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Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO

For years, urban planners and housing advocates have understood the effects of gentrification on local populations in general ways — Black, Haitian and Cape Verdean families leaving Boston for Brockton and Randolph, Latinos in East Boston seeking lower rents in Revere and Lynn.

For the last five years, a team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been working to flesh out the details. The product of their work, an online mapping tool that enables users to click on communities, neighborhoods and towns and see where people are coming from and heading to, fills in the details, showing the communities where the greatest number of people are moving from and to.

“What this tool is unique in its ability to do is show how different communities that are near each other share population,” said Mariana Arcaya, an associate professor of urban planning at MIT. “Resident researchers in our study were saying people are moving in set patterns, like there’s an invisible train line between communities.”

Data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau can allow researchers to track changes in population of an area, but that data is often not sufficient for tracking the displacement that comes with gentrification or answering the question, “Where are people going?”

Arcaya and the research team on the Healthy Neighborhoods Study project, devised in partnership with the Conservation Law Foundation, used consumer credit data and resident researchers to glean data collected from 2009 to 2019. Researchers with the project were able to access the consumer credit data through the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

“A large group of people came together for this,” Arcaya said. “It’s a unique example of a participatory way of making use of big data sets.”

Among the results of the research is an interactive map that enables users to select a community — a small city or town or a neighborhood in a larger city such as Boston or Worcester — and see where high-socioeconomic status people are moving from or to and where lower socioeconomic status people are moving from or to.

The researchers hope the data will better enable city planners, social service providers and others to serve the needs of populations as they move from one community to another. Arcaya said community-based organizations in cities and towns that share population can better coordinate if they understand these shifts in population.

In the case of Brockton, the group’s data confirms what activists and city planners have been saying in recent years. The highest concentration of people moving to Brockton with good access to credit are coming from Mattapan, followed by surrounding communities such as Hyde Park, Dorchester, Roxbury and Milton. A high number of those moving to the town are also coming from surrounding towns such as Bridgewater, Kingston, Easton and Randolph.

Interestingly, people with poor access to credit moving to Brockton are largely coming from the same areas.

“People can recognize the commonalities of the housing struggle,” Arcaya said. “People already have a strong sense of how communities are linked. Now they have data.”