There are several approaches that attempt to explain the roots and the reasons behind the spread of gentrification. Bruce London and J. John Palen (1984) compiled a list of five explanations: (1) demographic-ecological, (2) sociocultural, (3) political-economical, (4) community networks, and (5) social movements.
The first theory, demographic-ecological, attempts to explain gentrification through the analysis of demographics: population, social organization, environment, and technology. This theory frequently refers to the growing number of people between the ages of 25 and 35 in the 1970s, or the baby boom generation. Because the number of people that sought housing increased, the demand for housing increased also. The supply could not keep up with the demand; therefore cities were “recycled” to meet such demands (London and Palen, 1984). The baby boomers
in pursuit of housing were very different, demographically, from their house-hunting predecessors. They married at an older age and had fewer children. Their children were born later. Women, both single and married, were entering the labour force at higher rates which led to an increase of dual wage-earner households. These households were typically composed of young, more affluent couples without children. Because these couples were child-free and were not concerned with the conditions of schools and playgrounds
, they elected to live in the inner city
in close proximity to their jobs. These more affluent people usually had white-collar, not blue-collar jobs. Since these white-collar workers
wanted to live closer to work, a neighbourhood with more white-collar jobs was more likely to be invaded; the relationship between administrative activity and invasion was positively correlated (London and Palen, 1984).
The second theory proposed by London and Palen is based on a sociocultural explanation of gentrification. This theory argues that values, sentiments, attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and choices should be used to explain and predict human behavior, not demographics, or “structural units of analysis” (i.e., characteristics of populations) (London and Palen, 1984). This analysis focuses on the changing attitudes, lifestyles, and values of the middle- and upper-middle-class of the 1970s. They were becoming more pro-urban than before, opting not to live in rural or even suburban areas anymore. These new pro-urban values were becoming more salient, and more and more people began moving into the cities. London and Palen refer to the first people to invade the cities as “urban pioneers.” These urban pioneers demonstrated that the inner-city was an “appropriate” and “viable” place to live, resulting in what is called “inner city chic” (London and Palen, 1984). The opposing side of this argument is that dominant, or recurring, American values determine where people decide to live, not the changing values previously cited. This means that people choose to live in a gentrified area to restore it, not to alter it, because restoration is a “new way to realize old values” (London and Palen, 1984).
The third theoretical explanation of gentrification is political-economic and is divided into two approaches: traditional and Marxist. The traditional approach argues that economic and political factors have led to the invasion of the inner-city, hence the name political-economic. The changing political and legal climate of the 1950s and 60s (new civil rights
legislation, antidiscrimination laws in housing and employment, and desegregation
) had an “unanticipated” role in the gentrification of neighborhoods. A decrease in prejudice led to more blacks moving to the suburbs and whites no longer rejected the idea of moving to the city. The decreasing availability of suburban land and inflation in suburban housing costs also inspired the invasion of the cities. The Marxist approach denies the notion that the political and economic influences on gentrification are invisible, but are intentional. This theory claims that “powerful interest groups follow a policy of neglect of the inner city until such time as they become aware that policy changes could yield tremendous profits” (London and Palen, 1984). Once the inner city becomes a source of revenue, the powerless residents are displaced with little or no regard from the powerful.
The community-network approach is the fourth proposed by London and Palen. This views the community as an “interactive social group.” Two perspectives are noted: community lost and community saved. The community lost perspective argues that the role of the neighborhood is becoming more limited due to technological advances in transportation and communication. This means that the small-scale, local community is being replaced with more large-scale, political and social organizations (Greer, 1962). The opposing side, the community saved side, argues that community activity increases when neighborhoods are gentrified because these neighborhoods are being revitalized.
The fifth and final approach is social movements. This theoretical approach is focused on the analysis of ideologically based movements, usually in terms of leader-follower relationships. Those who support gentrification are encouraged by leaders (successful urban pioneers, political-economic elites, land developers, lending institutions, and even the Federal government in some instances) to revive the inner-city. Those who are in opposition are the people who currently reside in the deteriorated areas. They develop countermovements in order to gain the power necessary to defend themselves against the movements of the elite. These countermovements can be unsuccessful, though. The people who support reviving neighborhoods are also members, and their voices are the ones that the gentrifiers tend to hear (London and Palen, 1984).
Two discrete, sociological theories explain and justify gentrification as an economic process (production
-side theory) and as a social process (consumption
-side theory) that occurs when the suburban gentry
tire of the automobile-dependent urban sprawl
style of life; thus, professionals, empty nest
aged parents, and recent university graduates perceive the attractiveness of the city center—earlier abandoned during white flight
—especially if the poor community possesses a transport hub
and its architecture sustains the pedestrian
traffic that allows the proper human relations impeded by (sub)urban sprawl.
Professor Smith and Marxist sociologists explain gentrification as a structural
economic process; Ley explains gentrification as a natural outgrowth of increased professional employment in the central business district (CBD), and the creative sub-class’s predilection for city living. “Liberal Ideology and the Post-Industrial City” (1980) describes and deconstructs the TEAM committee’s effort to rendering Vancouver, BC, Canada, a “livable city”. The investigators Rose, Beauregard, Mullins, Moore et al.
, who base themselves upon Ley’s ideas, posit that “gentrifiers and their social and cultural characteristics [are] of crucial importance for an understanding of gentrification”—theoretical work Chris Hamnett criticized as insufficiently comprehensive, for not incorporating the “supply of dwellings and the role of developers [and] speculators in the process”.
theory of urban gentrification derives from the work of human geographer Neil Smith
, explaining gentrification as an economic
process consequent to the fluctuating relationships among capital
investments and the production of urban
space. He asserts that restructuring of urban space is the visual component of a larger social, economic, and spacial restructuring of the contemporary capitalist economy.
Smith summarizes the causes of gentrification into five main processes: suburbanization and the emergence of rent gap
, deindustrialization, spatial centralization and decentralization of capital, falling profit and cyclical movement of capital, and changes in demographics and consumption patterns.
Suburban development derives from outward expansion of cities, often driven by sought profit and the availability of cheap land. This change in consumption causes a fall in inner city land prices, often resulting in poor upkeep and a neglect of repair for these properties by owners and landlords. The depressed land is then devalued, causing rent to be significantly cheaper than the potential rent that could be derived from the “best use” of the land while taking advantage of its central location.
From this derives the Rent-gap Theory
describing the disparity between “the actual capitalized ground rent (land price) of a plot of land given its present use, and the potential ground rent that might be gleaned under a ‘higher and better’ use.”
The rent gap is fundamental to explaining gentrification as an economic process. When the gap is sufficiently wide, real estate developers
, and other people with vested interests in the development of land perceive the potential profit
to be derived from re-investing in inner-city properties and redeveloping them for new tenants. Thus, the development of a rent gap creates the opportunity for urban restructuring and gentrification.
of cities in developed nations reduces the number of blue-collar
jobs available to the urban working class as well as middle-wage jobs with the opportunity for advancement
, creating lost investment capital needed to physically maintain the houses and buildings of the city. Abandoned industrial areas create availability for land for the rent gap process.
De-industrialization is often integral to the growth of a divided white collar employment
, providing professional
jobs that follow the spatial decentralization of the expanding world economy. However, somewhat counter-intuitively, globalization also is accompanied by spatial centralization of urban centers, mainly from the growth of the inner city as a base for headquarter and executive decision-making centers. This concentration can be attributed to the need for rapid decisions and information flow, which makes it favorable to have executive centers in close proximity to each other. Thus, the expanding effect of suburbanization as well as agglomeration to city centers can coexist. These simultaneous processes can translate to gentrification activities when professionals have a high demand to live near their executive workplaces in order to reduce decision-making time.
This section of Smith’s theory attempts to describe the timing of the process of gentrification. At the end of a period of expansion for the economy, such as a boom
in postwar suburbs, accumulation of capital leads to a falling rate of profit. It is then favorable to seek investment outside the industrial sphere to hold off onset of an economic crisis
. By this time, the period of expansion has inevitably led to the creation of rent gap, providing opportunity for capital reinvestment in this surrounding environment.
Smith emphasizes that demographic and life-style changes are more of an exhibition of the form
of gentrification, rather than real factors behind gentrification. The aging baby-boomer
population, greater participation of women in the workforce, and the changes in marriage and childrearing norms explain the appearance that gentrification takes, or as Smith says, “why we have proliferating quiche bars rather than Howard Johnson’s”.
Brixton at standstill as crowds register frustration at gentrification