Activists and political leaders across the city of Boston are concerned that gentrification in the form of rapidly rising rents in low-income and the poorest areas are contributing to displacement of families and children. Rising home sale prices and an increasing number of development projects are feeding into this concern. There is also a growing wariness about the impact that this scenario can have on small and neighborhood-based businesses and microenterprises whose markets are represented by the kinds of households facing potential displacement. This potential side-effect suggests that gentrification could actually emerge as anti-local economic development in Boston. It can have negative effects on economic diversity, employment, education, and public health. And due to the continuing existence of racialized and structural inequality in this city, it could also serve to resegregate the city along racial, ethnic, and class dimensions. Thus, gentrification is not a panacea or silver bullet for urban revitalization as proposed or rationalized by some, but rather a process that can undermine local resources and human capital critical for holistic economic development. The processes associated with gentrification can run counter to comprehensive economic development that capitalizes on the city’s human capital, its neighborhood-based businesses, and the imperative to overcome a racialized inequality.

This essay has three objectives: first, it describes briefly some of the concerns of many of Boston’s residents regarding gentrification. Second, it presents a “gentrification vulnerability index” for identifying areas of Boston that are susceptible to gentrification, based on a range of measurable variables. And, finally, it offers a critique of the presentation of gentrification as urban salvation (my term), as argued by some scholars and journalists. The critique includes a charge that gentrification as urban salvation represents a major challenge to the city’s economic well-being. The essay is based on select literature, census and business data, as well as participation in community meetings in some of Boston’s neighborhoods.



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