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Bearded, plaid-draped hipsters slink into newly established artisanal coffee roasters, pop-up art galleries, and barbershop-bars in a neighborhood once dotted with vacant storefronts. To the casual observer, this overwrought caricature smacks of gentrification. But, gentrification is a bit like obscenity: blatantly obvious once observed, far more difficult to systematically define and measure.
The definition of gentrification—like any good concept in sociology—remains contested. To varying extents, many definitions suggest that gentrification is a process whereby an influx of new residents, accompanied by the service providers they attract and demand, replace and displace longstanding residents, businesses, and social institutions. The result of this process is the changing demographic profile of neighborhood residents along dimensions of wealth, race, and educational status, increasing property values (with corresponding increases in rents), and changes to the neighborhood business environment. Defined thusly, gentrification appears to be a complex process that requires not only a consideration of the shifting demographic profile within a neighborhood but also changes in local economic and built environments.