What do you understand by the term ‘gentrification’

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Last updated: April 2, 2019

The term ‘gentrification’ first appeared in print in a journal article by Ruth Glass in 1964 (Atkinson, 2002). Though the process of gentrification pre-dates this and Carter (1995) notes that gentrification was affecting New York City as early as the First World War.Gentrification is a process of physical, social, economic and cultural changes in inner-city communities resulting from the influx of new people. It is normally associated with less affluent, often working class, inner-city communities which are transformed into more affluent, middle/upper class, communities by the upgrading and modernisation of buildings, resulting in increased land values and the removal of less affluent residents.

Slater (2004) comments that gentrification is a highly complex issue that is very difficult to define precisely. Though most definitions include the word ‘class’, which is itself a complex issue, the essence of gentrification is the influx of different people to those already there. It is an extremely visible process where the new people change the character of the existing community.There are many contributing factors that affect whether gentrification occurs in a specific location though it is very difficult to predict whether or when change will occur. On the supply side you need areas that are ripe for redevelopment in either having a large stock of dilapidated often architecturally interesting buildings or ‘brown-field’ sites of post-industrial land. The ability to make a capital profit seems to be a key factor.The factors affecting the demand side, the pool of those able to gentrify, are wide ranging and highly complex and not all are involved in a specific location. Primary the pool exists because of changing employment structures allowing people with high disposable incomes to take advantage of low land values comparable to other areas and to grow their personal wealth.

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But this is very simplistic and age, education, gender (specifically the increase in single women), sexuality, race, lifestyle choice and possibly religion have an enormous influence over why and the way in which different areas experience gentrification.Gentrification has many costs and benefit but it seems to fail to address the fundamental causes of deprivation and urban decay in some of the least affluent parts of society. It will be interesting to see if the London Olympics 2012 which is to take place in the 3rd poorest borough in England, Stratford East London will benefit the existing local community or whether it is to be the new Docklands waiting to be discovered by the next wave of gentrifiers.Who are the ‘winners’ in the gentrification process?There are many benefits of the gentrification cited but Atkinson (2002) has highlighted the lack of research into the empirical benefits of the process. The following are the most commonly mention benefits:* Boost to city tax revenues* Increased property values* Increased social mix* Improvements to local services* Improvements to the physical environmentIt is often the young, 25-35, who are highly educated, highly skilled and highly paid who are the main beneficiaries of the process (Slater, 2004). Richards (2005) comments on the changes to her community of Newington Green, an area which has experienced gentrification since 2000.

There has been a reduction in poverty, crime, prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse and a corresponding increase in new white middle class professionals, building restoration, bars, cafes, restaurants, estate agents, pedestrian schemes, landscaping of the green and new children’s play equipment to name but a few. She concludes that ‘it feels better, safer place to live’.Who are the ‘losers’ in the gentrification process?The main disadvantage continually cited within the literature is the displacement of less affluent households due to increasing rent/property prices but the following are also mentioned (Atkinson 2002):* Community conflict* Racial tension* Landlord harassment* Lower population densities* Greater demand on local spending by incoming affluent householdsThe literature also indicates that there is a much wider set of costs compared with benefits of gentrification. Again in Newington Green (Richards, 2005) there are many examples of ‘losers’ in the process.

The existing Turkish community is being exiled because their restaurants and pizzerias no longer meet the demands of the new white middle classes. There is less parking for people to access local shops due to traffic re-routing schemes and new retail space is about to be built making it increasingly difficult for existing local/independent businesses to survive. The local drug addicts and squats were moved on by the police with little attempt made to deal with their addictions. Alcoholics have been replaced by binge drinkers, especially affluent teenagers. The incomers do not mix or participate with the local community and socialised with those from outside Newington Green. The over riding sentiment gained from Newington Green is that the community action group who campaigned for improvements to the green and hence providing the seed for gentrification where serving their own self interest and not benefiting the whole community.

Outline the main geographical approaches that have attempted to explain the process of gentrificationThe arguments about what precisely gentrification is started in 1979 with Neil Smith’s paper proposing the ‘rent-gap’ theory. This theory explains the relationships between flows of capital and the production of urban space also known as the production-side argument influenced by the structural Marxism approach.Slater (2004) demonstrates how Smith argued that low rents in the urban suburbs during the two decades after World War II led to a continuous movement of capital towards the development of suburban areas. This caused a devaluation of inner-city areas, resulting in the substantial decline and abandonment of inner-city areas in favour of those in the suburbs. As a consequence the value of inner-city land fell relative to the rising value of suburban land.

The difference between the current land value and the potential that might be obtained after gentrification is the rent-gap.Smith proposed that the rent-gap theory was the primary process underlying gentrification. He assumed that when the rent-gap was great enough developers would see the potential for profit and start reinvesting in devalued areas. In addition to Smith’s main theory the de-industrialisation of the inner-city area was seen as prerequisites to gentrification.Authors from the consumption-side arguments, influenced by the poststructuralist approach, criticised the rent-gap theory.

Chris Hamnett argued that the rent-gap theory does not reveal anything about the gentrifiers while David Ley was concerned that the rent-gap theory failed to explain why gentrification occurred in some cities and not in others.The consumption-side arguments led notably by David Ley gained greater weight as an explanation for gentrification by investigating the characteristics of the gentrifiers themselves rather than the process. Often associated with gentrification was the polarisation of the employment sector between high paid professional and managerial jobs and low paid white collar workers. The emergence of a service (quaternary) class of young people with high disposable incomes and jobs locate in central urban areas and who wished to live close to work were the main tenets of the consumption-side theory of gentrification.Sharon Zukin in 1982 was one of the first to recognised the importance of both production-side and consumption-side argument and to proposed that to fully understand the processes of gentrification necessitated appreciation of both sides of the discourse, so called ‘cultural capital’.

Since the global recession of the late 1980s early 1990s, where the processes of gentrification lay dormant for several years due to a lack of capital, the academic literature has taken two new theme: the revanchist city and the emancipatory city.The revanchist researchers took the prospective that the inner-city space of danger, menace, crime, violence and suffering (Slater , 2004) where the middle class were taking revenge for the loss of the inner-city to them. While the emancipatory researchers took an alternative representation of the inner-city space as a welcoming, inclusive, safe and liveable area where different people are united.

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