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Study: Philly’s gentrifying neighborhoods are resegregating

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Racial boundaries have spread throughout the city

After spending six years studying the gentrification of Philadelphia neighborhoods, a West Philadelphian has discovered a rare trend: Neighborhoods are not necessarily gentrifying in the way people think they are—they’re resegregating.

That’s the conclusion of Jonathan Tannen’s dissertation "Measuring neighborhood change as the movement of emergent boundaries," in which he analyzed 2000 to 2010 U.S. Census data block by block in Philadelphia. He found that in the city, gentrification really means that clusters of white populations are actually spreading, causing racial boundaries to move rather than remain fixed.

In a City Lab article, Tannen said:

"You’re not seeing this historically black area becoming five percent white over ten years and then ten percent white. Instead, they went from almost 100 percent black to almost 100 percent white over ten years."

In other words, neighborhoods are not gradually desegregating and mixing as white and Asian populations move into predominantly black neighborhoods. Instead, racial boundaries are spreading block by block.

Here’s one of Tannen’s maps that represents the change in population clusters throughout the city from 2000 to 2010. In his paper he points out that upon closer look, there are significant boundary changes, especially in the University City area.

This isn’t a Philly-centric trend, either. Tannen found similar results when he looked at other older, denser U.S. cities like New York, Chicago, and Boston.

Tannen's findings come on the heels of multiple reports that have looked into Philadelphia's gentrification issues. In May, Pew released a report that found that in fact, only 4 percent of U.S. Census tracts in the city experienced gentrification. By their definition, that means neighborhoods that have experienced at least a 10 percent increase in median income.

That report concluded that gentrification wasn't really the issue in Philadelphia. Instead, it's the city's increasing poverty problem. Forty-four percent of U.S. Census tracts experienced a decrease in median income.

Tannen's research doesn't delve into viable solutions for this trend. But his findings do add to what researchers have known for some time about gentrification: It's complicated.