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Urban Gentrification and Urban Morphology

Categories: Gentrification

Urban Gentrification and Urban Morphology The term ‘gentrification’ has myriads of interpretations from different geographers, and sociologists. Ever since, there has been protracted debate on its methodology, consequences and whether it constitutes a dominant or residual urban form.

The term ‘gentrification’ was first coined by the Marxist urban geographer Ruth Glass (Glass, 1964) to describe the influx of wealthier individuals into cities or neighbourhoods who replace working or lower-classes already living there by using London districts such as Islington as her example.

On the other hand, Smith and Williams (1986, p. 1) define gentrification as “the rehabilitation of working class and derelict housing and the consequent transformation of an area into a middle-class neighbourhood. ” Whilst Hamnett (2003, p. 402) builds on Glass’s definition of gentrification as a process involving class connotations and offers a more comprehensive definition incorporating economic views when he defines gentrification as a “social and spatial manifestation of the transition from industrial to a post industrial urban economy based on financial, business and creative services, with associated changed in the nature and location of work, in occupational class structure, earnings and incomes, life styles and the structure of the housing market”.

Smith (1987) supply side (which focuses on investments within urban structure) and offers his ‘rent-gap’ theory of gentrification whereas proponents of the Feminist perspective consider the notion of patriarchy, changing gender relations and feminisation of labour markets. (Dutton, 1998, p. 32) Therefore, with the myriads of interpretations by various authors (simultaneously enlarging the gentrification literature), it is evident that gentrification means differently to individuals depending on which school of though one ascribes to.

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Curran (2008, p. 37) correctly points out the sentiments of this author that vast literature on gentrification presents the challenge for students to “figure out who are the true giants in the field”. Dutton (1998, p. 32) is right when he said that gentrification has become a “contested boundary zone between radically different theories and explanations”. This essay began by explaining the different definitions of the term ‘gentrification’ by different theorists and identifying the various analysis of gentrification. It also attempts to outline the consequences of the emergence of gentrification. Finally, using the various examples, it also attempts to utline the correlation of gentrification and urban morphology. There are two distinctive theories explaining and justifying gentrification as an economic process and social process that transpires when the young middle-class are tired of the commuting and their dependency of the city lifestyle. Thus, young professionals from the capital moved to the poorer communities with startling period houses in convenient locations that are in need of restoration. As explained by Smith, (1987, cited in Bridge, p. 237-238) gentrification is an economic process resulting from the relationships among capital investments and the production of urban space.

The gentrifiers maybe most attracted by the ‘rent gap’, i. e. the difference between ground-rent levels at various locations in a metropolitan area (Smith, 1979 cited in Zukin, 1987, p. 137). The low rents in the suburban encouraged continuous development of housing capital for the development of suburban areas and the expenditure of city money on suburban areas. Consequently, it provoked the economic abandonment of the city in favour of upcoming or new properties outside the city which cause the price of inner-city land decreased dramatically comparing to the gentrified area.

The revalorization takes the form of gentrification of already existing neighbourhoods (as opposed to redevelopment or commercial development) it results in the spatial displacement of labour. (Bridge, 1987, p. 238) The revalorization of the inner city is employed to close the rent gap utilising the real estate capitalists’ profit boosting intention. When the gap is sufficiently wide, inner-city properties will be reinvested and redeveloped for new tenants in closing the rent-gap, leading to higher rents, mortgages, and lease rates affordable by the new tenants, but not by the original lower income tenants. Bridge, 1987, p. 239) In an alternate view, the landlord can be driving force too in influencing the process of change. Beauregard, (1981, cited in Smith and Williams, 1986, p. 52) points out that “landlords, developers and real-estate agents, both large and small, play an important role in ‘steering’ the potential gentry to a neighbourhood, buying property and speculating, and preparation for sale or for complete rehabilitation. ” It can also be argued that drawing on economic analysis in connection with economic concepts of gentrification (e. . housing price increment, interest rates, lending willingness and expansion of labour market) is a more holistic approach to understanding changes in urban Britain. Economists consider the cause-effect relationship between the economies and how each economic agent interacts (e. g. money and financial markets, demand and output, cost and prices). Robert Wiedemer (2009, in an interview with journalist Seidenberg) said “the stock market, housing sector and the dollar are all interrelated and helped build the other and the economy. In another word, even the demand of residences may increase, gentrification would not be possible without financial aid from financial constitutions. This is purported by Beauregard, (1981, cited in Smith, 1986, p. 53) “property interests, nonetheless cannot operate without the assistance of financial entities able to lend large sums of capital. ” The Bank of England website too supports, “the different aspects of economy are not independent of each other. Everything is inter-related. The critique from this tool of analysis is again the challenge of information overload from looking at each single factor affecting gentrification therefore making it more complex to conceptualise gentrification. Also, the limitation of research funding can affect the quality, accuracy and credibility of academic’s findings, speed to publication and research methodology problems. Hence, the potential resulting in bias research findings, if used by local government when intervening in determining housing policies in gentrifying stagnant towns and cities may be wrongly misguided.

The analysis of economic driven gentrification is clearly illustrated in London beginning from the 1950s. This process began in the Canonbury area of Islington; spread to Barnsbury and other parts of Islington, as well as Camden, Notting Hill, Primrose Hill, Kentish Town, Holland Park, and West Greenwich in the 1960s; and reached as far as Hackney in East London and parts of South London like Lambeth, Battersea, Clapham, and Fulham in the 1970s. (Moran, 2007, p. 01) Before the 1950s, the North London Borough of Islington was at a broken area, its once grand Regency and Victorian houses split into poorly maintained, multi-occupation tenements. As gentrification began from 1960s onwards, middle-class newcomers started buying up slum properties and ex-rooming houses and transformed them into appealing residences. (Moran, 2007, p. 102) The transformation was vast and it was described as major restoration of grand architecture values of the Georgian places and the rebuilt houses stand out “like good teeth among bad”. Pitt, 1977, p. 7 cited in Moran, 2007, p. 103) The houses were architecturally salvaged to the middle-class designs that were comparatively of high standard in highlighting modernism and freedom. The middle-class homeowners were the major force behind the amenity societies, sponsored by the Civic Trust, which proliferated in urban areas in the 1960s. For example, the Barnsbury Association, formed by middle-class Islingtonites in 1964, used professional planners to formulate its manifestos and forged valuable links with the local council.

They persuaded the council to pay for changes in their neighbourhood including tree-planting, restoring cast-iron streetlamps and railings granite setts to give the roads a cobblestone look, implementation of a traffic scheme that closed off a middle-class neighborhood to through-traffic and redirected cars along streets full of working-class tenement blocks. Alongside other gentrifies, they campaigned against replacement of old terraced houses and squares with new housing scheme. (Moran, 2007, p. 103-105) It was morphology of urbanisation when the gentrifiers revolutinised their residences and demanded a system to achieve their requirement.

There is another analysis of gentrification that is influenced by economic paradigms that accentuating on production, taking into account social reproduction and consumption. Ley’s theory suggested that transition in economics, politics and culture instigated urban gentrification. (Hamnett, 1991, p. 176) With modernisation up-scaling, there is a major focus economic shift since 1960s, of recentralising or corporate investment in selected metropolitan cores. (Fainstein & Fainstein, 1982, Smith 1986 cited in Zukin, 1987, p. 38) Deindustrialisation of a city reduces the number of blue-collar occupation available to the urban working class and is fundamental to the escalation of a divided white-collar employment tertiary sector of industry – focusing on professional and managerial positions that follow the spatial integration of the capital. Headquarters and ‘back offices’ no longer share space; each stratum of white-collar work generates in its proximity the amenities that suit its status, salary levels, and office rents. Industrialisation and blue-collar residences are displaced beyond the heart of the city. (Zukin, 1982 cited in Zukin, 1987, p. 39) Ley linked this to the shift from a goods-producing to a service-producing society, and to the decline of manufacturing industry and the rise of office work. (Hamnett, 1991, p. 176) The second proposition of Ley was that post-industrial society is distinguished from industrial society by the active role of government. Consequently, Ley (1980, p. 241 cited in Hamnett, 1991, p. 176) argued that “decision making and allocation of resources is now referred to the political arena and not only to the market place… The politicization of varied interest groups is challenging the formerly hold of business lobby on political decision making. Governments are creating manifesto to help stabilising the economy which inevitably causes gentrification. For example, in Shanghai when Chinese government is developing housing which is directly connected to the fundamental processes of urban economic, political and geographic restructuring. Residential reorganisation, which promoted housing commoditisation and promotion of home ownership, has significantly inspired the development of a real estate market, consequently altering the primary forces of urbanisation and prompted modern precedent of neighbourhood.

Against the backdrop of market transition, the Shanghai local state engages an active role in commencing and assisting the gentrification process. They are motivated by the state’s decentralizing policy in fiscal and administration system to offer an important role to local state in urban morphology and economic growth. Moreover, the free market enables the local authorities to pursue of rapid economic expansion and revenue boost. (He, 2007, p. 174-176) This is exemplary of Bailey and Robertson (1997, p. 63) in their research pointing out the importance of the “role of the state, particularly the impact the state can have in shaping or redirecting the process of change. ” Finally, Ley (1980, p. 241 cited in Hamnett, 1991, p. 176) contended that the reassertion of individualism and the growth of a more sensuous and aesthetic philosophy is growing among the middle class, particularly on the American West coast. This further piloted to another factor of gentrification, focusing on the post-industrialised world creating a livable city. Ley (1980, p. 239 cited in Hamnett, 1991, p. 76) argued that there is a new ideology of urban development, an “urban strategy seemed to be passing from an emphasis on growth to a concern with a quality of life; the new liberalism was to be recognised less by its production schedules than by its consumption styles. ” People are demanding for more facilities, for greater beauty and a better quality of life in the arrangement of our cities. This progressivism has made way for commercial exploitation of urban lifestyle. In May 1964, Terence Conran opened the first Habitat; that branched out into the entire United Kingdom. Moran, 2007, p. 108) In London as elsewhere, gentrifiers often differentiate themselves as people who make different choices in life. Amplifying individualism notion, they want to be unique, edgy, cosmopolitan alternative to supposed conventionality and homogeneity of the suburbs. Habitat exploited this ethos, promoting itself as classless and egalitarian that was completely anti-suburban, Conran tied this lifestyle revolution to a general atmosphere of societal attitude advancement and ethical consumerism reflecting its middle-class ambiance. (Moran, 2007, p. 08-110) It was altogether a new phenomenon as this perception contrasts their previous trend and residential choice were in the less traditional area with potentially profound impacts for the deprived and lower paid households in such areas. It is normally associated with less affluent, often working class, inner-city communities which are transformed into more affluent, middle or upper class, communities by the upgrading and modernisation of buildings, resulting in increased land values and the removal of less affluent residents. (Atkinson, 2002, p. ) However, according to the Real Estate Board of New York Inc. , (New York Times,1985 cited in Smith, 1996, p. 30), “We believe that whatever displacement gentrification causes, though must be dealt with public policies that promote low and moderate income housing construction and rehabilitation and in zoning revisions that permit retail uses in less expensive, side street locations. We also believe that New York’s best hope lies with the families, businesses and lending institutions willing to commit themselves for the long haul to the neighbourhoods that need them.

That’s gentrification. ” Is this mission statement completely classless? Theoretically, using the media for the benefit for public but in reality, possibly the middle class reaches the source. A more cynical interpretation of this advertisement can be said that the advertisers were hired by those indirectly or directly benefiting from gentrification to justify their actions. Their creative advertising language is used to paint positive and downplay the negative connotations associated with emotional word, gentrification. A few considerations are worth noting here.

Is there anything wrong with upgrading a residential area by meeting the demand? To one person, it means improved housing, safer streets and new retail businesses. To another, it means unaffordable housing and regimenting of a diverse neighbourhood. In other terms, gentrification is the upgrading of housing and retail business in a neighbourhood with an insertion of private investments. This process and its consequences however are complex. Conclusively, gentrification is a process of physical, social, economic and cultural changes in inner-city communities resulting from the influx of new people.

Slater (2004) comments that gentrification is a highly complex issue that is very difficult to define precisely. It is observed that middle class gentrifiers are part of a much larger picture but limitations in gentrification research methodology interestingly points out that that gentrifiers are easier to find and interview than other agents of gentrification. Displaced residences are somewhat ‘unreachable’ especially those at risk of being displaced. (Slater, 2004, p. 1142 and Smith, 1986, p. 3) The theories developed above were able to shed some light on the root of gentrification but yet, they merely examine the first fold of the broad issue, i,e, why has it happened? In my opinion, gentrification is somewhat like the chain of demand and supply and it is seldom balance. It exists as an essence in the equilibrium of society facilitating the economic, political and societal growth. The need to create the market for demand, then supplying the demand and it runs in a circle that never ends, gentrification.

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Urban Gentrification and Urban Morphology. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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