Gentrification is a process by which affluent residents and businesses move into a neighborhood, changing its essential character.
Through gentrification, declining neighborhoods undergo significant redevelopment, which increases their economic value. However, the resulting increase in living costs and change in neighborhood culture often forces longtime residents to move out.
Examples of gentrification are seen in the Bronx in New York, the East Side of Vancouver, Islington in London, and many other inner city suburbs of cities around the world.
So, gentrification is a complicated process with advantages and disadvantages.
Definition of Gentrification
John Scott in the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology defines gentrification as
The upgrading of decaying, normally inner-city housing, involving physical renovation, the displacement of low-status occupants by higher-income groups, and (frequently) tenure change from private rental to home ownership.(Scott, 2014)
The term derives from the Old French word gentry, meaning “of gentle birth”. In England, the term is linked to the “landed gentry”, a social class of landowners who could live entirely from their rental income.
In its modern sense, “gentrification” was first used by the British sociologist Ruth Glass. She used it to describe how middle-class people were displacing lower-class workers in urban neighborhoods.
Sociologists debate how the term gentrification should be defined. Some take the perspective of the newcomers (gentrifiers), others choose the old residents (the displaced), and some combine both:
- The newcomers: An example of the perspective of newcomers would be Hackworth’s definition: “the production of space for progressively more affluent users” (2002).
- The displaced: The approach is to view the issue from the perspective of the displaced, like in Kasman’s definition: “the reduction of residential and retail space affordable to low-income residents”. (2015).
Demaris Rose combines both perspectives, defining gentrification as the process “in which members of the ‘new middle class’ move into and physically and culturally reshape working-class inner-city neighborhoods” (1996).
Examples of Gentrification
- Ancient Rome: While gentrification as a topic of academic study and urban politics is quite new, the phenomenon itself goes back to Ancient Rome. Historians argue that in ancient Rome, large villas were replacing small shops by the 3rd century AD. In Roman Britain, the new settlements around military installations may have also attracted affluent individuals looking to enjoy urban amenities and greater security.
- Islington in London: The term gentrification was coined by Ruth Glass for Islington. In the 1960s, the area underwent significant redevelopment and attracted more affluent residents/ businesses. The rising cost of living displaced many old residents, and today, it is one of the most desirable areas in London. Even the former British prime minister Tony Blair lived in the neighborhood until 1997.
- Prenzlauer Berg district: The German city of Berlin sees intense debates about gentrification, and its Prenzlauer Berg district has become the poster child of the process. In the last few decades, the area has gone through rapid transformation, leading to mixed feelings among the locals. The term “Bionade-Biedermeier” has become popular for the area, similar to the English term “Bobo” (bourgeois bohémiens).
- The Young Lords in Chicago: The Young Lords were a street gang in Chicago that became a civil rights organization and fought against gentrification. This is an example of a countermovement by residents of deteriorated areas. Led by Jose Cha Cha Jimenez, the Young Lords occupied neighborhood institutions and led demonstrations to make people aware, fighting against Mayor Daley’s politics for years.
- The United States: In American cities, there is an excess of deteriorated housing in central areas and many jobs located in central business districts, both of which have led to significant gentrification. Starting from the 1960s, there have been three gentrification waves in the US. The latest one began in the late 1990s, driven by large-scale developments and government policies. The rate of gentrification has increased from 9% to 20% in the first decade of the 21st century (Maciag, 2015).
- Mexico City: The capital of Mexico is the fifth largest city in the world, and its urban area continues to expand with over one thousand new residents arriving daily. There has been been a great reconstruction and redesign of many zones in recent times, driven by state and private investments. However, this rapid urban growth has been difficult for the government to control, adversely impacting many sections.
- Canada: Because of Canada’s unique history and multicultural policies, the country’s gentrification has been quite different from that of the US. For example, in Toronto, some gentrification efforts have been driven by businesses trying to attract specific ethnic communities such as Corso Italia and Greektown (Hackworth, 2005). The Saint Roch neighborhood of Quebec City has also transitioned from a working-class area to a posh locality; now software companies like Ubisoft also have offices there.
- France: In France, most poor neighborhoods in the east have been experiencing an influx of affluent residents and rising prices. Social housing and the preference of most cities for a “social mix” (having both low and high-income residents in the same neighborhood) have kept the process in check. However, the poorest section still suffers; they were forced to move to the suburbs and must now go to periurban areas.
- South Africa: In South Africa, there have been two waves of gentrification. The first occurred between the 1980s and the post-apartheid period while the second one took place during and after the 2000s. The gentrification has been particularly evident in Cape Town, where areas like Woodstock and Bo-Kaap have undergone rapid transformation in recent years.
- Russia: There has been significant gentrification in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. The transition from the communist centralized planning to the market economy of the post-Soviet government has led to rapid gentrification, especially in Moscow. Historic neighborhoods such as Kitay-gorod and Zamoskvorechye have experienced major development, with many new cafes and cultural institutions opening.
Advantages of Gentrification
Through gentrification, there is an influx of affluent residents and businesses in a neighborhood, which can lead to economic growth, lower delinquency rates, etc.
Some advantages of gentrification include:
- Economic Growth: As new businesses move into the area, they bring more job opportunities and stimulate the local economy. The influx of wealthier residents, who have more disposable income, leads to greater investment in local businesses, leading to further economic growth.
- Better Infrastructure: Through gentrification, the infrastructure of an otherwise declining neighborhood undergoes significant improvements. There is a positive change in the perceived image of the area, and the tax base increases (due to the wealthier individuals & businesses), leading to greater government funding in the neighborhood.
- Lower Delinquency Rates: Gentrification leads to reduced incidence of misdemeanors (MacDonald, 202). This is often because the influx of wealthier individuals and businesses leads to improvements in security measures. This further creates economic benefits. However, it could be argued that affluent people are under-policed, meaning misdemeanors are just less likely to be identified.
- Reduced Strain on Public Resources: When poverty is concentrated in a particular region, it leads to a greater strain on public resources. Through gentrification, the pressure is relaxed as low-income residents move out of the inner city and into the suburbs. This is why gentrification is often advocated by located governments.
Disadvantages of Gentrification
While gentrification can stabilize and improve declining neighborhoods, it also has various disadvantages, such as displacing long-time residents.
Some disadvantages of gentrification include:
- Displacement: Due to gentrification, property values rise and the overall cost of living also increases. Therefore, many long-time residents, especially low-income ones, find it quite difficult to stay in the neighborhood and many of them are forced to leave.
- Cultural erasure: Communities have strong ties to the history and culture of their neighborhoods, but gentrification can completely change these. Significant cultural institutions and businesses may be forced to move out of the area, leading to cultural erasure.
- Unequal distribution and conflict: While gentrification leads to an improved economy and infrastructure, these benefits may not reach all sections. Low-income residents and people of color are often disproportionately affected by displacements; they may not get access to the benefits of gentrification.
- Conflict: Gentrification can lead to conflict between old and new residents, especially when there is a lack of communication between the groups. This can lead to feelings of resentment and anger, hurting the social cohesion of the neighborhood. (See also: conflict theory)
Gentrification is the influx of affluent individuals and businesses into a neighborhood.
It leads to significant economic growth, as the new residents have greater disposable incomes and can spend money on local businesses. Plus, the greater tax base and improved neighborhood image attract government funding for better infrastructure.
However, gentrification also has several disadvantages. It leads to the displacement of long-time residents and culturally-significant institutions. The benefits of gentrification often do not reach all sections of society, and it can create tensions in the neighborhood.
Hackworth, Jason (2002). “Postrecession Gentrification in New York City”. Urban Affairs Review. 37 (6). Sage Publications.
Hackworth, Jason; Rekers, Josephine (2005). “Ethnic packaging and gentrification: The case of four neighbourhoods in Toronto”. Urban Affairs Review. Sage Publications.
Kasman, Paul (2015). Public policy and gentrification in the Grandview Woodland neighborhood of Vancouver, B.C. (Masters of Public Administration thesis). University of Victoria.
MacDonald, John M.; Stokes, Robert J. (13 January 2020). “Gentrification, Land Use, and Cr*me”. Annual Review of Criminology. Annual Reviews.
Maciag, Mike (February 2015). “Gentrification in America Report: Where Gentrification Is Occurring”. Governing.com. Governing Magazine.
Rose, Demaris (1996). “Economic restructuring and the diversification of gentrification in the 1980s: A view from a marginal metropolis”. In Caulfield, J.; Peake, L. (eds.). City lives and city forms: Critical research and Canadian urbanism. University of Toronto Press.
Scott, John (2014). A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford