Gentrification and Health 

Urban interventions like new bike paths, greenways, pop-up parklets or greening initiatives can be powerful tools to redress health inequalities in underprivileged neighbourhoods. They have the potential to make physical activity more accessible, facilitate connections with neighbours and other parts of the city, and boost our well-being. As these effects combine, we can expect to see significant health benefits for nearby residents. But does everyone stand to benefit from these equally? In the long term, could these interventions have greater health benefits for new more affluent residents and push away long-term residents? 

These questions are at the core of our new mandate. In the spring of 2019, INTERACT received complementary funding from CIHR to develop our work on health inequalities, and specifically gentrification processes in Montreal.

Our objectives

  • Document whether urban interventions like new bike lanes are primarily rolled out in more deprived areas
  • Assess whether urban interventions lead to gentrification or if it is the other way around, or both
  • Measure the impact of urban interventions and neighbourhood gentrification on physical activity, social participation and well-being
  • Analyse whether impacts vary between low-income individuals who were displaced from gentrifying neighbourhoods and those who could stay
  • Build a pilot simulation tool to present how various urban environment intervention scenarios would impact population health, gentrification, and health inequities.

Defining Gentrification

Gentrification is an area-level process in which formerly declining, under-resourced neighbourhoods experience reinvestment and new increasingly affluent residents move in. Gentrified neighbourhoods experience changes in their physical, social, and economic environments, that can have both positive and negative consequences:

  • Positive changes, like more transportation options, shops and services, jobs for university graduates, higher property values and decreasing poverty.
  • Negative consequences, like reducing affordable housing, increasing income disparities, reducing racial/ethnic diversity, weakening organizational resources and community centres, and displacing long term residents and renters.

Urban interventions under study

When referring to the potential impacts of urban intervention on gentrification and health, we refer to interventions that are changes to the built environment, funded by public institutions (such as the City of Montreal, municipalities) and located within the realm of the public space.

Specifically, we are looking at:

Cycling Infrastructure
Réseau Express Vélo, bike paths, BIXI stations, bike parking, etc.

Transit Infrastructure
The REM, the Pie IX BRT, the blue line metro extension, changes to the bus network.

Changes to Green Spaces
New parks, trees, greened spaces, etc.

Changes to Public Space
Curb extensions, speed limits, public plazas, parklets, etc.

Measuring Gentrification

Urban researchers, community groups, and urban planners can’t agree on a single definition or measure that applies to every city and context. It’s why our team has developed a map-based gentrification tool: GENUINE (Gentrification, Urban Interventions, and Equity).

GENUINE maps four gentrification measures for all major Canadian cities. Each measure uses census data to identify ‘gentrified areas’ from changes in socio and demographic characteristics over 10 years that meet a particular threshold. 

Related publications 

Perceptions of urban change and why it matters

Abstract Cities increasingly recognize the need to invest in built environment transformations that promote positive health behaviours such as active transportation and social inclusion. Yet, we know very little about how the outcomes of these sustainability policies...

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