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Assistant professor of sociology Van Tran is researching hyper-gentrification on Amsterdam Avenue.

Wealthy elites moving into West Chelsea may be one of the causes of gentrification in neighborhoods as far away as Manhattanville and Washington Heights.

Assistant professor of sociology Van Tran has been researching the causes and effects of gentrification along the entire length of Amsterdam Avenue. He and his team interviewed over 150 residents and small business in the 10 neighborhoods between 14th Street and 225th Street.

Their findings indicate that gentrification affects all neighborhoods, including well-to-do ones, which are not usually seen as subject to gentrification.

In New York, young professionals often move into lower-income neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Brooklyn, resulting in gentrification. Their presence causes property prices and rents to rise, displacing lower-income residents and small businesses.

Columbia's expansion into Manhattanville has also raised concerns about gentrification as nearby communities worry that the enormous influx of capital and the movement of wealthy professionals and academics into the area will affect the cost of living accordingly.

Tran's study aims to understand similar concerns residents of Amsterdam Avenue have about gentrification.

What his team found during the interviews surprised them: Well-to-do residents in well-off neighborhoods were also worried about gentrification.

"When we asked them, 'What is the challenge you're facing in your community?', the answer was, 'Gentrification,' and 'I'm afraid I won't be able to live here,' or 'I'm afraid that the community is going to be changed and it will no longer be my community,'" Tran said.

Even residents of neighborhoods below 125th Street, which have already been gentrified, reported feeling afraid that gentrification would push them out of their communities, according to Tran.

"We didn't understand why people were complaining about gentrification below 125th," Tran said. "But then we learned that the process of gentrification is so different there compared to what we know."

Tran and his team began to use the term "hyper-gentrification" to describe the changes occurring in neighborhoods such as West Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen, which are situated below 59th Street.

"We'd thought, 'Didn't gentrification already happen here?' But it's a whole other level of gentrification, and that's why we call it hyper-gentrification," Tran said. "It is distinct from gentrification, which is the influx of young professionals into formerly disadvantaged and minority neighborhoods."

Tran used the High Line as an example to explain this phenomenon. Its redevelopment from a railroad into an elevated park has spurred the construction of many luxury condos along its path. This has caused a spike in rent and prices in these neighborhoods that have already been gentrified, causing wealthier residents to feel economic pressure to move to cheaper locations.

"The idea here is that it's the influx of the national and global elite and wealthy into formerly middle-class and upper-middle-class, white neighborhoods," Tran said. "58th Street and 57th Street is actually what we call 'Billionaire Row' because that is where all the billionaires are."

Farther north, above 125th Street, neighborhoods such as Washington Heights and Manhattanville are also feeling the effects of gentrification.

"I think, overall, the gentrification that is happening above 125th is driven mostly by our expansion of our campus," Tran said."Columbia is, I think, [has a] net positive impact on our different neighborhoods and the communities around us. We could do better in improving our relationship with the different communities that we are a part of, for sure."

But these changes are not solely due to the University.

"Our students are increasingly moving into these different neighborhoods," Tran said. "But this is because they can no longer afford to live in the Upper West Side, where they used to live. And that, again, has everything to do with West Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen."

Tran said this movement of students is caused by the movement of families and individuals from neighborhoods affected by hyper-gentrification.

"We talked about young professionals moving in. The question is, why are they moving into these neighborhoods in the first place?" Tran said. "And the reason is that young professionals, are being displaced from the neighborhoods in which they used to live."

By examining the processes of change in New York driven by Columbia and other developmental forces, Tran said he hopes to foster increased understanding of the city and its communities.

"It's a way of us being engaged with the city around us and trying to think about what we can learn from our own communities," Tran said.

alan.gou@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

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