Gentrification without Segregation: Race and Renewal in a Diversifying City

Jackelyn Hwang

Rapid and widespread gentrification in US neighborhoods in recent decades has provoked debate over its relationship to neighborhood racial and ethnic composition. Empirical and theoretical understanding of this relationship, however, is primarily based on contexts of high levels of residential segregation by race—where racial composition severely constrains residential mobility decisions—and neglects the increasing diversification of cities that may ease these constraints. In this article, I examine the relationship between racial and ethnic composition and the evolution of gentrification in Seattle neighborhoods. I demonstrate that heterogeneous neighborhoods are least likely to gentrify early and gentrify slower in a majority-white context lacking residential concentrations of minorities, but neighborhoods with greater shares of blacks and lower shares of Asians are more likely to gentrify as the city diversifies and Asians become increasingly concentrated. These findings suggest that distinct mechanisms operate in low-cost neighborhoods with different racial and ethnic compositions that facilitate or prohibit gentrification. I propose a framework that incorporates the context of the overall affordable housing market and residential selection processes, particularly as they relate to immigration, for understanding the relationship between race and gentrification.