Gentrification, Displacement and Democratisation of Urban Space


There's been a bit of chatter lately, particularly in the UK about gentrification. Last month, the Guardian stated that "gentrification is now the predominant form of neighborhood development" with affordable housing on the decline and displacement going up and up.

Photo: Bill Cooper

There's also been some research conducted here in Australia by AHURI (Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute), examining the impacts of gentrification in Melbourne and Sydney.  According to the study:
In Melbourne just over 34 per cent of the vulnerable households living in the gentrified suburbs in 2001 had moved out of the area by 2006, while in Sydney nearly 41 per cent of vulnerable households had moved out.
This includes renters and home-owners, though interestingly, the AHURI study showed that renters were more like to move to a suburb nearby, whereas home-owners were just as likely to move to city fringe areas or regional cities further afield.

The study notes that the perceived benefit of gentrification (the 'improvement' of the neighbourhood) is actually false.

The ‘gain’ of higher income households to one political jurisdiction, thought
of in ‘global’ terms, may be cancelled out by the migration of lower-income displaces
to others. Social problems are thereby evacuated through the 'improvement' of
neighbourhoods and are thereby often seen as evidence that gentrification has
positive impacts on social problems when in fact the net gain to the wider system may
be close to nil and take no cogniscance of the social and psychological costs of
displacement. 
Further, as the number of people on low-incomes in a gentrifying area declines, the volume of welfare services able to assist those remaining also declines, making even harder for those who don't move (not to mention the issues faced by those who do move - often to areas with worse access to services).

The report concludes that failing to plan for population diversity results in compounded problems for lower income residents and negative outcomes for the broader population—poorer employment, education and health outcomes and rising crime and social harm.

The Guardian article aligns with the AHURI report, debunking the 'trickle down benefit' of gentrification.  However, interestingly, the article states that the worst myth regarding gentrification is that nothing much can be done about it.  Things like more and better public housing, rent control and regulation, community control of neighbourhood space, expanding social welfare, strengthening unions and empowering social movements could all contribute to addressing displacement.  According to the article:
Even today, it's not too late to unforeclose urban politics and build an alternative to the city of gentrification and inequality. The opposite of gentrification isn't urban decay; it's the democratization of urban space.

Read on here at the Guardian, and here at (AHURI).

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