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The Cascades Leading up to Gentrification

In the past couple of decades, Los Angeles has experienced a major shift in its culture and lifestyle. Crime rates in the city have gone down, new businesses have appeared, and the overall day to day has a different atmosphere than it did twenty or thirty years ago. Skyrocketing housing and rent prices have forced poorer people to move out of the city while allowing wealthier people to take over. Many long-lived businesses have had to close because of increased rent and because many of their customers have moved away due to the high cost of living. Ultimately, Los Angeles has proved to provide a perfect example of gentrification.

The effects of gentrification have been widely studied because of its ongoing and lasting effects on many different groups of people, but it is also interesting to identify and analyze its underlying causes. In his article exploring the origins and consequences of gentrification, Steve Holland proposes a general pattern that explains the events leading up to a city’s redevelopment which demonstrates how the notion of cascades plays a role in a city’s network. First, in the early stage of a city, people move near its center for the direct benefit of being closer to where their jobs are located. As the city becomes more prominent, the value of housing gradually increases to the point where the original working class must move out and away from the city to locations with lower prices. Moving to the suburbs has the direct benefit of lower housing prices, and the observation that other people are moving out of the city gives the informational benefit that suggests there will be more opportunity if you do the same. Then, as Holland suggests, the shift in residents out of the city drives down housing prices in the city because of a housing surplus, and once again provides an incentive for people to move back into the city to take advantage of the lower prices. Thus, begins gentrification.

Overall, the informational and direct benefits are the underlying causes of the shifts in populations in and out of a city that eventually leads to the beginning of gentrification. For example, if lots of people are moving out of the city because it is cheaper in the suburbs, it will not only be cheaper for you to move out but will also provide you with more opportunity since it is more likely that even more people and businesses will relocate. The payoff of moving outweighs the payoff of staying, causing a cascade of the city’s original occupants to move out of the city. Similarly, when wealthy people start to take the place of the people moving out, businesses that cater to the wealthy will also follow in to be closer to their customers. Relocation of wealthier businesses and people into the city spurs a cascade to centralize white-collar workers and jobs.

We now know how gentrification begins, but will the process ever reverse? It can be reasoned that one possible way gentrification would end is in the same way that it started. There would have to be incentive for current residents and businesses to move out of the city. The relocation of a big company or the development of a neighboring city are possible reasons for a city to “ungentrify.” The constantly changing environment will always be creating informational and direct benefit effects that can reel people in or push people out of a city. Cities like Los Angles are affected by these cascades all the time, and understanding their causes gives great insight for in depth economical or historical analysis and predictions.


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