Why these Cities?

What do these five cities have in common?

Innovation Economies

Denver is rapidly changing due to the legalization of marijuana. Seattle is dominated by the presence of Amazon. San Francisco has a regional tech economy that requires cooperation with nearby cities. Such industries attract college educated employees with a higher willingness to pay for housing.

Google campus in Silicon Valley. Photo by Tal Power Seeff.

Growing Populations

Long-gentrifying cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles have seen steady population growth, while Seattle and Denver have seen population booms since 2000.

Crowded New York street. Photo by Kevin Case.

Historically Disinvested Neighborhoods

This influx of new affluent residents has resulted in investment in certain neighborhoods, some of which had been neglected by city officials and service providers for over a century.

South Central LA. Photo by authors.

Increasing Property Values

Many homeowners are seeing the benefits of gentrification, as property values rise across all five cities. But low-income homeowners can also be easily coerced into selling their only asset long before their properties reach peak value.

A single family home in Denver. Photo by authors.

Rising Rents

Due to increasing demand, residential and commercial rents have risen in all five cities. Seattle saw the highest rent increase of 24% over the past five years, compared to 10% for the U.S. nationally. Low-income renters, undocumented immigrants, seniors, families with kids, and small businesses are especially vulnerable to rent increases.

Mural in San Francisco. Photo by authors.

Large and Growing Homeless Populations

Lack of housing supply in all five cities has driven up rents and pushed low-income renters onto the streets. Seattle has the highest homelessness rate, with 130 homeless per 10,000 people, compared to 17 homeless per 10,000 people in the U.S. nationally.

Los Angeles Skid Row. Photo by Matthew Logelin.


What are some key differences?

Stage of Gentrification

While New York City and San Francisco have been experiencing intensive gentrification since the 1980s, Denver has only started seeing gentrification pressures in the past decade. Studying gentrification at multiple time scales helped in formulating a wide range of policy responses.

Grand Central Market in Los Angeles. Photo by authors.

Spatial Context

Gentrification plays out differently depending on a city’s scale and development pattern. In sprawling Los Angeles, housing scarcity is exacerbated by a preference for low density. In Seattle, San Francisco, and New York, small, constrained footprints have resulted in the displacement of low-income residents into neighboring Kent, Oakland, and Brooklyn, respectively.

A slice of Denver. Photo by authors.

Political Context

Policies at the local, state, and national levels shape cities’ responses to gentrification. Different cities have already employed various tools to increase housing supply, affordability, and security. For instance, California has strong environmental regulations in place that makes the building process difficult and expensive; as a result, Los Angeles and San Francisco have instituted policies to fast-track affordable developments.

Mural in San Francisco. Photo by authors.