Long Term Recovery Planning and Gentrification

Leader: Allison Bridges
Thursday, March 28th, 10:00-11:30am

About the Readings

Gentrification in the wake of a hurricane: New Orleans after Katrina
International Panel on Climate Change, October 2018

Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans in August of 2005, devastating the built environment and displacing nearly one-third of the city’s residents. Despite the considerable literature that exists concerning Hurricane Katrina, the storm’s long-term impact on neighborhood change in New Orleans has not been fully addressed. In this article, van Holm and Wyczalkowski analyze the potential for Hurricane Katrina to have contributed to patterns of gentrification during the city’s recovery one decade after the storm. They study the association between Hurricane Katrina and neighborhood change using data on the damage from the storm at the census tract level and Lance Freeman’s (2005) gentrification framework. They find that damage is positively associated with the likelihood of a neighborhood gentrifying in New Orleans after one decade, which drives their recommendations for policy makers to take greater concern for their communities during the process of rebuilding from storm damage.

Discussion Summary

Defining gentrification
There are several different ways to think about, approach, and quantify gentrification in the context of post-disaster recovery. What indicators are leading indicators? And which will provide the most useful information to city planners? In the literature, gentrification indexes often use variables including median household income, the percentage of families below the poverty line, and the percentage of people in the neighborhood who are of different ages, races, and ethnicities. The number of owner-occupied units is another major variable in gentrification. When there is a decrease in housing units available, as was the case in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, there is less availability for renters, and the rent goes up. There is also the impact of how much an administration wants to prioritize environmental justice. It is one thing for environmental justice to be a guiding principle, but what is it like on the ground? The gentrification framework utilized in the seminar reading, first developed by Freeman (2005), encompasses the following five criteria: proximity to the central business district, median incomes lower than 40% of the city median income, percentage of housing built in the last 30 years, increases in the percentage of university graduates, and increases in real housing prices.

Implications of gentrification
Gentrification is something that happens organically, and from the perspective of a city planner, it can be largely positive in terms of redeveloping neighborhoods. The question is how will cities be able to accommodate for the people who can no longer afford to stay in their communities? People in cities around the world are getting squeezed; it may not be direct displacement now, but housing and transportation burdens are making it so people cannot afford certain opportunities. For example, when looking at some of the changes being made in New York City to address the segregation in schools, it is not only about considering where people live, but also about maintaining or increasing their levels of access. The degradation of social cohesion is another important aspect to consider, as certain networks can fall apart when the anchors of those networks leave.

The relationship between gentrification and adaptation
We can set up two, simplified extremes of what is likely to happen in light of climate change. At one end, some people will experience a storm event, internalize that climate change is happening, and relocate. At the other end, people will never leave their home, even if they understand the projected climate impacts. But what is happening between those two extremes? While disasters affect a whole community, lower income individuals will often not qualify for the post-disaster programs or the resources that they need to rebuild. Those who do not have the same resources to cope are likely to end up in housing that is older and less resilient, leaving them more vulnerable to future environmental hazards. Meanwhile, new housing in these areas will be better built, more resilient, and only affordable to certain income classes.

Cities like NYC will need to make priorities about where to address resilience and adaptation at different scales. The Lower East Side is one case where there are gentrification pressures, and the City has made the decision to invest in coastal protection. The choice to continue placing more valuable housing stock in an area of tremendous risk is partially why New York City is a-typical. Where other studies show that coastal areas are losing housing value in general, NYC is, in some key areas, the opposite. If cities are going to improve their resilience to climate-related events of any kind, it will be crucial that they bring in a spatial component to adaptation planning. Knowing where these vulnerable groups are and the services that they need from a project management point of view will help inform how we can protect them financially and improve their adaptive capacity.


  • How do should we think about social indicators and environmental indicators together?
  • Moving inland, as many in New Jersey did through the buyout program after Hurricane Sandy, will not necessarily protect people. If vulnerable individuals are going inland, to what extent are they taking their vulnerability with them?
  • Is there research on how vulnerable communities are perceiving climate change/natural disasters as drivers of gentrification?
  • How much risk, both financial risk and risk in terms of personal safety, does there need to be for people to decide to relocate?