Our Views: The profits in growth

For the folks who stick it out in a troubled neighborhood, for years or decades, the difficulties should earn more than just psychic rewards.

Yet it is one of the mysteries of American life that “gentrification” is a dirty word in cities.

We think the growth of property values is a good thing: If an older homeowner sticks it out, then is offered a handsome price for his property, that is not necessarily a bad outcome for anyone, including the neighbors.

Recent studies highlighted in Governing magazine have shown that improving housing and businesses in a neighborhood can be financially beneficial for the original residents.

Daniel Hartley, a research economist with the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland, studied credit scores in the gentrifying neighborhoods of 55 cities and found the numbers went up for original residents, whether they owned property or rented.

Lance Freeman, director of the urban planning program at Columbia University, studied urban neighborhoods nationwide and found that low-income residents moved out of gentrifying neighborhoods at the same rate as they did nongentrifying neighborhoods. Freeman also found gentrification opened up neighborhoods to college-educated minorities.

Another analyst, Kay Hymowitz, wrote in Manhattan’s City Journal about the iconic “urban renewal” neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, now a focus of arguments over gentrification.

The area’s black population had declined, but the Hispanic population increased, and white people moving in make up less than 11 percent of the population, and the number of college-educated black residents moving into Bed-Stuy has increased.

The benefits of gentrification don’t necessarily, though, mean victory over urban problems. Hymowitz found poverty and crime, and poor schools, continued to be high in the area.

“There’s no doubt that gentrification battles will continue to rage, but the latest studies have made it less clear what exactly the fight is about,” Governing commented.

That probably goes too far, given the issues of race and culture that can suddenly divide a neighborhood. In parts of New Orleans, an influx of post-Katrina newcomers is not entirely a cause of celebration; they need a diversity of housing, including sometimes controversial apartment or condo complexes.

In Baton Rouge, some of the same concerns have been raised about downtown development and now the new — and we think positive — redevelopment of the area between downtown and LSU’s main campus.

Gentrification is a sign of growth, and growth — even with its potential for problems — is a good thing to have.

We’d like to be able to say there are differences in race and class that have completely faded away, but the reality is they have not. Still, it is important that an ideological definition of “gentrification” not get in the way of sensible policies for growth in the future.