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Working Paper

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Employing housing and population data available from the U.S. Census of Housing for 1970 and 1980, we compare block level delineations of gentrification with tract level delineations within several historic neighborhoods of New Orleans, Louisiana. Contrary to Spain's (1992: 132) assertion that block level census data are not adequate to detect the presence of gentrification, a geographical delineation of gentrifying activity during the 1970's is achieved. Methodologically, there are two main findings. First, we display the inadequacies of census tract level definitions of where gentrification is occurring. We conclude that gentrification is a small-scale process that is best examined on a larger scale than census tracts allow. A related implication is that previous analysis of locational relationships based upon census tract definitions of gentrification may be severely flawed (cf., Laska et. al., 1982). Finally, we show that heightened real estate activity is an unsatisfactory indirect measure of gentrification. More importantly, the block level delineation developed allows a fine-grain analysis of several theoretical issues regarding gentrification. First, support for residential location theory is shown by the occurrence of gentrifying blocks along the edges of solidly European-American, middle-class neighborhoods. Concomitantly, the avoidance of large African American residential areas is also demonstrated. Secondly, our results are consistent with rent gap theory as evidenced by the close correlation of gentrification with accelerated average rents. Gentrifying blocks also illustrate contagious behavior by their concentration and clustering in discrete locales within the study area. Our findings also support theories that argue gentrification occurs in concert with decline. Finally, we examine the timing of historic district designation relative to gentrifying activity. In the eastern portion of the study area, the data supports the view that gentrification occurs contemporaneously with district designation. On the other hand, gentrification occurred in the central and western portions of the study area without such designation.