Gentrification and City Development
In city planning, gentrification is probably the most debatable topic throughout the history of modern cities, concerning the socio-economic gap and different interest between the haves and the have-nots. For the haves and authorities who control the investment, economic agenda, political instruments in an urban setting, gentrification is a urban renewal development process that can successfully deliver a higher value of a city, diminish the dilapidated and wasted resources of a city, as to bring back the high quality and healthy city neighbourhood, and generate a more sustainable successfully financed city in a long run. On the other side, for the have-nots, gentrification is a process that transforms a city into something that is not suitable to their socio-economic habitat, into neighbourhoods that are less affordable, and either slowly or instantly will purge them from the place they are used to live.
To understand gentrification from a more neutral and scientific point of view, sociologists explain and justify gentrification as an economic process (production-side theory) and as a social process (consumption-side theory). According to Bruce London and John Palen (1984), seeing the development of American cities in the last decades, some of the reasons behind wide spread gentrification in urban environment, which could be driven by either demographic-ecological, sociocultural, political-economical factors, or community networks and social movements.
The Pros and Cons of Gentrification
City regions or areas that are to be gentrified are usually deteriorated, neglected and unmaintained, also intriguing criminality and social or moral issues such red light district area or slums; although often have some historical or cultural significance. The gentrification purposes could vary from urban restructuring, renewal, redevelopment, rehabilitation, and preservation, but having essences to refurbish the old infrastructure of a neighborhood functionally and visibly, to utilize the wasted or abandoned urban voids and buildings that are actually located or situated in plausible environments, and giving economic and social value-added into the area; an approach that generally has been introduced and done in real estate business; despite the fact that the result or success level of the gentrification project is not always guarantee. However, gentrification projects will end up attracting and bringing in new neighborhoods and communities that are generally have higher standard of living and economic affordability, therefore the focus is on providing a more cosmopolitan lifestyle environment and creating a more sophisticated modernism in the city.
As a summary, according to Lees, Slater & Wyly (2008) and Atkinson & Bridge (2005), there are positive and negative impacts that can be derived through gentrification in a city:
- Higher incentive for property owners to increase/improve housing
- Reduction in crime
- Stabilization of declining areas
- Increased property values
- Increased consumer purchasing power at local businesses
- Reduced vacancy rates
- Increased local fiscal revenues
- Encouragement and increased viability of further development
- Reduced strain on local infrastructure and services
- Reduction of suburban sprawl, since gentrification introduces mixed-use development and superblock complexes
- Increased social mix
- Rehabilitation of property both with and without state sponsorship
- Displacement through rent/price increases
- Secondary psychological costs of displacement
- Community resentment and conflict
- Loss of affordable housing
- Unsustainable speculative property price increases
- Homelessness, due to act of evictions
- Greater take of local spending through lobbying/articulacy
- Commercial/industrial displacement
- Increased cost and changes to local services
- Displacement and housing demand pressures on surrounding poor areas
- Loss of social diversity (from socially disparate to rich ghettos)
- Under occupancy and population loss of gentrified areas
Along with the push from global economic growth, and with real estate and property developers as our main generators in city planning, gentrification is one of unavoidable attractive strategies. It is now happening everywhere, whether rural, urban or suburban areas, big or small cities, mature or immature urban environment. The demand is there and keeps growing. More people will tend to live in the city, or otherwise tend to transform their current neighbourhood into a more modern city like environment. Sometimes, depends on which stakeholders are involved, the gentrification processes happen promptly, even could be faster than what a comprehensive city planning itself. The process itself is decentralized and mushrooming at any different scales of sizes and locations.
It’s hard to point to many other successful models, other than gentrification, for redeveloping urban cores. There’s a proven track record and model for redeveloping cities on an upscale basis. It may do very little for the rest of the city, but it does work for those who live, work, and, perhaps most importantly, invest in them. Given the lack of proven alternative models and the alignment of multiple incentives behind it, there’s no surprise gentrification is the almost universal aspirational choice for cities in redevelopment (Aaron M. Renn, 2013).
Each case of gentrification project in cities with different backgrounds and urban structures also would need ad-hoc approach to answer different context of issues, especially when cities (or even city districts, in a smaller scale) have their own specific stages of development with different powerful resources. For instance, one gentrification model in Asian cities might not be compatible in Europe or America, and the other way around.
Gentrification will be prone to sensitive issues and grow into conflict if being applied in a city with no equality of income and social classes. Hence, its planning process should be done to the extent of economic diversification, not to make the social gap even wider. To satisfy different needs of different social classes, the processes need to be controlled, and focused on a direction that can provide a more diversified and sustainable relationship between urban entities. In the future, gentrification should be featured in every city planning regulation and instruments, as to carefully enriching more added values to all social-economic classes in a city, and ensuring a more balance ecological unity of the gentrified area, instead of being one-sided strategy and creating conflicts.