Gentrify is wrong
The term gentrification suggests an upward shift in social strata. The term gentrify is applied to low income and ethnic neighborhoods that experience an influx of high salary ‘white’ folks that is then associated with a rise in housing prices.
In looking closely at Venice, California and three neighborhoods in San Francisco, I find that the terminology is wrong. Gentrification is not what is happening. There can be a rapid rise in the average price of homes due to an influx of higher salary newcomers but I don’t find an upward shift in social strata or social-strata related aesthetics.
What I do see instead is that the influx of a small number of newcomers, maybe 2% of the neighborhood, drives up home prices. The newcomers drive up the prices because they create a sense of chic or safety that improves potential new home buyer’s perceptions of the whole neighborhood. They also bring into the neighborhood home speculators who transform dumps and eyesores into appealing marketable homes.
The indigenous neighbors become aware of the increase in the value of their houses and they respond to this stimulus by copying some of the aesthetic changes the newcomers made. Customarily the indigenous neighbors paint the outside of their houses, improve the landscaping, plant street trees and implement a few other very low cost improvements. The neighborhood remains pretty much the same demographically but it looks much more cared for.
What we have is a rising tide phenomenon, where very little change in social composition of a neighborhood results in significant changes in the outward appearance of the neighborhood.
From that point on, the change that occurs is driven by landlords improving their buildings to raise the rent of tenants. A continued pressure to raise average home prices.
Of course none of this happens near a traditional public housing project because the neighbors are mostly tenants not owners.
A new word is needed to replace gentrify. Suggestions?