Does Gentrification Cause a Reduction in Laundromats?
Browsing Twitter this evening, a tweet from the illustrious Brian Lehrer caught my eye:
Help us check this theory before tomorrow’s show: is gentrification forcing laundromats out of business? https://t.co/bubx9wEu5d
— Brian Lehrer Show (@BrianLehrer)
There are lots of ways people might answer that question, and Brian Lehrer will likely be discussing the experiences and perspectives of New Yorkers tomorrow on his show. But if you read this blog, then you know I like to see whether there is a data source to support these anecdotal experiences.
There is no magic “gentrification” data-set immediately at the ready, nor do I have data on the reduction of laundromats. But thanks to open data, I do have data on active laundromat licenses as of September, 2014. So at the very least, I can see the location of all currently licensed laundromats in the city.
My hypothesis is that if gentrification leads to a reduction in laundromats (because the wealthy are more likely to have their own washing machines), then richer neighborhoods should have less laundromats than poorer ones.
So for each Neighborhood Tabulation Area (NTA), I calculated the number of laundromats per 1,000 residents. That led me to this map of the city:
There are certainly clusters of higher laundromat density, but nothing stood out to me to say this is income related.
To be sure, I ran a correlation on the number of laundromats per thousand residents vs median income for each NTA in NYC:
While it seems like in the absolute highest-income neighborhoods (outliers, so to speak) there are relatively few laundromats, once you get past the top 4 neighborhoods, things get less clear. In fact the median income and the laundromats per resident rate has a correlation of only -0.11, a very weak (though negative) correlation.
The only borough with a reasonable negative correlation between income and laundromat density is Staten Island with a moderate correlation of -0.44:
Interestingly, the top 5 neighborhoods with the most laundromats per resident are all in Queens: Elmhurst-Maspeth, Glendale, Jamaica, Estates-Holliswood, Woodside, Corona Astoria. In Manhattan, the most laundromats per resident are in Gramercy, a relatively affluent neighborhood, with 34 laundromats for about 28 thousand people.
If you want to interact with the data, and see which neighborhoods lie where in the Scatterplot, you can use the interactive chart here. If you just want to see how your neighborhood stacks up against others, check here.
Quick side note: It’s also important to point out that this sort of quick analysis is only made possible by open data. I saw the question at 9PM or so, and was able to research it that night because the data was available. Agencies like the TLC or even Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Office have data available, but you have to reach out to them to ask what data they have, what it looks like and how to get access to it. This wastes the time of citizens and agencies alike. Kudos to the Department of Consumer Affairs for taking the more proactive approach here and posting to the portal. I hope others will follow suit.
I’m sure when people call in to the Brian Lehrer show tomorrow, they will have individual stories of laundromats closing and being replaced by residential construction or fancier commercial spaces. Undoubtedly, this shift affects some individuals. But my quick look at the data suggests it’s not a widespread issue in NYC. One thing to note is that with drop-off service, laundromats may be considered a luxury good as well. From dirtier to cleaner, and richer to poorer, laundromats seem to serve us all.