Discussion highlights community, student concerns about gentrification

Community members and students Monday discussed concerns about and potential benefits of gentrification, the practice of neighborhood redevelopment that gives preference to middle class residents at the risk of alienating lower-income families. (Madeline Pado/DD)
Students and community developers held a discussion Monday at the Walter Cronkite School on how to best balance the preservation of a neighborhood’s character while continuing to improve it for economic progress.

Carol Poore’s Public Administration & Community Development class invited city developers and planners to discuss the positive and adverse effects of gentrification on Phoenix. Gentrification refers to the process of improving neighborhood conditions for middle-class residents and businesses while pushing out families in affordable and low-income housing.

Poore said the discussion between her students and the panel seemed revolutionary to her.

“This is probably a pretty integrative group of people here,” she said. “That may not have happened 20 years ago.”

Pat McNamara, a panel member from Local Initiatives Service Corporation, said he hates the word gentrification because of its negative connotation of displacing people. He said he prefers the term “redevelopment.”

“Gentrification is a terrible word. It needs to go away,” McNamara said. “Our goal is to revitalize the neighborhood, not to replace it.”

Tommy Espinoza, a panel member from Raza Development Foundation, also took issue with the term. He said that in the past the chicano community saw gentrification as a “white invasion” that pushed Mexican-American families out through rising property taxes and high rent.

“(Gentrification) implies only whites have money,” he said.

Espinoza said these concerns are based on fear, but that gentrification can bring many beneficial changes–such as grocery stores, restaurants and jobs–to the community.

“Is bringing wealth into your community bad? Absolutely not,” Espinoza said.

Grand Avenue Merchants’ Association Steering Committee member Beatrice Moore brought perspective from the active art district west of downtown. Moore said she has become an “accidental developer” by being an activist fighting to protect historical buildings and districts from high-rise apartments and sports stadiums.

Moore said there needs to be a balance in any neighborhood and losing that is harmful to the community.

“(Neighborhoods should) never have too much of anything,” Moore said. “I don’t even like to think of my neighborhood as an art district. I’d rather see it as a healthy district.”

Although the meeting attendees agreed about the need for balance, there was more disagreement about where to draw the line on gentrification.

Donald P. Keuth Jr., president of the Phoenix Community Alliance, said one of the biggest former concerns for Phoenix was the city’s inclusion of the Downtown campus and its effects on the community.

Keuth said the fear was that college students would pay more for rent than families and would change the layout of Phoenix.

“That was the biggest fear in downtown in the past 15 years,” Keuth said. “That’s gentrification.”

Mike Lafferty, who works for Lafferty Development Inc., said he wants to create housing in the Presidential District, just east of the center of downtown Phoenix.

He wants to improve the amenities, such as parks and stores, for use of the people living in these communities, he said.

Caprice Howard, 22-year-old urban and metropolitan studies major, said it is possible to retain the values of communities without expensive housing.

“Just because an area is not high-rise and fancy doesn’t mean it’s not a quality area,” Howard said.

Jim McPherson, the president of the Arizona Preservation Foundation, said Monday’s meeting and ASU coming to Downtown are perfect examples of gentrification benefiting the community.

“Five years ago, this didn’t happen,” McPherson said. “This is a good project because this is happening right here.”

Contact the reporter at mikurz@asu.edu


  1. The only area with development potential near downtown is the Capitol Mall and nearby districts (around Grand Ave District). There are many completely neglected plots in this area that are in walking distance to light rail.

    Rather than trying to re-engineer existing and living neighborhoods, why not just recycle the wasted parts?