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Definition: gentrification from The Columbia Encyclopedia

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.


Summary Article: gentrification from The Dictionary of Human Geography

Middle-class settlement in renovated or redeveloped properties in older, inner-city districts formerly occupied by a lower-income population. The process was first named by Ruth Glass, as she observed the arrival of the ‘gentry’ and the accompanying social transition of several districts in central London in the early 1960s. A decade later, broader recognition of gentrification followed in large cities such as London, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Toronto and Sydney undergoing occupational transition from an industrial to a post-industrial economy. But more recently gentrification has been identified more widely, in smaller urban centres, in Southern and Eastern Europe and also in some major centres in Asia and Latin America (Atkinson and Bridge, 2005).

Explanation of gentrification has moved in several directions. One account focused upon housing market dynamics, in particular the power of capital to shape landscape change (Smith, N., 1996b). Another emphasized the rapid growth of a ‘new class’ of private- and public-sector professionals and managers in post-industrial societies, who were drawn to urbane inner-city locations (Ley, 1996). Related to this occupational change was the movement of women into the new class workforce, and the growth of smaller adult-oriented-households well suited to central neighbourhoods. By the mid-1980s, the successful re-colonization in the older inner city by the middle class was well established, and more recent developments have been the extension and intensification of gentrification in new forms, including loft conversions, the massive development of obsolete industrial land, frequently on waterfront sites, such as the London Docklands, and also the deepening of wealth in formerly gentrified areas, a process named ‘super-gentrification’ by Lees (2003) from studies in New York and London.

The sustained interest in gentrification research for more than a generation has resulted in part from its engagement with a number of important conceptual categories including class, gender, and, most recently, race, patterns and styles of consumption, housing and other service needs, social polarization and the governance practices of neo-liberalism in the global city. In addition, it has been a forum where competing epistemological and theoretical positions have met (Hamnett, 2003).

Gentrification has been seen ambivalently. Positive impacts include new investment in areas often requiring significant land use and service improvement, the enhancement of the urban tax base, and the creation of new (though typically low-income) service jobs in such fields as the restaurant and arts sectors, home renovation, cleaning and security. But against this has been the massive loss of affordable inner-city housing for lower-income groups, an integral element of the polarization of life-chances in the global city. Gentrification has become a conscious policy strategy in many cities seeking to reconfigure their urban economies and landscapes in the wake of massive deindustrialization. Regeneration policies, from Amsterdam to Vancouver, frequently seek a putative ‘social mix’ that includes middle-class housing in former working-class neighbourhoods. Not surprisingly, gentrification has frequently become a politicized and contested process of residential transformation.

Suggested reading

Full bibliography is available here.

Atkinson (2003)

Atkinson and Bridge (2005).

David Ley
Professor of Geography
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
© 2009 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd except for editorial material and organization, © 2009 Derek Gregory, Ron Johnston, Geraldine Pratt, Michael J. Watts, and Sarah Whatmore

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