Gentrification Is For More Than Just City Neighborhoods

Shelterforce posted a video and article about how the term gentrification manifests in different ways and thus doesn’t always conform to the same definition in every community, leading to the term being applied very broadly.  While this may not seem like a topic for a blog focused on arts management concerns, my organization recently received a grant to create a work addressing aspects of gentrification.

Shelterforce identifies four broad conditions people apply the term gentrification to and note that while over time all four may manifest in a community, only one may ever exist in the community.

In summary the conditions are: 1- housing costs rise, displacing residents who can’t afford rents and taxes. 2- Housing costs rise, residents aren’t displaced, but the character of the neighborhood changes over time. 3- Communities of color experience a “cultural displacement” where relevant businesses and places are lost or political displacement where power dynamics shift as wealthier, and perhaps whiter, groups flow into the neighborhood. 4- Communities who have experienced disinvestment are subject to new investment focused on attracting new businesses/residents rather than bolstering development for the benefit of current residents.

Until the last week or so I always associated gentrification with cities. In my mind it was something that occurred when there was focus placed on revitalizing neighborhoods either because artists, (perhaps displaced from somewhere else), had taken up residence in abandoned buildings leading to the area becoming the center of activity and with it a desire for an infrastructure supporting service, safety and quality of life. Or because a revitalization effort in one area created a ripple effect creating a demand for better quality of life infrastructure.

However, my mother has been recently talking to me about the changes that occurred in the local school district of the rural, update New York county in which I grew up. Both my parents started out as school teachers. My mother in particular would talk about how the disrespect and discipline problems she experienced substitute teaching in the 1980s convinced her she couldn’t return to teaching when we kids were old enough to take care of ourselves.

I always chalked it up to permissive parents and a shift toward the perception of the student as a customer of the education system. It is only recently that my mother talked about how people from NYC had moved up to our county because the school district was so highly regarded, but then started to push back against the culture that under-girded the excellence and close-knit cooperation that made the schools so attractive.

All this was invisible to me growing up. And the district was still very much rural at the time. My house was surrounded by fields of diary cows and fodder and the school buses picked up kids at their farms–as well as the housing developments speckling the hills here and there.

It is only in the last week or so that I realized that rural places can experience some of what is described as gentrification. I can also attest that not all aspects of gentrification appear together. When I went back to see the old house about five years ago, there were dozens of new houses awkwardly placed in the middle of fields, bare acres on all sides with only a few recently planted trees around them as foliage. (Other parts of the county have seen so much development, the exit off the NYS Thruway was unrecognizable from my visit even a few years earlier.)

However, despite all these new house in the area the same general stores, same pizza place, and same gas stations that were there as when I grew up.  It amazed me that there hadn’t been enough pressure to see new businesses pop up to cater to the community. Unless there is “I got mine” mindset to keep the community from being attractive to other potential arrivals. There was one enterprising farmer started growing hops and opened a microbrewery.  Many of the beer names have a Pacific Northwest theme so I wonder where their core clientele is located.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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2 thoughts on “Gentrification Is For More Than Just City Neighborhoods”

    • Well you know, the bucolic setting of upstate NY lends itself to introspection, especially back when there wasn’t the distraction of social media, the internet or even cable TV. The cows were no exception and would thoughtfully reflect on their lives. Some said such substantive thinking made the milk creamier.


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