Gentrification in Houston’s Rapidly Changing East End

Two approaches to redevelopment reveal the nuances of gentrification and neighborhood change.

2 minute read

December 15, 2022, 7:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Dirt lot with construction cranes and parked cars with downtown Houston skyline in background

Construction on the East River project in Houston. | Google Maps / East River project, Houston, Texas

In an essay adapted from his book Place and Prosperity: How Cities Help Us To Connect And Innovate and published on Next City, William Fulton describes two approaches to development in the East End, a quickly gentrifying neighborhood in Houston, Texas.

Fulton describes the area’s history as “a traditionally Hispanic neighborhood that used to be a bustling center of blue-collar business and manufacturing” and its recent and rapid transformation. Today, the neighborhood is served by a light rail line that provides a fast link to downtown Houston, and developers are building new housing.

The two projects highlighted by Fulton in this piece show two approaches to redeveloping properties in the East End. One is a sprawling mixed-use development located on the site of a former engineering complex, “perhaps the largest vacant site in any urban location in the United States.” The developer plans to mitigate the negative impacts of the project through actions outlined in a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), a legal commitment to provide assistance to specific community causes.

The second project, run by the Concept Neighborhood group, focuses on retrofitting old buildings to house small, local businesses. Commercial tenants are charged rent on a sliding scale based on their sales. Despite these efforts to keep prosperity in the neighborhood, Fulton points out that the developers acknowledge “The value of their property will go up no matter what, to the detriment of some local residents.”

For Fulton, this illustrates the core conundrum of what we call gentrification. “Places are improved by prosperity — indeed, places cannot thrive without prosperity. But in a society with deepening inequality, places (and people) can also be overrun by prosperity.” In Fulton’s view, “The question is not how to deflect investment – but, rather, how to ensure it benefits people who live in the neighborhood already as well as newcomers.”

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