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The surprising data about race and gentrification in Philly

Among the neighborhoods that gentrified : Graduate Hospital, Northern Liberties and East Passyunk. Not on the list: Point Breeze and Fishtown.

The common thinking the last few years in Philadelphia is many predominately black neighborhoods have gentrified, with wealthier white residents moving in, ramping up property values and forcing poorer residents out. That hasn’t quite been the case. Turns out gentrification is not nearly as widespread as one might think and also not hewing to that formula, according to a report by Pew released this afternoon.

The study, which compared demographics of neighborhoods in 2000 and 2014, found gentrification to have affected very little of Philadelphia — just 15 census tracts out of the city’s 372. The gentrification is affecting primarily white neighborhoods. Of those 15 census tracts, 12 had a population at least 45 percent white, with most greater than 67 percent white. The other three tracts are all in Graduate Hospital, where the black population fell by half from 2000 to 2014.

That’s not to say minority populations have not moved away from the gentrifying areas. Most of these white neighborhoods had a much larger percentage of minorities in 2000 than they do now. A few of the neighborhoods have seen an increase in minorities but are still predominately white.

Among the neighborhoods that gentrified, in addition to Graduate Hospital, are Northern Liberties, East Passyunk, Pennsport, Logan Square and Spring Garden.

Not on the list: Point Breeze and Fishtown, neighborhoods where the “g-word” gets tossed around often.

Pew used a three-part formula to decide whether an area has gentrified. First, the census tract must have featured a low median household income. Pew decided it had to have been below $53,992 in 2000, which was 80 percent of the regional median household income. Second, the tract had to have experienced a 10 percent inflation-adjusted increase in median household income from 2000 to 2014. Last, the 2014 median household income had to exceed the median household income of the entire city, which was $37,460.

 

The lone gentrified neighborhood that was majority black in 2000, Graduate Hospital, saw the most changes of anywhere. Median household incomes rose by 64 percent, 98 percent and 111 percent in the three tracts. The black population went from 7,793 to 3,450, while the white population tripled. In one tract, white people now account for 52 percent and in 2000 they accounted for 4 percent.   

Northern Liberties went from working-class to unaffordable for many Philadelphians. The median household incomes of its two census tracts rose from $43,000 to $80,000 and $54,000 to $83,000. Though the neighborhood already had a plurality of whites in 2000, it’s gotten a lot whiter. Upper Northern Liberties (roughly north of Poplar Street) went from 45 percent white to 67 percent white, and Lower Northern Liberties went from 53 percent to 71 percent. The black and hispanic populations each decreased substantially. In Upper Northern Liberties, the black population fell from 30 percent to 9 percent.

The other neighborhoods, mostly in South Philly and a few in Center City, generally saw smaller increases in income and slight changes in demographics. East Passyunk and Roxborough gentrified while its minority population increased. The racial composition of Pennsport stayed about the same.

In some ways, this information shouldn’t be overly surprising. A Harvard study cast doubt on conventional gentrification thinking in 2014. The study showed there was a “racial ceiling” for gentrification. Young, wealthy whites tended to move into neighborhoods that had a strong working class white or Hispanic population but not as many blacks.

And just because a neighborhood hasn’t gentrified doesn’t mean it hasn’t changed. In addition to the three tracts of Graduate Hospital, 11 tracts went from at least 50 percent black to less than 50 percent black, with the white population making the difference. These tracts were in neighborhoods like Spring Garden and Francisville, and near Temple and Penn.

Temple saw as drastic of a demographic change as anywhere. One of its neighboring census tracts shot up 8 percent white to 55 percent white and another from 1 percent to 38 percent.

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