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Study reveals surprising results about Detroit gentrification

John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Home and Consumer News

DETROIT -- A new study challenges the notion that Detroit is rapidly gentrifying and even that gentrification is as harmful as many believe.

Indeed, the analysis by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia is one of several lately that see more positives than negatives in the changing nature of many urban neighborhoods.

The findings are undoubtedly controversial at a time when many cities are debating the impact of neighborhood change.

"Concern that gentrification displaces or otherwise harms original neighborhood residents has featured prominently in the rise of urban NIMBYism and the return of rent control as a major policy option," authors Quentin Brummet and Davin Reed write in their study titled "The Effects of Gentrification on the Well-Being and Opportunity of Original Resident Adults and Children."

But, they continue, "Overall, we find that many original residents, including the most disadvantaged, are able to remain in gentrifying neighborhoods and share in any neighborhood improvements. Perhaps most importantly, low-income neighborhoods that gentrify appear to improve along a number of dimensions known to be correlated with opportunity, and many children are able to remain in these neighborhoods."

In a finding that many Detroiters may find surprising, the authors say that Detroit has hardly gentrified at all so far. Of the 1,000 census tracts around the country that have gentrified the most, only two are in Detroit, both in the Midtown area, as measured by the influx of college-educated adults. That's less than 1% of the potential census tracts in Detroit.

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The contrast with several other major cities is stark, Reed said in a phone conversation.

"It's not saying that change isn't happening in more than two places in Detroit," Reed said in a phone interview. "It's saying it's not happening at the same scale that it's occurring in D.C. or Portland or Seattle. Certainly, people can be concerned about what's changing Detroit but it's just not at the same scale as it's happening elsewhere."

Specific findings

First, the authors found that when neighborhoods gentrify, they improve in many ways known to be beneficial for children, such as seeing lower poverty rates and better schools. And they found that many original resident children, including the least advantaged, are able to stay and benefit from those changes.

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