Gentrification: are better cities liveable?

A brief by Elise Baudelet, junior expert in territorial marketing at CAAC

In different towns around the globe, gentrification divides the opinion. On one hand, it could be seen as an opportunity to upgrade an area and increase its potential (financially, in terms of attractiveness, image…). On the other hand, it could be identified as a vicious urban change, chasing a population from its current. The concept appeared at the end of the 60’s when Ruth Glass, a British sociologist, observed social structure and housing market changes in certain London areas. Nowadays, the Oxford Dictionary defines “gentrify” as “renovate and improve (a house or district) so that it conforms to middle-class taste.”(1).

Indeed, gentrification often starts with the will to improve a deprived area. By enhancing popular districts to boost economic development of the territory, a side-effect emerges de facto: the rise of the cost of living, meaning that when developing a neighbourhood, its traditional population might be evicted.

Anne Clerval in her analysis (2) outlines that in Paris, the gentrification has improved popular districts but only for those that could afford it after the renovation: prices of housing and shopping have risen significantly. Because of their lower incomes, regular inhabitants were compelled to leave Paris to live outside the town. From her research, A. Clerval has developed the idea of the gentrification making the French capital an “elitist city” where social diversity has not its place anymore.

When redesigning an urban area, creating cultural places is often a strategy in urban policies. However, the drawback is often the same: it creates a new, more expensive, real estate market. In Bristol, street Arts’ areas saw their population replaced and costs risen after a renovation.

Even if this urban phenomenon concerned mostly big towns, nowadays it might spread to medium-sized towns facing metropolisation. Improving a district should not only attract new residents with good purchasing power but also retain and favour the people that live in.

As the San Sebastian Charter states “It is therefore important that the Atlantic cities do not overlook the social dimension in their sustainable development strategies”. Initiated by the CAAC, the charter has integrated the issues related to gentrification in the global strategic planning of Atlantic cities giving “priority to the social mix in planning policies” and supporting “initiatives in favour of solidarity and social cohesion”.

As gentrification is not an easy topic to deal with, please share with us your point of view about it.

(1): http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/gentrify
(2): Anne Clerval (2013) Paris sans le people, La Découverte

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