Critically assess the effects of gentrification with reference to at least one city

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  • Published On: 09-12-2023
Critically assess the effects of gentrification with reference to at least one city

Introduction

Gentrification is process that has been defined as “concrete replacement process” by Schulman (2013, p. 14). Gentrification has also been defined in terms of physical as well as psychological effects (Schulman, 2013). Physical gentrification is defined as “a process of renewal in inner-city neighbourhoods, where houses in previously undesirable and often run-down neighbourhoods are purchased and renovated by upwardly mobile professionals” (Power, 2015, p. 94). Thus, when speaking of effects of gentrification, some of these effects are physical in nature and are manifested in the physical changes in a space hitherto inhabited by lower class families or individuals where such space is transformed into gentrified neighbourhoods. In the psychological sense, gentrification can relate to erasure of history and cultural amnesia (Abraham, 2015). Schulman (2015) also uses the phrase ‘gentrification of mind’ to explain this psychological sense of gentrification which is defined as “alienation of people from the concrete process of social and artistic change (Schulman, 2013). The effects of gentrification in this context are related to exclusion of people from a process, as well as collective loss of history and memory of a place by the people who once inhabited it. In this essay, such and similar effects of gentrification are discussed in detail.

Gentrification and its effects

Gentrification is explained as an urban phenomenon (Harding & Blokland, 2014). It changes the urban landscape wherever it is undertaken and has been said to be “a visible expression of economic and social processes that shape contemporary cities” (Harding & Blokland, 2014, p. 145). This is an insightful explanation of gentrification as a process, although Harding and Blokland (2014) agree that the process of gentrification is complex and cannot be explained by simplistic definitions that emphasise on the physical changes to urban spaces but also relate to the effects of the changes on different groups of people. To begin with, physical gentrification, as mentioned in the introduction to this essay, does relate to the physical changes in the neighbourhood. However, this process has the effect of displacement of the existing communities as this makes way for newer communities who come to inhabit the gentrified spaces (Harding & Blokland, 2014; Schulman, 2013). The first effect that will be discussed here is displacement.

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Displacement in the context of gentrification has been explained as the “forced disenfranchisement of the poor and working class people from the spaces and places to which they have legitimate social and historical claims” (Lees, Slater, & Wyly, 2010, p. 317). Displacement can happen directly or indirectly. Direct displacement happens when people can no longer afford to pay the rent, or where the property that they live in is not being maintained or repaired, or quality of life becomes so unbearable that the residents have no choice but to move from the neighbourhood (Harding & Blokland, 2014). Indirect displacement happens where existing communities start feeling excluded or where the culture of the neighbourhood or the commercial infrastructure becomes exclusionary (Harding & Blokland, 2014, p. 149). Exclusionary displacement can have the effect of the forced displacement of people from the spaces they once occupied and do have the right to occupy; gentrification leads to the social conditions where people are no longer considered to be welcome in the newly gentrified neighbourhoods.

The displacement of communities can have the additional effect of disruption of community (Harding & Blokland, 2014). In this context, Schulman (2013) argues that because gentrification leads to the removal of communities of diverse classes, races, ethnicities, and worldviews, such gentrification also has the effect of destruction of culture and relationships (Schulman, 2013). This brings the discussion back to gentrification being not just a physical process with physically visible impacts, but also an internal process, where those who excluded eventually forget the reality of their own situation (Schulman, 2013, p. 14). Gentrification in this sense does not only take place within the physical spaces but also the internal spaces of the mind, because of the erasure of the memories related to places and its peoples. Schulman (2013) has related this particular notion to the gentrification of the Lower East Side in New York city, where the gentrificarion process led to the erasure of the memories its previous inhabitants that included queers, drag queens, and AIDS victims, and who are not represented in the collective consciousness of the current generations occupying the same spaces. In her book, The Gentrification of Mind, Schulman (2013) quotes Milan Kundera to express this process of gentrification of mind and erasure of memory: “The first step in liquidating people…. is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have someone write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster” (p. 1).

Schulman (2013) calls this process of erasure of memory or a change on the consciousness brought about by spiritual gentrification that leads to erasure of memories of those who are underrepresented. This can also be related to a cultural amnesia of those who are displaced and also those who replace them in the newly gentrified neighbourhoods because gentrification and the process of displacemebt leads to the creation of an alternate history of a place and its people where the future generations who have not experienced the process of gentrification, are not aware of the earlier history of the place (Abraham, 2015). There was a culture in the place which was a part of the place prior to the replacement process, but as Abraham (2015) points out, this culture will be suffered to amnesia because neither the future generations of those who were displaced nor of those who replaced them, will remember the culture and the history of the place. Clearly thenm the effects of gentrification are not limited to the physical effects or the physical changes of displacement and replacement, but also extend to the psychological effects of erasure of memory and cultural amnesia.

Indeed, the gentrification of the Lower East Side of New York city presents examples of how effects of gentrification can be seen in a specific space, and for specific communities. The process of gentrification of this part of the New York city was part of the wider politics of urban development and discourse (Hodges, 2010). This process led to the development of the East Village into one of the most gentrified neighbourhoods of Manhattan, when it once was a space occupied by the poor, working class and diverse communities. It is said that the AIDS crisis in New York led to the speeding of the gentrification process in this part because “cities and neighborhoods with high AIDS rates have experienced profound gentrification” (Schulman, 2013, p. 23). Although gentrification process in New York began in 1970s due to economic factors caused by bankruptcy of the city, which led to the programme of housing for the wealthy which would bring more money into the city, the AIDS crisis of 1981 sped the gentrification process and became prominent in the 2000s (Schulman, 2013). The Lower East Side was a working class, immigrant neighbourhood prior to this gentrification, which would mean that there was a diversity of communities including Italians, Greeks, Hungarians, Poles, Romanians, Russians, Slovaks and Ukrainians, and Eastern European Jews who immigrated to the United States in the 20th century (Hodges, 2010). It is these communities including the artists and hipsters who came into the Lower East Side in the 1980s, that were displaced to a great degree due to the gentrification and its effects.

The effects of the gentrification of Lower East Side have been related to physical, economic, as well as psychological impacts and the process of gentrification has seen some conflict between the past and contemporary culture; this is exemplified by the ways in which the changes brought forth by content industries, and Internet were somewhat resisted by the ways in which some residents continue to pay homage to the past cultural history through opening of hidden shops and restaurants that remind people of the “defunct facades, signage, and other physical traces of the neighborhood's working-class and immigrant past” (Belkind, 2009, p. 21). The conflict between the past culture and the new culture is a phenomenon that is not limited to the experience of the gentrification process in Lower East Side and is seen in other places as well where gentrification happened in inner city areas through globalised processes like Internet (Belkind, 2009).

The capitalist processes that lead to the exclusion of certain classes and communities are also involved in gentrification and has certain effects. One of these effects is discussed by Wilson as the effect of urban gentrification on the increased inequalities, joblessness, and ghettoisation (Wilson, 1985; Wilson, 1987; Wilson, 1993; Wilson, 2012). Indeed, the theme of joblessness and economic exclusion caused by spatial and industrial restructuring of American capitalism is one of the themes that Wilson emphasises on where he notes that such economic processes have the effect of hyperghettoisation. This happens when those who live in the inner cities are forced to move out of these spaces due to the direct and indirect exclusionary effects of gentrification and this leads to loss of jobs and forced move into ghettos to remain closer to the city areas for purposes of work (Wilson, The truly disadvantaged: The inner city, the underclass, and public policy, 2012). In Manhattan, East Village too was home to ghettos, but as gentrification took place, people in these ghettos were forced to move to other spaces where they were deprived of proximity to work places and this led to joblessness and exclusion (Schulman, 2013, p. 23). By far, one of the most important effects of gentrification is displacement, and capitalist processes and neoliberal policies of the state (Cocola-Gant, 2019). For instance, in London, gentrification has been seen as a solution for the decay in cities where the arrival of middle classes and upper income households was thought to be useful for improving the economy as a whole (Cocola-Gant, 2019, p. 301). However, such neoliberal policies only led to the displacement of the poor and working class people due to lack of affordable housing (Cocola-Gant, 2019).

Based on the above discussion on how move from inner city areas due to gentrification can impact the income and work access for people who are displaced. It can be argued that gentrification can lead to perpetuation of inequalities in the cities where the urban genteel and the working class are segregated with the latter occupying mostly the ghettos of the cities. This is also attested to by Short (2017) who writes about how capitalist processes have led to the development of big urban projects in inner city areas and who gives examples of big projects like the London Dockyard, and Barcelona waterfront which led to the displacement of communities that could no longer live in the gentrified neighbourhoods, and which were then affected in their mobility to travel and work in the cities. Inequalities are also perpetuated by the artificial segregation that takes place with gentrification and the displacement of the lower and working class people further away from their place of work (Short, 2017). In the UK, London too has undergone phases of gentrification over decades (Smith, 1996 ). Beginning in the post war years of 1950s but intensifying in the 1960s and 1970s, there were gentrification projects undertaken in London (Smith, 1996 ). London Docklands is one such project undertaken to transform the docklands into a gentrified commercial and residential space in the 1980s. The London Docklands redevelopment led to an unprecedented level of development in this space and displaced the communities that lived and worked around this area (Smith, 1996 ). Such displacement is termed as the ‘inner costs of gentrification’ by Atkinson (2000) who writes that the gentrification processes in Hammersmith, Kensington, and Camden led to the displacement of people through different measures like rent increase, harassment by landlords, and even evictions by the police. Interestingly, those who were displaced were not always the working class people as in some places like Kensington, “processes of gentrification created a continued upward movement in the status of those being displaced and those acting as gentrifiers” with upper class young people being displaced by the stockbrokers (Atkinson, 2000 , p. 317). In this case, gentrification had the effect of the upscaling of the neighbourhood to such an extent that the rentals were not affordable even to those who were middle class residents of the place. In London gentrification projects, the burden of displacement also fell disproportionately on single people who could not afford accommodation without the benefit of shared income (Atkinson, 2000 ). A more recent study on the effects of gentrification on London during Olympics suggests that the effects of the Olympics were found to be gentrification, displacement and the loss of a sense of place for local young residents (Kennelly & Watt, 2012).

Finally, one study has also noted that gentrification can have some health impacts (Wilder, Mirto, Makoba, & Arniella, 2017). These impacts can be psychological as well as physical health impacts due to deconcentration of poverty, friction between old and new neighbours and displacement. For instance, mothers who were evicted or displaced were more likely to suffer from depression and report worse health for themselves and their children (Wilder, Mirto, Makoba, & Arniella, 2017).

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Conclusion

The effects of gentrification of inner city areas can be summarised as effects that are physically visible as well as those that are not physically visible or manifested. Physically visible effects of gentrification are the actual physical changes that take place within the spaces gentrified, and the visible change in the neighbourhood with the displacement of the working class communities and their replacement by middle class and upper class communities. The other effects that cannot be seen are those that relate to cultural amnesia, loss of collective memory, and loss of community. There are yet other effects of gentrification which can be seen in how it leads to joblessness through the displacement of working class communities from inner city areas that have proximity to workplaces as well as ghettoisation when the inner city residents move to ghettos within the city to remain closer to the workplaces in the city. Thus, gentrification can affect the mobility of the inner city residents who are forced to move away and also lead to the perpetuation of inequalities in the society. At the same time, the gentrification efforts also have psychological impacts of the process of displacement and the stress that accompanies it; and it also has cultural effects due to the disruption of communities and the segregation between the upper and lower classes due to ghettoization.

Bibliography

Abraham, A. (2015). Stemming The Tide Of Cultural Amnesia: An Interview With Legendary New York Performance Artist, Penny Arcade. Retrieved from Vice: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/yvx3ej/penny-arcade-interview

Atkinson, R. (2000 ). The hidden costs of gentrification: Displacement in central London. Journal of housing and the built environment, 15(4), 307-326.

Belkind, L. (2009). Stealth Gentrification: Camouflage and Commerce on the Lower East Side. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, 21(1), 21–36.

Cocola-Gant, A. (2019). Gentrification and displacement: Urban inequality in cities of late capitalism. In A. Cocola-Gant, Handbook of Urban Geography (pp. 297-310). Edward Elgar Publishing.

Harding, A., & Blokland, T. (2014). Urban theory: a critical introduction to power, cities and urbanism in the 21st century. Sage.

Hodges, G. (2010). Lower East Side. In K. T. Jackson, The Encyclopedia of New York City (pp. 769-770). New Haven: Yale University Press.

Kennelly, J., & Watt, P. (2012). Seeing Olympic effects through the eyes of marginally housed youth: changing places and the gentrification of East London. Visual studies, 27(2), 151-160.

Lees, L., Slater, T., & Wyly, E. K. (2010). The gentrification reader. Vol. 1. London: Routledge.

Power, E. (2015). Households and neighbourhoods. In K. Huppatz, M. Hawkins, & A. Matthews, Identity and Belonging (pp. 86-99). Palgrave.

chulman, S. (2013). The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination. Berkeley : University of California.

Short, J. R. (2017). The unequal city: urban resurgence, displacement and the making of inequality in global cities. Taylor & Francis.

Smith, N. (1996 ). The New Urban Frontier. Gentrification and the Revanchist City. London : Routledge.

Wilder, V., Mirto, A.-L., Makoba, E., & Arniella, G. (2017). The health impact of gentrification. J Gen Emerg Med, 4, 1981-1991.

Wilson, W. J. (1985). Cycles of deprivation and the underclass debate. Social Service Review, 59(4), 541-559.

Wilson, W. J. (1987). The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wilson, W. J. (1993). The Underclass: Issues, Perspectives, and Public Policy. In W. J. Wilson, The ghetto underclass (pp. 1-24 ). Sage.

Wilson, W. J. (2012). The truly disadvantaged: The inner city, the underclass, and public policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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