Soc Probl. 2011 Nov;58(4):615-639. doi: 10.1525/sp.2011.58.4.615.


This study examines the relationship between crime and processes of urban revitalization, or gentrification. Drawing on recent urban demography research, we hypothesize that gentrification progressed rapidly in many American cities over the last decade of the 20th century, and that these changes had implications for area crime rates. Criminological theories hold competing hypotheses for the connections between gentrification and crime, and quantitative studies of this link remain infrequent and limited. Using two measures of gentrification and longitudinal tract-level demographic and crime data for the city of Seattle, we find that many of Seattle's downtown tracts underwent rapid revitalization during the 1990's, and that these areas 1) saw reductions in crime relative to similar tracts that did not gentrify, and 2) were areas with higher-than-average crime at the beginning of the decade. Moreover, using a within-tract longitudinal design, we find that yearly housing investments in the 1980's showed a modest positive association with crime change, while yearly investments in the 1990's showed the opposite pattern. Our findings suggest a curvilinear gentrification-crime relationship, whereby gentrification in its earlier stages is associated with small increases in crime, but gentrification in its more consolidated form is associated with modest crime declines. Implications of these results for criminological theory, urban development, and broader crime patterns are discussed.

Keywords: Communities; Crime; Gentrification; Neighborhoods; Revitalization.