GIS, Data Preservation, and Gentrification

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Olivia Harne discusses how smart planning that incorporates GIS needs to take into account the historic identity of gentrifying neighborhoods.  

Protecting cultural identity in the face of progressing gentrification is a frequently covered topic in prominent news sources. The outcomes of this process are often felt to inadvertently erase the unique demographic of an area, in favor of satisfying higher income newcomers.

Gentrification tends to take place in neighborhoods that are “devalued,” with the victims primarily being in urban neighborhoods. It can lead to population migration, resulting in community displacement and a loss of the initial cultural experience of the area being gentrified. This inevitably leads to the parallel loss of geographic data pertaining to local businesses, groups, and other historical information of the original inhabitants of the area.

Data preservation has been used to combat this disintegration of historic identity, but in the face of rapidly progressing technological industries – particularly in GIS – it’s questionable as to whether companies supporting and promoting the advent of “smart cities” are taking everyone into account. The idea to continuously develop cities using GIS planning seems well intentioned, normally with the goal of improving some aspect of a place – be that safety, available healthcare, or transportation – and benefitting the lives of those within its range.

But the projection of continuous social and economic development could just as easily enable gentrification in urban areas, if there isn’t a level of self-awareness on behalf of the industries that are pedaling this proposed ideal in the first place. It’s concerning to see that these organizations rarely have any public statements regarding how original regional data will / can be preserved for the future. Rather, most will focus on the aesthetic promotion of the future without an appreciation for the individuals and groups that were there before this data came into play.

Smart cities are great in concept, but the execution of them still breeds concern. That concern will never be resolved if the avoidance on the topic of protecting local cultures from gentrification continues.

Index that measures displacement pressure and revalitzation in likelihood in Los Angeles created by the  Los Angeles Innovation Team (i-team, LA Mayor's Office.

Index that maps displacement pressure and revitalization measured across Los Angeles created by the Los Angeles Innovation Team (i-team, LA Mayor’s Office.


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