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The Misunderstood History of Gentrification: People, Planning, Preservation, and Urban Renewal, 1915–2020, Dennis E. Gale

Reviewed by Akira Drake Rodriguez

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Studying gentrification is a difficult task. Although the term and its study have evolved, the definition remains elusive. What scale and scope of investment and displacement count as gentrification? How long must one reside in a neighborhood before they are considered a displacee? As Dennis E. Gale notes in the introduction to The Misunderstood History of Gentrification, “The concept of gentrification now connotates virtually any form of urban development that fails to directly benefit poor and working-class people and minorities” (p. 14). From both a policymaking and an activist perspective, this elusive definition makes it difficult to legislate away the harms of gentrification (while incentivizing the benefits), or to mobilize and organize communities that are most likely to displace or be displaced.

To break down this mysterious term and phenomenon, Gale assembles case studies, paradigms, and dilemmas about it across seven data-rich chapters. Documenting more than a century of gentrification in the United States—from its embryonic origins during the interwar years in Washington, DC, New York, and Boston to its advanced stages over the last 40 years—Gale finds numerous patterns and generalizations, as well as stark differences, between the two phases of gentrification. Using newspapers and municipal data, such as building pe

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