How and why do good/bad neighborhoods become that way?

By “bad” I mean neighborhoods that are high in crime and generally run down.

Why do “bad” neighboorhoods turn “good” when young yuppie types move in? The infrastruture of the neighborhood itself hasn’t really changed.

Why do “good” neighborhoods turn “bad” when lots of minorities move in? Or is just white peoples impression?

Based on studies I’ve seen over the years (meaning sorry, no cite, because this is a general accumulation of information), crime tends to lead to poverty, not the other way around (as many commonly believe). There are plenty of low-income areas that are devoid of crime (I’ve lived in several), but there aren’t many high-crime areas that aren’t poor.

I think the general explanation is that when a neighborhood starts to go downhill, all the people who can afford to leave can. This leaves lower-income people in the area. Also, crime drives down property values, which means that you’re likely to attract a poorer class of people.

Why do bad neighborhoods turn good when yuppie-types move in? Beats me, I was unaware that happened. By “young yuppie type”, I’m imagining a class of people who aren’t poor, and who are likely to acquire a decent income, if not now, then in the near future. First of all, while it wouldn’t surprise me too much to see a person of this type move into a low-income neighborhood, I would be surprised to see him move into a high-crime neighborhood. People of this type tend to have greater job opportunities, and are more likely to be able to acquire a job where he can live in a safe area. So, assuming our aspiring yuppie buys a cheap house in a poor-but-safe area, as his income climbed, I can see him fixing up the place a little, making his home, at least, look nicer. This would raise property values ever so slightly, and perhaps attract other people of his type. In this way, I can see a neighborhood slowly but surely becoming nicer.

If we’re talking apartment complexes, and areas larger than a street or two, then I would imagine that if people with higher potential incomes would spend more at local stores. This would enrich the store owners, who would improve their stores, which would attract more people with money, which would give the store-owners more money, and so on. In addition, the landlords can charge more from these yuppies, because they can afford it, which allows them to improve their apartments.

Why do good neighborhoods turn bad when minorities move in? Well, good neighborhoods will turn bad when criminals move in. If there’s a correlation in the area between criminals and minorities, this could be your explanation. Alternately - tossing out the racial explanation, though I don’t know if I buy it - if a neighborhood has racist tendencies, then it could consider the influx of minorities as driving down property values, which could start a downslide into poverty. I doubt this is the case very often any more, though I could be wrong, I suppose.


I think you’re measuring the quality of a neighborhood by how desirable it is for a yuppie to move to. Certainly, the neighborhood isn’t better for those who can no longer afford to live there. But even assuming that we stick to objective criteria, there are likely to be several other factors at play.

First, and probably most important would be that crime and poverty go hand in hand. Also wealth and home improvement.

Second, the yyoung yuppie types are probably moving in after the neighborhood starts getting better. Yuppies probably aren’t moving into high crime areas, and hoping for the best. Rather, as crime declines in a neighborhood, it attracts wealthier people.

Along this line, strong immigrant communities have long been instrumental in keeping a neighborhood together. When people arrive in the US hoping to make it on their own, they tend to seek out others of their nationality, and a wave of immigrants from one country will often find a cheap neighborhood to start a community in. For example, in the seventies, my neighborhood was experiencing a particularly severe case of “white flight” as Boston’s school system was forcibly desegregated (meanwhile, nearby suburbs (such as the one that the federal judge in charge of the process lived) were unaffected). As housing prices fell, a wave of Greek immigrants moved in, started numerous businesses, and are generally considered around here to have saved the neighborhood.

For more subtle mechanisms at work, I can’t recommend Jane Jacobs’s Life and Death of Great American Cities highly enough.

There is a theory called the [, advanced by George Kelling. This theory states that neighborhoods go downhill because no one cares enough to fix the broken window; that is, that problems with the neighborhood (such as urban decay) aren’t addressed and so the neighborhood goes downhill. Once the window isn’t fixed, other problems come, such as crime and unemployment. It has nothing to do with ethnicity; plenty of mostly-white areas have had the same problem.

Bad neighborhoods turn around when money comes in. This is called [url=""]gentrification]("Broken Window theory[/url). What happens is, people of a higher economic class (not necessarily yuppies) move into a previously bad neighborhood. They fix up the buildings, raze some for new construction, and make the neighborhood decent again. Businesses catering to this population follow, bringing more money into the area.

Cities love gentrification because it increases the value of the property; higher property values mean higher taxes with people who are able to afford them. Conservationists hate it because gentrification can take the character out of a neighborhood. It can also raise housing costs in the area, forcing poor families to move, or else face unaffordable housing.


Good link but I have to disagree with this quote from the article.

I don’t believe that land trusts (as described in the article) are any more “democratic” than allowing market forces to change the face of the neighborhood. IMHO, in a free society, you should be allowed to sell your property for whatever price you can get for it.

Changing people from renters into homeowners is more democratic. Homeowners haave more control over their residence and are more inclined to take care of their property than renters.

Say you’ve got a building for sale in a declining neighborhood. You’ve got an upscale family with access to a mortgage, which means you’ve got all your money at once. The family who lives there now can barely pay the rent as it is. Who are you going to sell to?

OTOH, a land trust allows the poor family access to their own home at a more affordable price. The requirement to sell back to the land trust is simply a means of allowing more people to get in on this opportunity.

Yeah, in a perfect world, people should be able to sell their property for whatever they can get for it, but until we can solve the problem of affordable housing, there has to be some interference.



How does the second part of this statement support the first part? What does the first part of this statement mean? This makes no sense to me at all. You mean people start off wealthy, become criminals for some reason, and then lose all their wealth?

In terms of neighborhoods do you mean that your more well off neighbors all of a sudden turn to a life of crime thus turning the neighborhood bad?

You just can’t make a statement that goes against all conventional wisdom and a vast number of studies indicate that that [url=“”]“absolute poverty is more strongly associated with neighborhood crime” and shrug off proving it by saying it’s “a general accumilation of information.”

Cite please? Oh right, do don’t have one.

Sure, and watch the law of unintended consequences bite you in the ass.

Say I’m a homeowner in a land trust neighborhood. If my right to sell was unfettered, I could pour a lot of money into improving my home, understanding that the investment will pay for itself (and possibly even be profitable) when I eventually sell the house. Those improvements, of course, increase the value of the surrounding neighborhood, too, so I’m not the only one to benefit.

However, I can’t sell my home for whatever the market will bear. So what incentive do I have to improve my home? Any dollars I spend that improve my home’s value beyond the restricted land trust dollars are wasted. And even if I personally don’t care about the investment value of the home, the bank that makes home improvement loans will – I’ll have a much tougher time getting a loan with what amounts to a de facto equity cap on my house.

This is not a farfetched example. I know a guy who bought a Really Shitty ™ one-bedroom condo in Manhattan and poured a ton of time and money into fixing it up. When he finally sold, he walked away with $100,000 of profit (to be fair, some of it just attributable to market appreciation, but most of it attributable to the improvements). Granted, that’s an extreme example, but he would not have put in the time and effort needed to fix the place up without the profit motive – he knew the potential for that kind of profit was there when he bought the place, and it was that potential that allowed him to borrow the funds to improve the place.

The real problem isn’t so much affordable housing as it lack of housing supply. People in places like San Francisco block proposed developments in the name of “livable space” or “smart growth” or whatever the euphamism of the week is. People in places like New York block new developments in the name of keeping neighborhoods “authentic.” And then they all sit back and wonder why the hell rents are so high. Idiots, every last one of 'em.

Well, I of course am going to sell it to whoever can pay me the most money.

Admitedly, I don’t know that much about land trusts. It does sound a lot like rent control and rent control has several problems:

  1. It discourages landlords from renovating their property
  2. It discourages developers from building more housing
  3. It creates a shortage of available housing
    Also, what happens if a developer comes in and decides to buy out the entire land trust? How does that work?

Biggirl - I think what ElJeffe is trying to say (correct me if I’m wrong) is that crime increases in a neighborhood, people who afford to move out and those people who can’t afford to move to better neighborhoods are stranded there. I don’t know if this is correct but there does seem to be a correlation between crime and poverty. I have seen instances where formarly decent, working class neighborhoods turn to crap due to some local economic troubles. A local plant closing for example.

I guess what I am trying to get my head around is this - if businesses return and all those poor people get jobs, does the neighborhood improve, or do those people have to be displaced by new residents who aren’t criminals? Does crime actually get reduced by gentrification or simpy pushed out into other neighborhoods or towns?

Stupid lack of typing and editing skills. The above should read: “Any dollars I spend that improve my home’s value beyond the restricted land trust selling price are wasted.”

I have seen several Boston neighborhoods go downhill, and then uphill-it is all a matter of crime (and the incomes of the residents). For example-the south end of Boston: in the 1950’s, as the local resident’s incomes increased, many of the Irish and german-American residents moved out to the suburbs; they were replaced by largely black, very poor migrants from the deep south (Alabama, miss., and georgia, chiefly). The south end rapidly went downhill, and crime increased. eventually, the neighborhoods got really run down, and the city began tearing down abandoned buildings. Then, around the mid-1980’s, people started moving back in. The new pioneers were mostly artists and gays, who bought up the old houses and renovated them. Eventually, the city fixed the roads and upgraded services, and now, the south end is one of the hottest areas of the city. The lesson is: if you allow any neigborhood to become crime-ridden, you will eventually wind up with a slum. If you want to upgrade an area, make it attractive to live there. no magic, just economics at work.

Sorry if I was unclear, allow me to elaborate. There is a commonly held belief that poverty causes crime. That as areas become poor, they will necessarily see rises in crime. I was stating that this is not the case, based on my experience and readings. That poverty doesn’t cause crime, it is crime that causes poverty.

As far as the connection between my first and second statements, it’s as follows: Suppose that poverty caused crime, and not the other way around. It would follow that when an area began to lose money, you would see a rise in crime follow. It would be unlikely that any areas that were poor would be relatively devoid of crime. Further, it would not be unheard of to have areas that were high in crime, yet were not low-income. However, this is not the case. There are no (or precious few) areas that are both high-income and high-crime. However, there are lots of areas that are low-income and low crime. If poverty caused crime, you would expect those low-income areas to be high-crime. Hopefully I was more clear here.

No. Crime can move into an area for a variety of reasons. Some unsavory elements - drug dealers, for instance - can move in down the block. You can see crime creep in from other areas. Maybe drug dealers see the neighborhood as a safe place to do their business, so they start frequenting the area. Maybe a gang decides to hang out there, for no particular reason. There are lots of ways that an area can see more crime, that has nothing to do with increases in poverty, or indeed, has nothing to do with the residents of that area.

Regarding the urls you posted, I didn’t have a chance to look at every study, but the ones I looked at seemed to establish correlation, not causation. Correlation is pretty self-evident, it’s the causation that’s in doubt. The studies I’ve seen, that I briefly mentioned, showed that when areas see increases in both crime and poverty, it’s the crime that leads the poverty. This implies the equation is crime -> poverty, not poverty -> crime.


stable neighborhoods would be bad for the real estate business. keeping people moving around causes prices to fluctuate. it will probably be difficult to track down how this is managed if any deliberate manipulation is going on.


All warfare is based on deception. Sun Tzu

the paranoid, Dal Timgar

My theory about poverty and crime is that lower income areas do not get the same types of crime prevention strategies. It seems to me that law enforcement looks the other way in the lower income neighborhoods. I can just see a bunch of unemployed males between the ages of 18 and 25 sitting around on curbs and car trunks in “River Oaks”. Yet this is going on each and every day over on Airline Drive. They sit out and sell their crack and whatever. Hookers stand around on the corner of Jensen and Navigation but this would never be allowed to happen on the corner of Woodway and Memorial. I have never understood this but it is a reality.

There are plenty of “minority” neighborhoods that are not high crime. So it’s definitely not a “minority” thing.

This isn’t related but is this chat really from 2002? Is anybody still here?

Right. This post raises a zombie without even addressing the topic.