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Do Art Scenes Really Lead to Gentrification?

A new study finds that arts establishments are actually more concentrated in affluent and gentrified—rather than gentrifying—neighborhoods.
Murals depicting David Bowie and Bernie Sanders in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles
Murals depicting David Bowie and Bernie Sanders in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles Richard Vogel/AP

It’s an old story, the stuff of urban legend and conventional wisdom: First come the artists, then come the yuppies. But is this really the case? Are artists the “shock troops” of gentrification?

A new paper in the journal Urban Studies takes a deep dive into the connection between arts and gentrification. The paper explores this connection at the ZIP-code level for 30 large metropolitan areas with populations of more than 2 million people. It looks at the years between 2000 and 2013, a period of intense gentrification in some cities. And it considers the effects of both the fine arts—including independent artists, art galleries, fine arts schools, museums, and performing arts companies—and the commercial arts, such as the film, music, and design industries.