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Fifty Years of Gentrification: A Timeline

The term “gentrification” turned 50 in 2014. Originally coined to describe organic population shifts witnessed in London’s inner neighborhoods, it has come to encapsulate cultural trends, economic cycles and discrete public policies.


The term “gentrification” is coined by Ruth Glass.

Ruth Glass

“One by one, many of the working class quarters have been invaded by the middle class – upper and lower … Once this process of ‘gentrification’ starts in a district it goes on rapidly until all or most of the working class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.”


Robert Caro publishes The Power Broker, a 1,200-page critique of Robert Moses’ urban renewal projects in New York from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Power Broker by Robert Caro

November 1976

The murder of a Harvard student in Boston’s “Combat Zone” — the city’s experiment with confining vice to a single neighborhood — sparks a police crackdown in the red-light district.


The Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credit is passed into law allowing developers to apply for a tax credit equal to 10 percent of the cost of a building’s rehab. (Just three years later, Congress increased the max to 25 percent.) The program makes renovating old industrial buildings attractive to developers. States follow suit with similar programs. Factory conversions take off like never before.

March 1982

An article titled “Broken Windows” appears in The Atlantic Monthly, detailing the crime-prevention tactics that would come to underpin the policing strategies of many U.S. cities a decade later.


Pittsburgh officials and philanthropists establish the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which establishes a cultural district in the city’s ailing downtown and invests heavily there. The success of the district prompts hundreds of other cities to create their own cultural districts, offering tax credits and other incentives to spur development.


California passes the Ellis Act, which provides landlords a way of changing their rent-controlled apartments to market rate. Today, critics cite the act as a driving force behind mass evictions in gentrifying San Francisco.


The LAPD begins arresting homeless people on “anti-camping” charges on Skid Row, an area of the city that is now, against all odds, beginning to attract middle-class condo shoppers.


Starbucks opens its first location in Manhattan. Now, there are 212 Starbucks in the borough.



For the first time, a Manhattan apartment sells for more than $2,000 per square foot. (Today's average is $1,363).

May 2002

Richard Florida publishes The Rise of The Creative Class, selling governments across the world on the notion that distressed inner-cities can be revived by an influx of cafe-going creative professionals.

Richard Florida


In a study of Brooklyn Heights, Loretta Lees coins the term “super-gentrification,” which she defines as “intensified regentrification in a few select areas of global cities like London and New York that have become the focus of intense investment and conspicuous consumption by a new generation of super-rich ‘financiers.’”

Brownstone in Bed/Stuy

August 2005

Hurricane Katrina floods New Orleans, a pivotal event that drives many of the city’s poorest residents out, some of them permanently. Since the storm, New Orleans has become both richer and whiter.

Hurricane Katrina

February 2011

After half a century, Washington, D.C. loses its black majority, a milestone many take as a sign of the city’s gentrification.

January 2012

Tony Hsieh launches the Downtown Project, a grand plan to transform seedy downtown Las Vegas into an urban tech hub. (Hsieh stepped down from his leadership role in September.)

Tony Hsieh


Philadelphia launches the Longtime Owner Occupants Program (LOOP), a real-estate tax break for longtime residents to protect them from rising property taxes. The policy is closely watched as a replicable remedy for gentrifying cities trying to reduce displacement of working- and lower-middle-class residents.
Meanwhile, Whole Foods opens its first store in Detroit.

Milshire Hotel

November 2014

Chicago passes an ordinance meant to stop SRO owners from turning the dingy single-room dwellings into “vintage” $1,250-a-month micro-units marketed to young professionals. Despite the policy, it’s likely that the SROs will continue to go the way of the loft. Young renters “want the grit that they’re seeing in Brooklyn and Harlem,” one developer told the Washington Post.

For all the attention paid to gentrification, the process has not lifted the urban poor out of poverty and has only lessened the concentration of poverty in a select very few urban neighborhoods. Since 1970, the number of poor persons living in urban high-poverty neighborhoods has doubled to four million, and the number of such neighborhoods has nearly tripled to more than 3,000.

To learn more about how urban policy can fight poverty, please visit the Equity Factor column on