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Since the 1800s, cities across America have experienced recurring, extensive redevelopment and revitalization. This redevelopment is known as urban renewal, which consists of economic as well as infrastructural changes to an area primarily considered a slum. These areas labeled as slums have experienced great economic downfall and social instability, to the extent where government reform initiatives are generally deemed to be unsuccessful.
Because of increasing crime and poverty rates, and decreasing housing standards, private investors with the help of local governments clear these slums, building new houses and apartment buildings, and creating new businesses. This process is often the root of gentrification, which is the process of middle-income residents moving into low-income neighborhoods, displacing many existing low-income residents. Those middle-income residents then dominate economic activity, as their participation in the housing market and job market becomes more prevalent. In addition, wealth and income inequality increases because not all of the new job opportunity that comes with gentrification is accessible to existing low-income workers, and the ability for low income residents to increase their net worth through by gaining assets becomes more difficult. This primarily happens because of discrimination based on class, residence, and most importantly, race.
According to the government and private investors, because the local economy exhibits an upward trend in household income and property values, in the community experiencing urban renewal and gentrification, urban renewal can be considered successful. However, when closer attention is paid to the economic effects it has on all participants, urban renewal actually turns out to be unsuccessful, as it brings economic disparity to existing and displaced residents. I conclude that instead of urban renewal being the last resort to reviving an area’s economy, other economic policies could have been enforced such as education reforms and the job guarantee to create the same kind of economic success, brought to the area after urban renewal and gentrification. As I prove that these reforms and policies would have been more beneficial to all of Harlem’s residents as opposed to urban renewal programs, I also conclude that urban renewal was unnecessary because it was so unsuccessful compared to the polices and reforms that could have replaced it.
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Maughn, Nyesha Zenetta, "The Economic History of Urban Renewal and Gentrification in Harlem from the 1970s to the early 2000s" (2015). Senior Projects Fall 2015. 39.