Friday, September 02, 2005


"It's gentrification, but you could also almost call it apartheid by both race and class."
David Aragon
Shame of the Cities: Gentrification in the New Urban America


A noun pronounced 'jen-trê-fê-key-shên it means urban renewal that results in an influx of middle-class residents into an economically deprived area. The upgrading or reclaiming of deteriorated urban areas by the middle and upper classes and refers to changes in a neighborhood that reflect an inflow of capital. Oftentimes the influx of capital coincides with increasing numbers of the professional and managerial classes or the so called gentry living in an area. New condominiums are built, prices of real estate are bid up, old houses are rehabilitated.

The word is of English in origin stemming from gentry; people of high social position.The root is gens, gent- clan from gen- give birth, as in Greek gignomai be born related to genos race, stock. Gentry originally referred to landowners immediately below the nobility but still of genteel breeding. Other words based on the same root are gentile, genteel, gentle, and gentleman. To gentrify is the verb meaning to convert a working-class or inner-city district into an area of middle-class residence. It was coined by the sociologist Ruth Glass in London in 1964, however inner city gentrification is widely recognized as an international phenomenon and tends to unfold in stages:

  • a high proportion of renters
  • ease of access to jobs centers (freeways, public transit, reverse commutes, new subway stations or ferry routes)
  • location in a region with increasing levels of metropolitan congestion and
  • comparatively low housing values, particularly for housing stock with architectural merit.
By todays standards gentrification is used in a slightly pejorative way since the gentrification of a previously neglected district often displaces the poorer current residents. You could say when Starbucks hits the area "Here comes the neighborhood!" Original residents move out as leases fall in, homes are sold and landlords harass tenants into leaving. Moved along by government monies in the form of grants for urban renewal programs and are paid off by income taxes or increased rates along with a change of tenure from renting to home ownership. This phenomenon is referred to as a rent gap. In London, Islington is a classic example of a gentrified area; in Paris, gentrification has extended from the Marais eastwards. Sometimes a market-led gentrification happens due to a bandwagon effect of numerous uncoordinated decisions by investors who buy property solely for the purposes of making money when they sell off the properties as values increase.

William Alonso (1964) explains in his Alonso model that:

    "higher-income groups, who are less constrained than lower-income groups in their choice of residential location, may prefer the accessibility to the CBD offered by the inner city to the space, quiet, and cheaper land of the suburbs, so that gentrification may result.

    The assumptions on which this theory rests range from all land being of equal quality to lack of planning constraints. This means that the theory is a long way from reality, although it does reflect some aspects of urban morphology."

Sometimes, but not always it is the reverse process of filtering down. Gentrification has a long history. In the mid and late 1800s, power brokers in many European cities tried their hands at urban planning. In Paris, Baron Georges Eugene Haussmann, a court crony of Napoleon III's, gutted the residential areas where poor people lived throughout central Paris and installed the city's famous grand boulevards. Thousands of poor Parisians were displaced to make room for the sweeping tree-lined boulevards which show-cased the city's famous monuments. Strict guidelines applied to new building along the boulevards, and the residences there became the most exclusive in the city.

This process became part of the American public consciousness in the late `70s and early `80s , when artists and bohemians started moving into inner city buildings which had previously been warehouses and factories. Gentrification has a lot of connotations. For some, it's just economic revitalization of neighborhoods. For others, it's tantamount to a domestic class war. For most, gentrification is both good and bad, an extremely complex issue difficult to manage at a governmental level. A difficult balancing act at best; historic preservation and community preservation with revitalization and redevelopment as a goal of both historic preservation alongside community programs as counter balance. The hope is that mixed-income neighborhoods can flourish, local businesses can coexist with national chains and that well-designed higher density will improve, not harm, a neighborhood's value.

Sources: - Dictionary, Guide, Community and More
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ArtEdNU b
Accessed Jan 29 2000

Other London Projects
Accessed Jan 29 2000

A Rural Studies Bibliograph
Accessed Jan 29 2000

LiP | Feature | Shame of the Cities: Gentrification in the New Urban America
Accessed Jan 29 2000

Social Science Dictionary
Jan 29 2000