As African Americans warily eye the encroachment of whites into traditionally Black neighborhoods across the country, the phenomenon has sparked a national debate about the harm that gentrification can visit upon Black communities. Social media even invented a term for the white tendency to excitedly make new discoveries when living around Blacks: “Columbusing.”
But while creeping gentrification has previously been more of a vague feeling, a sense that the neighborhood is changing, a new study by the nonprofit Citizens Housing and Planning Council has actually documented the growth of gentrification over the last decade in New York City. The CHPC study traced the slow but radical transformation of the nation’s largest city into a place that contains largely the rich and the poor.
Middle-class Blacks fled the city between 2000 and 2010, while rich white neighborhoods become even more predominantly white. The number of poor Hispanics in the city increased and large numbers of wealthy white singles moved into previously “racially diverse” neighborhoods—the very definition of gentrification. It turns out Spike Lee was right.
“You can’t discover this!” Lee said back in February at Pratt Institute. “We been here. You just can’t come and bogart.”
The CHPC study is differentiated from other studies of population shifts because it looked at actual living patterns, rather than defined neighborhoods by arbitrary, government-created community districts or legislative lines.
“All New Yorkers can recognize changes to their neighborhood and their city. Old
neighbors move away; new people arrive; unfamiliar languages are suddenly heard
on the streets; subway stops are more crowded with new faces; favorite shops are
replaced by new ones, which quickly become part of the landscape,” the authors say in the report, which was directed by lead researcher Raisa Bahchieva. “Some communities experience change through absence and loss, others through gains and discovery. And New Yorkers recognize these changes without the benefit of demographic studies. They know that their neighborhoods aren’t defined by maps of community districts or legislative lines. It is the people living in a neighborhood who shape its identity—they make the neighborhood.”
The researchers found that between 2000 and 2010, the city experienced a 5 percent drop in its Black population, with the loss concentrated in previously middle- to high-income neighborhoods like Hollis and Jamaica, Queens, and East Flatbush, Brooklyn, which became considerably poorer over the decade.
As for whites, the overall white population decreased 3 percent between 2000 and 2010, which was actually a smaller decrease than in past studies. But the middle-income white population plunged by a third—clear evidence that the high rents forced them out of the city. While middle-income whites decreased by a third, high-income whites increased 44 percent, which was the largest population increase of any cluster.
The report paints a picture of a city that has strayed far from its beginnings as the home of working class and middle class families trying to make a living amid the fast-paced streets and more leafy suburbs. It’s now about the rich slowly expanding their reach, pricing everyone else out of the more desirable neighborhoods—while the poor just get poorer.