We’ve all seen those new work-live artist loft spaces in the remodeled industrial complexes next to the new galleries, cafes and office buildings that used to be factories, low-income housing tenements or warehouses. They look chic and modern while still trying to maintain their urban appeal. However, what does gentrification mean in our post-industrial urban society and how should we address its contradictory standing? According to the PBS special Flag Wars: What is Gentrification, it is the “general term for the arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district, a related increase in rents and property values, and changes in the district’s character and culture (Grant). In this vein, we can read gentrification from two perspectives.
The first would be from the point of view of the newly arrived ‘wealthier people’ who see this process as an investment in urban renewal that brings down crime rates and increases the economic cultural capital of what was once a neglected and impoverished neighborhood.
On the other hand, gentrification as seen from the perspective of the original community is thought of as another form of economic and geographic discrimination and exclusion due to the increase in rent and property values as well as the overall cost of living. The issue of urban displacement results in an unbalanced benefit for the already economically advantaged. UNESCO recently published an article concerning this contradiction: “Building projects become the centre piece of the city’s economy, justified by job creation, taxes, tourism and the building of large cultural complexes” (Smith).
What makes this such a divisive issue and halts community building is that much of the new investment comes from the social class that fled to the suburbs during the white-flight era of urbanization. After fleeing to the suburbs due to a discomfort of having to live so close to other racial and ethnic populations, there is now a distrust of the new inhabitants by the pre-existing urban population who are being forced out of their own neighborhoods.
So we must ask ourselves how we can overcome this contradictory social movement in a way that will be mutually beneficial to all involved parties. The best way to accomplish this would be to invite community dialogue in an effort to address all sides of the issue. An interesting study put out by the Urban Institute echoes this sentiment. They emphasize the need for “strategies used by nonprofit organizations, for-profit developers, and city agencies to ensure low- to-moderate-income residents can live in revitalizing and gentrifying neighborhoods” (Levy).
This is essential in order make sure that all voices can be heard so that more than just money talks. If this can be done, urban renewal can be embraced and cultural diversity can flourish in a vibrant new community based on shared principles and the exchange of different ideas. We must abandon the notion that gentrification is either positive or negative, as many people have argued in the past. Gentrification is a social process that affects us all differently depending on our own cultural context.
That being the case, let us open the discussion to the public at large so that everyone has an equal say in how their community will develop. Urban transformation is a constant presence that we need to shape into a vision of the future that we would all like to live in.
Grant, Benjamin. (2003). What is Gentrification?. PBS Flag Wars. Retrieved November 30, 2008, from http://www. pbs. org/pov/pov2003/flagwars/special Levy, Diane, & Comey, Jennifer, & Padilla, Sandra. (2006).
In the Face of Gentrification. Urban Institute. Retrieved November 30, 2008, from http://www. urban. org/publications/411294. html Smith, Neil. (2007). From Gentrification to Forced Eviction – how should economic competitiveness be reconciled with social sustainability in historical districts?. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Retrieved November 30, 2008, from http://portal. unesco. org/shs/en/ev. php