“We see bike lanes and dog parks being created where folks would really like to see better bus service or maybe get their streets cleaned and have the roads repaired.”
So states an interviewee in “Dog Parks and Coffee Shops: Faux Diversity and Consumption in Gentrifying Neighborhoods,” recipient of the 2021 Thomas C. Kinnear Award. The article, published in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing in 2018, focuses on three rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods of Washington, DC, whose residents highlight multiple instances in which both the city and incoming businesses have overlooked the needs of the area’s long-time (largely Black and Brown) population in favor of serving the interests of the newcomers (who were more likely to be White). At first glance, the area’s mix of races, ethnicities, and ages might seem like a melting pot—but a deeper look paints a more complicated picture.
Authors Sonya A. Grier and Vanessa G. Perry interviewed 21 local residents (both long-time residents and newcomers) and 2 experts on gentrification to collect people’s lived experiences in and perceptions of these changing neighborhoods. The interviews reveal the inequities that accompany gentrification and the shallow inauthenticity of “faux diversity.” Below, Grier and Perry discuss the inspiration for and impact of their article.
What motivated this research?
We were walking down U Street—a busy popular gentrifying neighborhood in DC for bars, restaurants, nightlife—late one Saturday night, and noticed how many different groups of people were on the streets—some young “hipsters”; some older; some White, some Black, other races and ethnicities—but few seemed to be interacting with each other. This led to a discussion about Sonya’s prior work on diversity seeking and target marketing and the realization that few studies have focused on the consumption implications in these communities. This was also related to work that Vanessa had done on diversity seeking related to real estate.
We interviewed a diverse set of people across age, race, and gender about their social interactions, consumption, and sense of community across three different neighborhoods. We found through this research that gentrification does increase diversity in these neighborhoods, but in a superficial way; when residents experience changes in consumption opportunities accompanied by limited social interaction, faux diversity occurs. “Faux diversity” is a term we coined to describe the presence of diverse groups without interaction between them.
Since its publication, your article has won JPP&M’s 2021 Kinnear Award as well as the 2020 AMA-EBSCO Annual Award for Responsible Research in Marketing. When researching and writing, did you have any idea that this work would have such broad impact?
We did not have an idea that this work would have such broad impact. However, it makes sense given the importance of housing and community to people’s day-to-day lives. The movie definitely helped to bring the theoretical dimensions and their application to life and likely reinforced broader impact.
We hoped that this interdisciplinary qualitative study would contribute to business practice, society, and these types of changing communities. It was also important to us that the work be relevant to multiple stakeholders, including scholars who care about theoretical takeaways, as well as clear, actionable directions for practitioners.
Can you tell me a little about the documentary related to the research?
In addition to the article, we created a film to reach stakeholders beyond the academic community, including scholars, activists, community members, business people, community developers, economists, teachers, real estate professionals, government officials, and others. We have also presented to many scholarly audiences and provided the film and article to faculty for their classes.
In addition to conferences and research panels, you’ve also shared this research with government officials, policy makers, and community organizations. What’s been your favorite experience(s) discussing “Dog Parks and Coffee Shops” outside of academia?
The events that bring in local residents from the neighborhoods have been my favorite discussion experiences. The opening event with all the people we interviewed was amazing to hear their take on how we put it all together. And the Smithsonian Museum presentation which was part of their ongoing “Right to the City” exhibit was a standing-room-only discussion with residents of diverse areas in the city. There were many people form the neighborhoods who were seriously considering these issues in ways that help keep us connected to the reality of the practical problem.
It was also fascinating collaborating with the Historic West End Partners, an organization that works to define and implement meaningful and sustainable economic development in Charlotte, North Carolina. In addition to presenting the film in Charlotte, a related group made a trip to DC and watched the movie on the bus ride here. We discussed gentrification issues in DC in one of the movie locations (Ben’s Chili Bowl) and also took the participants on a bus tour of gentrifying areas in DC.
Read the Article
Grier, Sonya A. and Vanessa G. Perry (2018), “Dog Parks and Coffee Shops: Faux Diversity and Consumption in Gentrifying Neighborhoods,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 37 (1), 23–38.