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Race and Gentrification in Harlem, New York City Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 6th, 2020

Gentrification in such neighborhoods as Harlem in New York City is discussed as the significant social transformation process. The association between gentrification and race is supported by the public and researchers because gentrification is a result of the economic development of neighborhoods where African Americans traditionally live (Bernt 3045; Pearsall 2297). Thus, gentrification in Harlem is a result of the arrival of white wealthy residents to these territories (Pearsall 2298). However, the nature of gentrification is more complex, and many researchers state that the racial relations observed between whites and blacks are only the consequences of the politically stimulated gentrification (Bernt 3045; Freeman 2083; Redfern 2354). The purpose of this paper is to discuss the connections between race and gentrification with references to the review of the recent researches in the field. Although the issue of race is often discussed as crucial to influence gentrification, race is only one among many factors used to describe gentrification because this complex social, economic, and political process is directly associated with investment in neighborhoods, promotion of the districts’ productivity, and housing policies.

Gentrification is initiated as the political process in order to improve the progress of concrete urban territories and affect them with the help of policies. In his article, Bernt supports the idea that gentrification is a mainly political process which is based on the promotion of different public policies oriented to developing the neighborhoods, as it is in Harlem of New York City. Focusing on the history of forming Harlem and on developing gentrification processes in the neighborhoods, the researcher applies Polanyi’s concept of a ‘double movement’ to the discussion in order to support the main hypothesis (Bernt 3047). According to Bernt, many public policies are designed in order to stimulate market forces in the neighborhoods and contribute to the urban development (Bernt 3045). The negative results of these processes are the changes in the social life of residents. That is why, African Americans living in Harlem become the first residents who are affected by the developing gentrification and who try to oppose the changes in the racial pattern of the districts.

The local government of New York City pays much attention to investing into the development of Harlem in order to support different segments of the market in the neighborhood. The increased investment leads to gentrification in the form of social and economic changes in the districts. Blacks and whites become involved in the process, and gentrification is discussed in the racial context. According to Freeman, gentrification is the process which affects not concrete racial groups, but social classes. The author states in his research that gentrification in the United States is associated with increasing the racial segregation because African Americans are often vulnerable while facing the economic results of gentrification (Freeman 2083). The diversity of neighborhoods increases because of changes in the social pattern of these districts. From this point, gentrification is based on the social and economic factors rather than on the factor of race.

The next aim of the governors who support gentrification is the increase in the urban productivity because the neighborhoods inhabited by African Americans usually demonstrate low rates in relation to the economic progress. The purpose of Pearsall’s research was to understand the origin of the African Americans’ resistance to gentrification. In his research, Pearsall analyzes gentrification from the perspective of the rent gap theory and with the focus on redevelopment programs used by the American governors to improve the urban productivity. The author found that many people, including African Americans living in the New York City’s neighborhoods resisted to gentrification because it changed social relations while affecting racial ones (Pearsall 2297). Furthermore, gentrification became the method to realize the urban sustainability plans and increase productivity of the regions (Pearsall 2298). From this perspective, the idea of race plays the key role while discussing residents who become involved in gentrification processes.

The development of the housing market and changes in the home equity gains associated with gentrification are the main causes of the racial conflict observed in such neighborhoods as Harlem. While prioritizing the role of economic and public issues in promoting gentrification, the researchers discuss race as one of the factors to describe the problem. That is why, the change in the housing market is often presented as one of the main characteristics of gentrification. According to Glick’s conclusions based on linking gentrification and wealth, the processes of gentrification are associated with significant increases in home equity gains, and black residents become affected most because of the impossibility to rent houses anymore (Glick 280). The racial disparity increases as well as the rates of migration to the other districts or cities. Glick states that gentrification is ‘racialized’ in a way because it is impossible to ignore the changes experienced by African Americans (Glick 285). Race becomes the framework to discuss the economic problem in detail. Glick’s ideas are also reflected in the visions presented by Goetz. Thus, Goetz conducted the research to discuss the racial dimension as the important factor to explain the economic changes. According to the researcher, gentrification is usually associated with the racial turnover in the neighborhoods, and it leads to reducing poverty (Goetz 1586). To support the idea that race is important for gentrification in the United States, Goetz refers to the economic data related to public housing, supporting the fact that the dynamics of gentrification depend on investment and administrators’ plans in relation to reductions of poverty at these territories.

Such researchers as Redfern, Lees, and Boyd chose to look at the problem of race in the gentrification process more thoroughly. Nevertheless, these researchers also state that the racial turnover, racial conflict, and any other changes involving the racial issues are only the side effects of the policies and programs promoting gentrification (Boyd 758; Lees 160; Redfern 2354). In this case, the race matters while discussing the actual relations between African Americans and white Americans which are the result of the supported gentrification. In his article, Redfern tries to answer the question about the nature of gentrification. Having conducted the theoretical research in the field, Redfern states that differences in the social status and the focus on the housing problem are the main features to characterize gentrification. The author also uses the term of ‘otherness’ in order to distinguish between gentrifiers, suburbanites, and displacees who differ in their financial status (Redfern 2354). In this case, the race can be discussed as only one dimension of the social and economic ‘otherness’ of the residents in neighborhoods.

Racial disparities lead to intensifying gentrification. The ideas similar to Redfern’s visions are presented in the article by Boyd. According to Boyd, the racial conflict plays the significant role in gentrification because blacks and whites are the main actors who are involved in the process in such neighborhoods as Harlem. While developing the discussion, Boyd notes that the production debates and the housing issues develop at the background of the complex racial conflict, but this conflict only describes the social situation in the neighborhoods (Boyd 758). Thus, Boyd operates the idea of ‘defensive development’ while discussing the problem (Boyd 760). Following Boyd’s visions, it is possible to discuss the racial conflict in the context of the socio-economic conflict of interests which involves the African Americans and white Americans because of differences in their status. As it was noted by Pearsall, in order to prevent any negative changes in their position, the African Americans resist to gentrification as the threat to their economic state (Pearsall 2293). Blacks and whites have to live in the neighborhoods which are reconstructed under the impact of gentrification. As a result, racial conflicts are obvious. However, these conflicts are only the post-effects of the implemented urban policy.

Race and gentrification are the notions which became directly associated because such territories as Harlem are gentrified with the focus on the arrival of many white residents who have higher incomes and more opportunities to contribute to the development of districts. However, gentrification is based not on the racial factor, but on the economic one. In the article, Lees presents the results of the qualitative research the purpose of which was to discuss the process of gentrification in the contexts of the Global North and Global South. Lees found that gentrification was a result of the process’s development based on the contemporary urban theories (Lees 155). Referring to the principles of comparative urbanism, the author noted that gentrification was based on a range of urban policies promoting it as well as on the economic differences. According to Lees, only the policy-making process is significant to discuss the development of gentrification in different regions (Lees 160). That is why, references to race while discussing gentrification can be considered as reasonable only when researchers focus on the progress of gentrification in the concrete region or neighborhood.

Gentrification cannot be discussed as the natural process based on the race factor because gentrification is the complex economic and social process which is a result of the developed policies promoted by governments in order to affect the productivity of the districts. From this point, in spite of the fact that gentrification and race are the connected notions, the association is only the result of the fact that the gentrified territories are usually districts where the racial disparity becomes the problem. Referring to the example of Harlem in New York City, it is important to note that the racial conflict between the African Americans and white Americans is the characteristic feature of the gentrification process in the neighborhood. Nevertheless, this factor helps to explain the laws of the process only in this concrete situation because there are many regions when gentrification solely depends on the economic differences. The researchers state that racial conflicts are only the side effects of gentrification as the political and economic process because the changes in the class status can lead to racism and shifts in the role of African Americans in neighborhoods.

Works Cited

Bernt, Matthias. “The ‘Double Movements’ of Neighbourhood Change: Gentrification and Public Policy in Harlem and Prenzlauer Berg”. Urban Studies 49.14 (2012): 3045-3062. Print.

Boyd, Michelle. “Defensive Development: The Role of Racial Conflict in Gentrification”. Urban Affairs Review 43.6 (2008): 751-776. Print.

Freeman, Lance. “Neighbourhood Diversity, Metropolitan Segregation and Gentrification: What Are the Links in the US?” Urban Studies 46.10 (2009): 2079-2101. Print.

Glick, Jonathan. “Gentrification and the Racialized Geography of Home Equity”. Urban Affairs Review 44.2 (2008): 280-295. Print.

Goetz, Edward. “Gentrification in Black and White: The Racial Impact of Public Housing Demolition in American Cities”. Urban Studies 48.8 (2011): 1581-1604. Print.

Lees, Loretta. “The Geography of Gentrification: Thinking through Comparative Urbanism”. Progress in Human Geography 36.2 (2012): 155–171. Print.

Pearsall, Hamil. “Superfund Me: A Study of Resistance to Gentrification in New York City”. Urban Studies 50.11 (2013): 2293-2310. Print.

Redfern, Paul. “What Makes Gentrification ‘Gentrification’?” Urban Studies 40.12 (2003): 2351–2366. Print.

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