Investigation of Gentrifying Neighborhoods and Residents’ Health in East and Southeast Austin, Texas




Iyanda, Ayodeji E.

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<p>This study examines the role of urban gentrification on residents’ health and wellbeing. The author adopts the World Health Organization definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” By definition, gentrification is the movement of the higher-income population into lower-income neighborhoods, thus increasing property values, tax, and rents leading to the voluntary and involuntary displacement of low-income longtime residents. Gentrification has been a hot topic in the city of Austin for over two decades. The city of Austin, mainly East Austin, is known for its vibrant social and cultural lifestyle. It is home to live music, restaurants and cultural food, and historical landmarks. Despite its current diversity, most of those who have long resided in East Austin are people of color (POC), including Black/African Americans (AA) in the northern part and Hispanics in the south. Historically, East Austin has witnessed structural segregation, mostly leading to economic disinvestment in these minority neighborhoods principally due to the 1928 City Zoning policy. Due to urbanization, migration, globalization, and various local and national segregationist policies, the spatial and demographic characteristics of East Austin have dramatically changed in the past two or three decades. The historical covenants and conventions exposed the neighborhoods to uncontrolled mixed land uses, which permit industries' siting near residential areas. Consequently, different opposing bodies, including PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources), have moved against urban policy resulting in gentrification and other detrimental effects on residents—displacement. In this dissertation, the author assesses gentrification subjectively based on residents’ level of perception of neighborhood change and thus developed a perceived gentrification scale from five items.</p> <p>Based on the post-positivist worldview, this study adopts a mixed-method research method to achieve the two research objectives: (1) to quantitatively examine the probable impact of gentrification on residents' health, and (2) to qualitatively explore the meaning, concerns, perception of neighborhood effect on health, and strategies or coping mechanisms adopted by residents in the gentrifying environments to weather the impacts of gentrification. The mixed method includes a mixture of quantitative analyses of the perception of gentrification on health based on survey data, oral historic interview, and a one-on-one online interview to understand the effect of gentrification on residents’ health. Specifically, the quantitative aspect examined the relationship between the perception of gentrification, self-rated health, mental health, and chronic health conditions (CHCs). On the other hand, the qualitative aspect was used to deeply explore and understand participants' opinions for meaning, symbol, belief, self and community identity, and sense of commitment to their neighborhood.</p> <p>In the first chapter, I present the statement of problem and justification for carrying out the research. Chapter Two of the dissertation examines Austin's historical background and some of the policies that facilitated gentrification in East Austin. This research understands self-rated health and CHCs from different theoretical lenses, including the political ecology of health (PEH), subculturalist, social determinants of health (SDOH), and life course theory (LCT). Discussion of the theoretical perspectives is included in Chapter three of this dissertation. In Chapter Four, I presented the research methodology and described the systematic processes of data collection. In chapters 5-8, I present the results from the quantitative analysis and the qualitative interpretation of the interviews. The overall conclusions and discussion of my findings are presented in Chapter nine.</p> <p>In Chapter Five, I show that perceived gentrification among community members was significantly associated with ‘poor/low’ self-rated mental health and high reports of ‘good/high’ self-rated physical health and self-rated general health. Longtime residents reported lower/poorer self-rated general and physical health compared to recent residents. In contrast, longtime residents surprisingly reported higher/good self-rated mental health than recent residents. Similarly, older residents in gentrifying neighborhoods rated their mental health better than middle-aged residents. I also found that the three types of self-rated health significantly varied by socioeconomic status (e.g., educational attainment), but I did not find any significant difference by race/ethnicity.</p> <p>Chapter Six used a triangulation method including univariate, bivariate correlation, and multiple linear regression implemented through the structural equation model to examine the complex pathways to three health outcomes—measured stress, self-rated mental health, and depression symptoms. Bivariate Pearson’s correlation indicated a significant positive association between gentrification scores and mental health symptoms and stress. However, the direct association between gentrification and depression disappeared in the causal/path model. In support of the weathering hypothesis, which posits that repeated exposure to stressor without any intervention deteriorates health, I found that objectively measured stress was directly related to symptoms of depression among residents in the study area.</p> <p>In Chapter Seven, I employed non-linear techniques suitable for Poisson distribution to estimate the association between gentrification and reports of chronic health conditions, a count variable. First, I found a significant positive association between the perceived gentrification score and CHCs in all three probability models—Poisson, Negative Binomial (default), and Negative Binomial estimated with maximum likelihood (NB-MLE). Second, there was a significant positive association between historical childhood health and CHCs supporting the life course theory. An additional investigation based on mediation analysis to explore the indirect effect of gentrification through access to socioeconomic resources and historical health conditions explained 54% and 11% variation in the report of CHCs, respectively.</p> <p>Chapter Eight qualitatively explores the perceived impact of gentrification on residents’ health and wellbeing using information from key informant interview (KII) and in-depth interviews (IDI). Several themes related to environmental stress and weak neighborhood interest emerged deductively, while other themes emerged inductively. Regarding the perspective of gentrification on health, many participants discussed how gentrification could contribute to psychological/mental stress that could eventually lead to physiological health symptoms. Almost every participant indicated that they had previously been involved in one community or neighborhood organization—formal or informal. Nevertheless, participants raised concerns about eroding social capital due to gentrification and the displacement of the minority population in East Austin. Despite acknowledging increased diversity, participants had a sense of loss in neighborhood activism compared to when the neighborhoods were less diverse. A frequently expressed way residents resist or have been able to remain in their neighborhood was through employment and family support. The majority of the participants had never done anything politically to resist gentrification.</p> <p>The findings add to the understanding of the effect of gentrification on residents in Austin. It is crucial to make policymakers and other stakeholders aware of urban renewal policies' deleterious impact leading to gentrification. The study will also help foster strategies that will compensate and mitigate against the persistent implications of (re)development programs on citizens, particularly those who may be actively witnessing gentrification, the owner-residents. Finally, the research also contributes to the health impact assessment (HIA) and social injustice related to urban renewal programs in Austin, Texas, and beyond.</p>



Perceived gentrification, Health, Austin


Iyanda, A. E. (2021). <i>Investigation of gentrifying neighborhoods and residents’ health in east and southeast Austin, Texas</i> (Unpublished dissertation). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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