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The Elephant in Our Cities: Urban Gentrification

— June 22, 2016

One of the most disturbing trends not just in the American legal system but in our culture is the lack of priority we place on issues impacting the economically disadvantaged within our society. One example of this is seen in our media. Seldom does one hear about the terrorist attack that occurred in Africa on the front page of the New York Times. However, if that same attack occurs in Paris, it will likely be on tomorrow’s front page. This reality of our current culture is also present throughout many other issues in our society. Urban gentrification is a polarizing term without a concrete definition. On the subject, Hannah Weinstein, Chief Editor of the UCLA Law Review writes:

“There is much debate about how to define gentrification. Scholars such as Rolf Goetze simply state that gentrification occurs when higher income households move into neighborhoods that currently cater to lower-income households. Other scholars define gentrification not only as the movement of higher-income residents into lower-income neighborhoods but also the displacement of lower-income residents from the neighborhood that occurs as a result of this movement They state that the term gentrification only applies in circumstances where there is displacement whereas the term revitalization applies to situations where reinvestment (including the arrival of higher-income residents) occurs in a neighborhood without significant displacement of current residents.”

Ultimately, the definition Weinstein uses is by far one that most accurately fits the description of the situation. Weinstein continues, “Thus, when I use the term gentrification throughout this Comment, I mean a process that leads to displacement of lower-income households in the neighborhood in question.”

However, just being able to label an event does not display that one fully grasps the nature of it. Gentrification is a process that occurs over many years and often takes time. But like a disease with a long incubation period, when the side effects occur they are normally devastating. These impacts result in individuals getting priced out of renting proprieties, losing their homes and being displaced in regions outside of where they are currently employed. Especially in the south, where public infrastructure is weak and individuals with low income could be priced out to areas without such resources.

However, there are steps that lawmakers and legal professionals can support to stop this form of modern segregation. A first step would be to hold city lawmakers responsible for upholding zoning regulations. Attorneys could litigate to ensure city officials were zoning for a percentage of affordable housing options throughout certain cities where expansion (gentrification) is underway. Timing would be crucial in this process. Also in order for this to be accomplished one would need to be in a state with inclusionary zoning laws.

Another strategy would be participation in community land trusts. Such organizations in Chicago and New York have shown signs of positively stalling the impacts of gentrification however, sometimes they lack the legal expertise to hold on to their lands. In these case’s experienced legal experts would be needed to help such nonprofits maintain control of lands.

While these are only two of many strategies, it is clear that legal experts will be needed to help fight urban gentrification in our inner cities. With more involvement from the legally community we can stop this process of displacement and keep our inner-city communities together.



Weinstein, H. (2015). Fighting for a Place Called Home: Litigation Strategies for Challenging Gentrification. UCLA Law Review, 795-832. Retrieved from


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