Defining gentrification and gentrifier with moral dimensions

A new academic book on gentrification suggests the term – and the people involved in bringing about the process – may not be so easy to define:

According to Jason Patch, co-author of the book “Gentrifier” and associate professor at Roger Williams University, it is the reinvestment into a devalued neighborhood to create a new residential and commercial infrastructure for middle- and high-income residents…

“The assignment of the term ‘gentrifier’ becomes sticky only when we assign moral weight to the term. And many do so,” writes John Joe Schlichtman, an associate professor in the sociology department at DePaul University, in “Gentrifier.” Schlichtman is a co-author of the book, alongside Patch and Marc Lamont Hill. “Our interpretation of others’ gentrification is inevitably and inextricably tied in some way to our understanding of our own housing choices.”

According to Schlichtman, gentrification need not depend on the misplaced motives of housing consumers. To be a gentrifier is to be a middle-class housing consumer investing in a disinvested area in a period during which a critical mass of others are doing the same. This investment exerts pressure on the neighborhood — in the form of rising rents, or perhaps a shift in the nature of local policing, a change in the rhythms of the neighborhood, and so on.

“Yes, there could be gentrifiers with bad motives out there, but you don’t have to have bad motives to be a gentrifier,” Schlichtman said in an interview. “We need to take the depth of ethical and moral disgust out of the name gentrifier so that we can get people together and say this is something that we are a part of, but it’s also something that is bigger than us. … So how do we move forward?”

 

Some of the context that is important to know for why using the term “gentrifier” matters is explained in my recent post on residential segregation and race. Gentrification is not just about new, wealthier residents moving into a neighborhood; it involves race, class, and the history of housing in the United States.

Additionally, it strikes me that gentrification/gentrifier are words that function similarly to McMansion: in regular conversation, there is little positive implied by any of these words.

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