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Is a Universal Metric for Gentrification Possible?

The Guardian’s new "Gentrified World" series tackles a fundamental—but tricky—question: How can we measure gentrification?
October 7, 2016, 6am PDT | Elana Eden
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Sean Pavone

Cities must be able to understand and measure gentrification in order to prevent displacement, impoverishment, and resegregation, writer Douglas Murphy argues in The Guardian. Rising housing costs are a beginning, but they're not a reliable indicator on their own. In a new Guardian series, "Gentrified World," Murphy surveys an array of variables researchers have identified to pin down gentrification.

Work from NYU, the Voorhees Center, UC Berkeley and UCLA's Urban Displacement Project, and elsewhere has suggested that proximity to transit stops, types of housing, education levels, and population density, as well as cultural phenomena like the presence of coffee shops, are all indicators of gentrification in progress.

But like other social and economic processes, while gentrification happens around the world, it often takes on locally or regionally specific dimensions.

For example, the particular character of American inequality means that race is frequently considered to be a major factor. The late 20th century saw the white middle classes largely abandoning the inner cities, and an increase of white residents is now taken to be a sure sign of gentrification. But this metric can’t apply in less politically segregated contexts.

Ultimately, Murphy posits that the same indicators, however varied, likely can't be applied uniformly everywhere:

The wide variety of research shows that a single, universal measurement of gentrification is probably impossible, with all the fraught political and cultural considerations at work.

Find a more detailed accounting of the various types of evidence—including public perception and the "I know it when I see it" factor—and the importance of data communication in the piece.

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Published on Friday, September 30, 2016 in The Guardian
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