The Indirect Displacement Hypothesis: a Case Study in Washington, D.C.


Stereotypes abound about the clash between newcomers to urban neighborhoods and their longstanding residents. In a case study of Columbia Heights in the District of Columbia, the preferences and attitudes of newcomers and longstanding residents are compared. The comparison will help assess the extent to which indirect displacement pressures in the domain of retail activity might be occurring in Columbia Heights. Data from surveys conducted in 2008 by the Howard University Center for Urban Progress (HUCUP) form the empirical base of this study. A total of 217 completed surveys were received, 116 from an Internet survey and 101 one-on-one street interviews. The sample was split into thirds (according to length of time that the participant lived in the neighborhood) leading to break points at two years and eight years of residency. All respondents who lived in the neighborhood two years or less or eight years or more were kept in the final sample. The former were defined as “newcomers” and the latter were defined as “longstanding residents”. There were 77 newcomers and 74 longstanding residents in the final sample. The survey instrument inquired about respondents’ opinions about the availability and quality of stores by type, the variety of stores, and what types of stores they would like to see added to the neighborhood. Respondents were then asked their assessment of the new commercial developments and of the previously existing businesses in the corridor. Chi-square tests were used to test the hypotheses that there were differences between the two populations -- newcomers and long-standing residents -- in terms of preferences and attitudes. The findings demonstrated significant differences between the two groups in terms of their opinions about the commercial corridor, although both groups were generally pleased with the new retail developments. The analysis of these data weakly supports the hypothesis that indirect factors could heighten pressures for displacement of longstanding residents, but it is argued that the main focus of gentrification studies should continue to be on the direct economic factors affecting longstanding residents during neighborhood revitalization.

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  1. 1.

    Data on joblessness among the two populations were not gathered, but it is likely that, if there were a difference, joblessness would be greater among the longstanding residents, reflecting the respective racial characteristics of the two groups. Black and white unemployment rates in Washington, DC are 12.7% and 2.3% respectively (Wilson 2016). If joblessness is greater among longstanding residents than among newcomers, the closer employment attachment to the neighborhood by the longstanding residents would be accentuated.


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Correspondence to Rodney D. Green.

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Green, R.D., Mulusa, J.K., Byers, A.A. et al. The Indirect Displacement Hypothesis: a Case Study in Washington, D.C.. Rev Black Polit Econ 44, 1–22 (2017).

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  • Gentrification
  • Neighborhood transition
  • Indirect displacement
  • Commercial development
  • Washington, DC