Do Gentrifying Neighbourhoods Have Less Community? Evidence from Philadelphia

Do Gentrifying Neighbourhoods Have Less Community? Evidence from Philadelphia


Written by:

Joseph Gibbons, Michael S Barton and Timothy T Reling

First Published:

20 Mar 2019, 5:12 am


Do Gentrifying Neighbourhoods Have Less Community? Evidence from Philadelphia


Whether gentrification is good, bad or unimportant has been hotly debated among academics, policy makers and residents of neighbourhoods perceived to be experiencing gentrification. An important discussion point in many of these debates has been whether gentrification adversely affects residents’ sense of neighbourhood community connection: their sense of neighbourhood belongingness, trust of – and willingness to cooperate with neighbours. The potential weakening of neighbourhood community is a concern, given previous research has suggested that social problems such as crime and low self-rated health are higher in neighbourhoods with weaker community.

If the general phenomenon of gentrification is potentially associated with a loss of neighbourhood community, a further question is whether all forms of gentrification are the same in this regard. Pertinent here is that, while scholars have provided a wealth of information regarding the impact of gentrification on local communities, many of these efforts have been restricted to examining non-Hispanic White in-migration to mostly non-White neighbourhoods, leaving one to speculate on the effects of other racial variations of gentrification. Furthermore, previous studies have often focused upon a relatively small number of neighbourhoods, raising concerns regarding the generalisability of their findings.

Our study sought to advance research on the association of gentrification with local community strength by examining differences among racial/ethnic variations of gentrification with regards to community connection. Our core argument is that, despite the evidence to suggest gentrification was negatively associated with neighbourhood community, there is reason to believe gentrification might have been positively associated with neighbourhood community depending upon the racial/ethnic composition of gentrifiers and incumbent residents.  In particular, scholars have recently acknowledged the importance of urban renewal brought about by the influx of middle-class Black-gentrifiers to lower-class Black neighbourhoods. Such research has emphasised that incumbent residents of these gentrifying neighbourhoods were more receptive to Black-gentrifiers than White-gentrifiers due to a shared sense of racial identity, strengthening the overall sense of neighbourhood community despite the potential for socio-economic differences between gentrifying and incumbent residents to limit social ties.  To assess this claim, we analysed variation in local community across gentrifying and non-gentrifying neighbourhoods in Philadelphia using the 2014/2015 wave of the Public Health Management Corporation’s (PHMC) Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey. The selection of Philadelphia as a case study was important because Philadelphia has experienced substantial gentrification over the past decade.

We found neighbourhood community tended to be lower in neighbourhoods that experienced gentrification as has been highlighted so frequently in qualitative research on gentrification. We also, however, found the relationship of neighbourhood community with gentrification varied by the racial/ethnic turnover underlying the changes taking place in these neighbourhoods. Specifically, we found gentrification marked by increases in Whites and decreases in non-Whites had no measurable relation with neighbourhood community, gentrification marked by increases of non-Whites alone had a positive effect on neighbourhood community for Black and Hispanic residents, and gentrifying neighbourhoods that experienced an increase in both Whites and non-Whites had a negative overall relation with neighbourhood community. Though observational in nature, we believe the implications of our research may stimulate larger discussions aimed at refining gentrification measures to allow for contextual examinations of gentrification.


Read the paper on Urban Studies – OnlineFirst here.