Yeonhwa Lee

Speaker: Yeonhwa Lee, PhD Candidate in City and Regional Planning

Discussant: Mark Stern or Ira Goldstein


  1. Mixed-income neighborhoods have long been proposed as a policy ideal that contrasts with the racial and economic segregation that characterizes much of metropolitan United States. However, scholars of neighborhood change have theorized and empirically shown that, while poor and affluent neighborhoods tend to persist, mixed-income neighborhoods tend to transition into either low- or high-income neighborhoods, exiting their status as mixed income. However, stable mixed-income neighborhoods (SMINs) do exist in the U.S. This paper uses a case study approach to build on a prior paper, which assesses neighborhood income diversity and identifies SMINs in the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S., and addresses the following research question: How have stable mixed-income neighborhoods maintained their economic diversity over time, and what is the role of planning and housing policy? 
  2. Employing an embedded two-case study design (Yin, 2014), this paper focuses on San Francisco, CA, and Washington, D.C. as the two case study sites, which were selected primarily based on their high shares of SMINs from 1990 to present and secondarily based on other factors of comparison such as differing regions, racial compositions, population sizes, and economies. The paper interrogates the various theorized drivers of stable neighborhood economic diversity--from historical and current housing and planning policy at the city level, to housing market and community dynamics at the neighborhood level--through the triangulation of multiple types of data. Specifically, the paper relies on the analysis of historical and current city plans and zoning ordinances and other relevant archival data, as well as in-depth semi-structured interviews with city planning departments, community development organizations and organizers, and real estate professionals.
  3. In terms of analytic strategy, the case study is guided by the theoretical proposition that neighborhood income diversity is influenced by policy interventions, including local planning and housing policy and other urban programs such as affordable housing. This proposition not only reflects what scholars theorize as drivers of income-mixing and/or economic segregation in neighborhoods (e.g., Dreir et al. 2014; Talen and Lee 2018), but also belies the hope that, indeed, some policy interventions make a meaningful difference on the socio-spatial landscape and can be effectively leveraged for this purpose in the future. Against the study’s null hypothesis that the observed stable income diversity in neighborhoods is a chance occurrence, the case study’s expected findings include both converging and diverging narratives between San Francisco and Washington, D.C.—some core similarities surrounding land use policies and affordable housing approaches and other differences shaped by dissimilar planning and market contexts. Ultimately, the analysis and findings provide theoretical and empirical insights into neighborhood change, income mix, and the various policies that influence both, with implications for planning practice.