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Gentrification

GENTRIFICATION

GENTRIFICATION. In discussing renewal of cities, the term "gentrification" is rather new; yet the concept is old. Throughout the history of urban civilization, cities have grown, stagnated, and then decayed. Often the cities' residents or others have then rebuilt and revitalized the city. In the United States, by the end of the nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century major cities faced growing slums and blighted areas in older portions. The decline included neglect and abandonment of public and private buildings and growth of poverty of the remaining residents, often recent immigrants, minorities, and the elderly.

After World War II (1939–1945), urban decline became a prominent concern, and organizations, particularly the federal government, used various programs to attack the problem. These generally were termed urban renewal projects. Large public housing structures were created in formerly blighted areas, but often there was little economic revitalization. Gradually the private sector—and perhaps local government—became interested in bringing inner cities back to life. Urban renewal became "gentrification," a term first used in England. The phenomenon has generated a great deal of attention since the 1970s in the United States and Europe.

Definition of Gentrification

Historically, the term "gentry" referred to landed people; in the twenty-first century, it usually refers to the upper middle class. As young, single professionals returned to the city to live, the English dubbed the process, "gentrification." Gentrifiers can be single or couples without children, heterosexual or homosexual; their occupations are generally professional, technical, or managerial. In the United States nearly all gentrifiers have at least some college education; in many cities, 70 to 90 percent have at least a bachelor's degree. In a few cities, such as sections of Boston or New York, gentrifiers also include college students.

Gentrification normally refers to changes in urban neighborhoods. The dictionary definition is the rehabilitation and settlement of decaying urban areas by middle-and high-income people. However, the term "gentrification" also appears in material or popular culture. For instance, studies have been done on the gentrification of blue jeans, from the durable pants for gold miners to mass-marketing in the 1960s and transformation into high fashion items.

The Gentrification Process

Gentrification begins when a deteriorated and usually partially abandoned neighborhood for some reason appeals to housing speculators. Initially, buildings may change hands several times before they are renovated. Eventually, building renovation takes place and units are usually sold for high prices, rather than rented. About the same time economic revitalization of the area begins and then the pace of gentrification and displacement of the poorer residents and the renters accelerates.

The process of gentrification is not universal in the United States, and suburban growth is still much greater than inner city gentrification. It is difficult to quantify exactly the extent of the phenomenon, but it is known that gentrification generally has occurred in the larger or older cities, initially in the East, Midwest, and South, although the process is growing in a few western cities such as San Francisco and Seattle. Some observers say that without gentrification, vibrant inner cities would cease to exist.

One of the difficulties in determining the extent and impact of gentrification is that observers define the concept differently. According to a Brookings Institution report, definitions include: the process of disinvestments and reinvestment in a neighborhood; urban revitalization commercially and residentially, physical upgrading of a low-income neighborhood; renovating housing stock and selling to newcomers (gentry); and the class and racial tensions over dislocations when new "gentrified" residents move into a neighborhood. What seems to be agreed upon is that a gentrified urban area includes some change in the neighborhood character, some displacement of older and poorer residents, and some physical upgrading of housing stock. Though gentrification may be difficult to define, it is a process of which people say, "we know it when we see it."

Factors that Encourage Gentrification

There are several factors that contribute to the gentrification process. One factor is job growth in the city, or even on its periphery, such as Silicon Valley in California, Route 128/95 in Massachusetts, or Fairfax County in Virginia. Young technical professionals move to the revitalized areas of a city for a reverse-commute. In the 1970s and 1980s, corporations reinvested in central city districts and transformed them commercially and residentially.

A second factor contributing to gentrification is the housing market. As inner cities declined in the move to the suburbs, city housing deteriorated, thus providing opportunity for housing speculators and rehabilitation. Investors sought neighborhoods with gentrification potential to find bargain housing that could be renovated and sold for great profits. Public housing was an early postwar solution to renovate or revitalize cities. Gradually these usually massive structures deteriorated and governments sought other remedies. Public housing structures have been torn down and the land sold at relatively low prices to developers for new office buildings and gentrified housing.

A third factor promoting conditions for gentrification is a preference for the cultural life of the city, that is, the easy access to diverse people and diverse entertainment which cities offer. Growth in the number of artists living in the area is generally considered a sign of coming gentrification. For example, Boston has been able to chart gentrification and predict potential for new gentrified areas by following the settlement patterns of artists over a period of years. Artists move to areas where there is plenty of space that is cheap. Cafes, bookstores, and theaters follow. The gentrifiers move in and the prices go up, forcing the artists to move on.

Government policies also affect gentrification. The federal government financially encourages demolition of large public housing and creation of less dense townhouses or condominiums with provisions for mixed income housing. State or city governments may offer tax incentives for revitalization of downtown areas. City governments may also use zoning changes to encourage an influx of new businesses and residents. Where government works in concert with the residents, such as in Lowell, Massachusetts, in the 1970s and 1980s, tensions are reduced. Where government tends to promote private investment and a laissez-faire attitude, such as on the Lower East Side of New York, conflicts with local residents may arise.

The Negatives of Gentrification

There is also a downside to gentrification. It takes an especially heavy toll on the poor and the elderly; which usually also means on minorities. Gentrification means repavement of streets, planting of trees and flowers, creation of cafes, restaurants, and new businesses, and more visible police protection and safety. However, these improvements also mean higher property values and taxes, which brings "involuntary" displacements of poor and elderly residents, especially renters, and often leads to conflicts between old and new residents. To lessen the pressure toward displacements and conflicts, many neighborhood leaders, city government, and the private sector work together to maintain income and racial diversity in gentrifying neighborhoods.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gale, Dennis E. Neighborhood Revitalization and the Postindustrial City: A Multinational Perspective. Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books. 1984.

Kennedy, Maureen, and Paul Leonard. "Dealing with Neighborhood Change: A Primer on Gentrification and Policy Choices." Brookings Institution. April, 2001. Available from http://www.brook.edu/es/urban/gentrification/gentrificationexsum.htm.

Diane NagelPalmer

See alsoCity Planning ; Urban Redevelopment .

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Gentrification

Gentrification

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gentrification marks the revival of urban areas by a set of interrelated demographic, economic, and spatial changes: new investment in housing, an influx of highly educated, culturally aware residents and consumers, and the shift from an industrial to a service economy with jobs in the center city for professionals and artists. First observed in London during the 1950s but gradually spreading through North American, Australian, and European cities, the movement of middle-class households into old working-class neighborhoods took most observers by surprise because it contradicts the much greater flow of people and capital outward to new suburbs and the presumed decline of urban life. But gentrifiers reject the social class and ethnic homogeneity of most suburban housing developments. They are attracted to the social diversity of city life, the aesthetic qualities of old buildings, and the cultural vitality of the streets. The low cost of housing in centrally located but derelict and often crime-ridden neighborhoods also appeals to them. Although they take a risk by investing in and moving to these areas, they benefit from the cultural amenities they help to develop and from steadily rising property values.

Because gentrification raises housing prices and brings a different sort of commercial culture to older neighborhoods, gentrifiers are nearly always suspected of displacing low-income residents. In many cities where high-level business services and high-tech sectors have expanded and redevelopment plans focus on the downtown, rising rents and sale prices do increase the housing burden for a large part of the urban population. Higher rents also threaten the cheap stores and local services that cater to low-income residents; landlords prefer to end their leases and replace them with boutiques, cafés, and bars that will draw middle-class customers. The types of services these consumers wantand the atmosphere they preferare often seen as alien by their poorer, older, and less educated neighbors and tend to make these earlier residents feel culturally as well as economically displaced. But precise data on displacement are difficult to find, and some local residents may choose to move either to a cheaper location in the same area or to a different place entirely. Older home owners in particular may take the opportunity to move away if their children do not want to live in their house and they can make a large profit by selling it.

City governments and the media downplay displacement in order to encourage new investment and develop attractions for tourists and residents. Along with new residents, they describe the existing area as a wilderness and the gentrifiers as pioneers. These metaphors thinly veil a continuous pressure to upgrade the city by replacing low-income groups, who often depend on public services, with more affluent taxpayers and to replace low-rent, low-status manufacturers with residential tenants. Because gentrification in the form of loft living became widespread during the 1970s due to the residential conversion of manufacturing space, it is difficult to say whether gentrifiers contribute to or simply follow industrial dislocations and factory shutdowns. By the same token, gentrifiers often move into neighborhoods that have already lost residents because of property owners disinvestment and abandonment as well as a decline in public services.

The media actively promote the sense of style that gentrification evokes. While loft living is associated with open spaces, high ceilings, and stark modern decor and the rehabilitation of town houses with small rooms and original, Victorian architectural detail, each suggests a cultural transformation of the inner city from physical dilapidation and social disadvantage to an attractive consumers zone. Because of new residents higher salaries, dual income households, and cultural capital, gentrified areas of the city soon sprout ambitious restaurants, art galleries, performance spaces, and unusual designer boutiques. The high degree of self-employment among gentrifiers who work in cultural fields provides them with both a daytime and a nighttime clientele. Moreover new shops and cafés are featured in going-out guides and style magazines, bringing more visitors from other areas of the city as well as from suburbs and overseas. In this way the lifestyle elements of gentrification repair damage to the citys image from postWorld War II disinvestment and the flight of many middle-class residents. Together with housing prices, gentrifiers cultural tastes act as agents of change, reducing the number of working-class, middle-income, and minority neighborhoods.

Although gentrification is viewed as a market-based alternative to state-sponsored urban renewal, it cannot succeed without active state intervention. Local government condones years of disinvestment and capital flight from older areas, creating a rent gap between the profit to be gained at current housing prices and the likely profit from reinvestment in the future. Zoning laws prohibit the expansion of manufacturing, encourage historic preservation, and create special cultural districts. Vigilant policing makes gentrified neighborhoods safer. In some cases elected officials, business leaders, and old social elites plan the gentrification of a center city neighborhood to stall further decline of property values.

If it raises a neighborhoods profile, gentrification may lead to rezoning for new construction, and successive waves of gentrification replace middle-class home buyers with even richer residents. Over time the character of these neighborhoods changes, although not enough to eliminate social inequality in the city as a whole.

SEE ALSO Ghetto; Poverty; Racism; Urban Renewal

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Freeman, Lance. 2006. There Goes the Hood: Views of Gentrification from the Ground Up. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Smith, Neil, and Peter Williams, eds. 1986. Gentrification of the City. Boston: Allen and Unwin.

Zukin, Sharon. 1989. Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change. 2nd ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Sharon Zukin

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gentrification

gentrification, the rehabilitation and settlement of decaying urban areas by middle- and high-income people. Beginning in the 1970s and 80s, higher-income professionals, drawn by low-cost housing and easier access to downtown business areas, renovated deteriorating buildings in many cities, reversing what had been an outmigration of upper-income families and individuals from many urban areas. This led to the rebirth of some neighborhoods and a rise in property values, but it also caused displacement problems among poorer residents, many of them elderly and unable to afford higher rents and taxes.

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gentrify

gen·tri·fy / ˈjentrəˌfī/ • v. (-fies, -fied) [tr.] renovate and improve (esp. a house or district) so that it conforms to middle-class taste. ∎  [usu. as adj.] (gentrified) make (someone or their way of life) more refined or dignified. DERIVATIVES: gen·tri·fi·ca·tion / ˌjentrəfiˈkāshən/ n. gen·tri·fi·er n.

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gentrification

gentrification 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. The term was first used by the British urban sociologist Ruth Glass (London: Aspects of Change, 1964).

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gentrification

gentrification. Migration of middle classes into former working-class areas, with a resulting change of character, e.g. modernizing and repair of old property.

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gentrify

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