Most people, will know if they are walking in a gentrifying neighborhood despite the “I know it when I see it” nature of gentrification, it is surprisingly difficult to define, to identify and measure its effects, and to reach a judgment about whether it is good or bad for the community.
This research addresses the gentrification in the city of Memphis, Tennessee in the neighborhoods of South Memphis and North Memphis. A series of public projects are planned for these neighborhoods, including the development of Concourse Towers, Graceland, and The Southbrook Mall.
The neighborhoods at risk of being gentrified are the low income areas. Lower income people who live in the neighborhood don’t benefit from revitalization, because they end up moving out due to property taxes and rent. It may seem like they are making an area better but they’re just moving the group of people out and giving the area a whole new look.
Some people affected by gentrification might argue that it is not a process of renewal and rebuilding.
While gentrification can induce an influx of money through the establishment of small businesses, many of the original poorer residents as a result are adversely affected. Additionally, the original residents may not have even agreed that their community needed renewal; for example, the culture that unified the original community may be threatened as professionals populate the area and impose facets of their own ideas and cultures. On the other hand, participants of gentrification support the process not for the sake of harming the original residents, but with the goal of settling in an affordable area and improving the community’s living conditions as well as the city’s overall situation.
While gentrification can often strengthen pride in a community, the socioeconomic effects on the original residents can take a turn for the worse, even when gentrification does not involve physical displacement. Though it may be easy to assume that gentrification is good for the city. As gentrification occurs, vacancies are filled and housing densities increase, which thus expands the total population so that while the sheer number of low-income residents may not decline, the proportion does even though gentrification is supposed to improve the overall quality of life for city dwellers. Instigators of gentrification, due to their higher economic, social and cultural capital, tend to support higher-quality and more expensive shops and services in their neighborhood, successfully push for infrastructure and landscape improvements and draw public attraction to the community.
One perspective is that poor cities are truly more fearful of losing control of their neighborhood with the repopulation of their neighborhood “foreshadowing white domination” than they are fearful of housing displacement. Nevertheless, proponents still maintain that though small-scale gentrification may occur in poorer cities, they will otherwise continue to lose population, thereby suggesting that the benefits of gentrification outweigh whatever costs it may have on low income communities. This is relevant to the city of Memphis, where the total population fell from 690,186 to 653,450 between the years 2000 and 2013. Population decline is a major concern of civic leaders, so although the the Crosstown revitalization initiative may be met with some displacement in the neighborhood, it could retain or attract people to the city and thus benefit the broader Memphis community.
Considering the physical, socioeconomic, and cultural aspects of gentrification, it is important to also explore the racial dimensions of the process, which are often prevalent and overwhelming. The connections between race and gentrification are often unspoken and under- researched, though they are visibly manifested in the demographics of the neighborhoods, especially with regards to the lower income residents. The residents most negatively affected by gentrification are mostly low-income African-Americans, it is remarkable that there is such a lack of attention paid to the racial aspects of gentrification- especially because research on the subject of gentrification itself is abundant. While race can sometimes prove to be a unifying factor that helps communities to resist displacement, it can often add tensions between the whites and minority ethnicity that adds a challenge to effectively working with the gentrifiers to combat negative implications. For example, firms owned by non-African Americans are eight times less likely to employ African Americans than are firms owned by African Americans.
Gentrification is known to greatly affect the cultures of certain neighborhoods and can significantly alter the relationships residents have with their surroundings, especially if they have resided in that area for a long time. Sullivan found specifically that longtime black residents were much less likely than other demographics to approve of neighborhood changes. The research further suggests that this may be because newcomers are less attached to established neighborhood organizations, such as black churches, and therefore do not mourn their loss when they are pushed out of the neighborhood.
A major facet of this issue is the notions people have of “home.” By using first hand narratives, the research discovered a broader community ideology characterized by nostalgia about the history and cultural foundations of the neighborhood, the roles of insiders and outsiders, and the formation of identity as public social spaces are created.
Memphis has embarked on several revitalization initiatives in recent years. In 2004, the city focused itself on the recreation of the previously blighted downtown area into a residential community. In 1980, the population for the heart of Memphis- the downtown area- was 2,830, whereas in 2004 it was 12,000. Many of the new Memphis residents complained that there were not enough retailers to cater to their needs, and an increase in commercial development thus followed—a key characteristic of gentrification. Additionally, the police force began to focus more on improving crime rates in the downtown area. These steps all were taken with the expectation that Memphis would continue to thrive as the city attracted more and more tourists .According to the realtor’s website, Henry Turley pioneered the establishment of several mixed-income housing spaces with the hopes of making the downtown area accessible to a variety of demographics. This effort parallels the development of the mixed-income apartment complex in the Crosstown Concourse .
The developers of the Crosstown Concourse are trying to recruit its base of tenants from the general Memphis/Mid-South region, rather than national corporations. The Crosstown Concourse is emblematic of other urban renewal strategies that have been used in cities across the globe, resulting in gentrification in some cases (Lehrer & Thorben, 2009 in the case of Toronto; Barconi & Freeman, 2004 in the case of New York City); however, an emphasis on maintaining local rather than corporate businesses in the building may alleviate some of the potential damage experienced by vulnerable populations.
In Whitehaven, The Southbrook Mall redevelopment is in process, which is being financed by the city of Memphis and Shelby County is set to have its soft opening as soon as tenants move in Project manager Michelle Moore described the Whitehaven project as being 75 percent completed. The owners of Southbrook Mall got $1.5 million in improvements from City Hall.