Buzzwords are everywhere. If you’re aware, in the last several years you’ve probably seen mention of one when talking about neighborhood development or real estate in Charlotte:  Gentrification.  


The concept can seem confusing—who’s complaining about a new Panera bread in their neighborhood? The reality is complex and deeply rooted in history, but worth a moment to quickly visit.  


In Charlotte, the wealthiest zip code in the city is 28207 (includes Eastover and Myers Park). Here, the median household income is $130,868 according to 2016 Census data. 


About 6 miles away are some of the lowest income neighborhoods in Charlotte: Druid Hills, Tryon Hills, and Brightwalk. The median household income is $28,034 a year on average across these neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are located in zip 28206.  


Don’t think for a second this is just an economic disparity—aside from a property value line, there is also a racial line between the two zip codes. 28206 is made up of nearly 74 percent African-American residents. By contrast, the 28207 zip code has 94 percent Caucasian residents.  


Here is where gentrification comes into play. In Mecklenburg County, the largest median household income increase occurred in the 28203 zip code. If you’re wondering where that is–South End. Think, specifically, of all the new apartments that have gone up recently. The median income in this area increased 39 percent—but it’s not just the income that increases when a neighborhood changes like this. The cost of living (including renting vs. buying costs) goes up along with the increase in average income.  


Current plans for Druid Hills (a neighborhood that was established when older, black neighborhoods were demolished in the 1950’s) involve building more than 1,000 new apartments and 170 new condominiums. Only 115 are being reserved for people making less than 80 percent of the area’s median income. This type of change in a neighborhood demographic is gentrification in a nutshell. NoDa experienced this change but government leaders have worked to welcome people into the neighborhood at multiple income levels with strategic growth. This helped stymie racial segregation and keeps the special, cool feel to NoDa.  


Gentrification isn’t a new concept. After the Great Depression, bank policies reinforced loans for wealthy, white neighborhoods but not for poor, black ones. This happened all throughout the United States. In the 80’s and 90’s, the concept of “urban renewal” was popular and involved tearing down African-American neighborhoods with federal assistance. The neighborhoods were destroyed and families displaced. Now these areas house the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, courthouse, abandoned Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools building, and the county’s jail. 


Neighborhoods will always change. But community organizations like the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership and increased awareness for anyone involved in the development or profit of these neighborhoods can go a long way in preventing the negative impacts as neighborhoods change.  


Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21