Light-rail Investment in Seattle: Gentrification Pressures and Trends in Neighborhood Ethnoracial Composition

Published in Urban Affairs Review, 2020

Recommended citation: Hess, C. L. (2020). Light-rail investment in Seattle: Gentrification pressures and trends in neighborhood ethnoracial composition. Urban Affairs Review, 56(1), 154-187.

Research often finds a positive relationship between public transportation investment and gentrification in nearby neighborhoods. This dynamic is particularly important in urban contexts that plan for transit-oriented development and creating future “walkability.” In this study, I demonstrate a link between transit investment and changing neighborhood racial and ethnic composition, using a case study of the recent light-rail project in Seattle, Washington. Descriptive analyses and difference-in-difference models suggest that affected neighborhoods in Seattle experienced rising shares of non-Hispanic Whites following the start of light-rail construction, while neighborhoods at the suburban periphery of the line saw substantial growth in racial and ethnic diversity. These findings highlight the role of transit infrastructure in restructuring demographic trajectories of nearby neighborhoods and contribute evidence about shifting patterns of residential segregation in the area around the transit line.