning, in a predominantly black area of Nashville, Tennessee, which is said to be in the early stages of gentrification. The spotting of white dogwalkers--along with spanking new condos squeezed in between shotgun houses, a razed public housing project, and elegant crepe myrtles and street lamps newly planted alongside the once-bedraggled park--is heralding the vaguely familiar but undeniable transformation that is generally perceived to be, at least in part, racial. In urban lore, the pre-gentrified neighborhood is inhabited mostly by African Americans or other people of color when the rumblings of change begin, and the rumblers are typically white--white, upper middle-class, professional homebuyers, displacing the original residents.

It is, then, astounding that so very little of the scholarly endeavor around gentrification focuses on the issue of race. One might assume that much examination would have addressed the racial dimensions of gentrification, but one would be wrong. Although racial identity is frequently acknowledged in gentrification literature, race as a subject of direct inquiry and serious concern is conspicuously absent from many investigations of gentrification; it is even missing from most published definitions of the phenomenon. The result is that, urban lore notwithstanding, we know little of the ways in which the process of gentrification affects persons differentially depending upon their race, or of the degree to which gentrification supplements and exacerbates the historic and contemporary systems of racial residential segregation. This article reviews the relative handful of outright investigations of the racial implications and impacts of the gentrification process, and suggests that gentrification may well be found to play a significant role in perpetuating and supplementing the racist, segregating systems that have formed our residential landscape.

Definition of Gentrification

A considerable amount of time, space, and academic credential has been devoted to defining gentrification, since the term was first coined in the 1960s. In the course of scholarly investigation of this phenomenon, the definition has been refined in numerous ways, all of which incorporate an essential nod to gentrification's inherent class transformation. In The Encyclopedia of Housing, gentrification is explained as "the process by which central urban neighborhoods that have undergone disinvestment and economic decline experience a reversal, reinvestment, and the in-migration of a relatively well-off, middle- and upper-middle-class population" (Smith, 1998, p. 198). Likewise, gentrification has been defined as "the replacement of low-income, inner-city working-class residents by middle- or upper-class households, either through the market for existing housing or demolition to make way for new upscale housing construction" (Hammel and Wyly, 1996, p. 250). The concept encompasses nonresidential urban change as well, and may thus be expressed simply as "the production of urban space for progressively more affluent users" (Hackworth, 2002, p. 815). Gentrification is also characterized as fundamentally a struggle between a community's use value--the many facets of worth of the neighborhood to its original residents--and the exchange value of the property therein (Perez, 2004). Aside from abstract definitional phrases, academicians also refer to the more obvious, recognizable aspect of gentrification: a certain nebulous but know-it-when-you-see-it perspective that takes into account the lived experience and observations of urban dwellers and users. For example, the appearance of a Starbucks coffeeshop has been described as a siren of gentrification, and part of gentrification is the change in the essential character and flavor of a neighborhood (Kennedy and Leonard, 2001).

Regardless of the numerous and varied attempts at explaining the phenomenon that is gentrification, the literature continues to acknowledge the difficulty of defining gentrification, and the definitions themselves continue, for the most part, to omit reference to race and ethnicity.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

What's Race Got to Do with It? Looking for the Racial Dimensions of Gentrification
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?