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The Gray Area: Gentrification in Manhattan's Hamilton Heights

  by Alexandra Watson, Editor-in-Chief   As a mixed-race graduate student at Columbia living in Hamilton Heights, a neighborhood in Harlem destined for “urban renewal,” my relationship to the word gentrification is ambivalent. As a child, I associated the word “gentrification” solely with white people—I thought it referred specifically and only to the moving of white people into a neighborhood. In popular usage, among my peers and members of my family both black and white, this seems to be the way the word has come to be understood, despite the fact that the word’s real definition refers solely to class and property—“the buying and renovation of stores and houses in deteriorated urban neighborhoods.” The word has taken on a negative connotation, oftentimes rightfully so—gentrification strips a neighborhood of its history, it drives out long-term residents, it either appropriates or overruns culture.