As a part of the Gentrification campaign, also take a look at our poster series! Throughout the week, we will be answer several important questions regarding Gentrification.
What is Gentrification?
Gentrification is a term used to describe the process by which richer people displace poorer people from communities or districts they have historically inhabited. Usually this occurs under the belief that they might be “revitalizing” or “capturing the potential” of a city - rich (usually white) people move into urban neighbourhoods, increasing property values and changing the culture of the communities, effectively separating poorer (usually racialized) people both physically and emotionally from their own communities.
Gentrification presents itself as expensive newly renovated loft-apartments, independent coffee shops selling $8 lattes, the introduction of green space, and reduced visibility of homelessness.
But along with these initiatives, gentrification also takes the form of the closing of small businesses, the loss of affordable housing, the exclusion and marginalization of low-income people, and political conflict and increased homelessness.
As you learn about gentrification, remember that it is highly complex, contextualized, and intersects with issues of race, culture and class. It can be confusing to learn about, especially when examining your own complicity, but our hope is that we can view our changing communities with a critical lens and advocate for the marginalized communities who most often face losses at the expense of this change.
Who is Impacted by Gentrification?
By using buzzwords such as “city revitalization” and housing for “creative professionals” those in favour of gentrification attempt to erase the harmful effects by portraying the process as beneficial and exciting. These buzzwords are used to appeal to local governments and high-income residents, the groups for which gentrification is positive. However, the mostly low-income original residents of gentrified neighbourhoods are unable to reap the benefits of gentrification, and in fact, are harmed by the process.
One of the main concerns surrounding gentrification is the displacement of low-income residents. As a neighbourhood becomes gentrified and is viewed as “trendy,” housing costs may rapidly rise, as was seen in New York City, where housing costs rose 75% since 2001. Low-income residents are then forced out of their homes, being unable to afford the new costs. By moving further away from their original neighbourhoods, these displaced residents lose access to the social networks and services on which they may have previously relied. Even those that do manage to stay in gentrified neighbourhoods lose access to these networks and services as cultural networks are eroded by new urban planning models arise that are profit-driven, rather than community-driven. For example, a new bar or boutique is more likely to move into a gentrified neighbourhood than a health clinic or a cultural center.
As higher-income residents move into neighbourhoods, they may perceive low-income residents as dangerous and call for increased policing. An increase in police presence disproportionately affects low-income residents, especially those of colour, as they are profiled, criminalized, and arrested for things such as panhandling and low level drug offences. While this might assuage the fears of high-income residents, it dehumanizes low income residents, and does nothing to address the needs of the original community of a gentrified neighbourhood.
Additionally, gentrification cannot be separated from other manifestations of colonialism, as the communities affected by the process are communities of colour, mainly consisting of black, Latinx and Indigenous populations. Thus, gentrification serves as another means through which the harmful effects of colonialism and oppression are reinforced.
Where Does Gentrification Happen?
Gentrification is not a localized or recent issue, but a growing global phenomenon that has taken place and continues to manifest today. One particularly troubling example would be post-Katrina New Orleans. Following the disastrous hurricane, there was an exploitation of the disaster to close down public housing projects to open up the land for condo development and hotels. This shift in the landscape of New Orleans has resulted in miraculous declines in poverty rates in some regions undergoing gentrification. For instance, in 2000, 38.6% of Bywater residents lived in poverty, and by 2010, almost 23% of residents made incomes of $75,000 or more. However, this was not a case of wealth redistribution brought by gentrification but rather the forced exit of working class residents and the influx of high-income residents. Often, the conversation is framed around wealth, but the perpetuation of racial disparities as a result of gentrification are well documented. For instance, Harlem has been stripped of its cultural significance for the black community. The development promised by gentrification was also accompanied by the displacement of the black community, and the influx of white residents.
Gentrification can often be easy to see when people talk about “revitalization” campaigns or efforts to “attract more young professional”. This type of rhetoric has been seen in the gentrification of Hamilton’s downtown core; many people are being priced out of this area and are being pushed into areas such as Stoney Creek or the Mountain. Gentrification can also occur more slowly as the housing market shifts, as has occurred in both Vancouver and Toronto. Gentrification can often be presented as the lesser of two evils, “We either let the city collapse or we revitalize it.” In Detroit, we see both heavy gentrification occurring in some neighbourhoods and the worsening of conditions in other neighbourhoods; revitalization can occur in specific areas while neglecting others. Typically, communities of racialized individuals are less likely to receive the benefits of these revitalization efforts, as has been seen in Atlanta. Predominately black communities never received additional assistance until more white people had moved in. When those benefits do roll in, it’s typically when certain groups have already been priced out of the neighbourhood. Wherever and however it occurs, gentrification shares two properties: It often masquerades as something that will improve the neighbourhood, and any so-called improvements will fail to benefit those that already live in those neighbourhoods and face marginalization.
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