Gentrification – definition, meaning and examples

Gentrification occurs when an area of town becomes posher because of an influx of money or wealthy people. It may also occur because the authorities have spent a lot of money renewing old buildings, roads, and sidewalks. In other words, it may be the result of an urban renewal process.

Following the improvements, property prices in that area become rise. Rents also go up. We often use the term negatively, suggesting that the change displaced poor communities.

In most cases, the change leads to greater economic activity. The transformation also results in a decrease in crime.

Put simply, due to gentrification; an area becomes safer, more expensive, bustling, and more desirable.

Gentrification is a controversial topic. However, every neighborhood faces unique reasons for displacement.

In the vast majority of cases, after an area has been gentrified, most residents are in favor of the results.

According to Merriam-Webster, gentrification is:

“the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”

The opposite of gentrification, if it happened downtown, is inner-city decay.

Gentrification - definition and an example
George Street is in my town, Hastings, in south-east England. Pedestrianization transformed the area. Most residents, including me, are happy with the change. However, I have friends who dislike the way the Old Town has been gentrified.

Etymology of gentrification

The Online Etymology Dictionary says that the term, meaning “renovate inner-city housing to middle-class standards,” emerged in 1972. The word Gentrified was first used in the nineteenth century.

Etymology is the study of the origin of words and how their meanings and usage evolved.

The term derives from Gentry, which comes from Genterise, an Old French word meaning ‘of gentle birth’ (14 century) and ‘people of gentle birth’ (16th century).

Reasons for gentrification

When the reason is greater public spending, it usually follows a successful application for government funds. The application process may have taken several years, and in some cases, even decades.

The change may also be the result of growing interest in a certain environment or a public-private partnership. Public-private partnerships are projects that government or local authorities undertake together with the private sector (companies).

The initial ‘gentrifiers‘ may be low-income poets, artists, and musicians. Their influx increases the flair and attractiveness of that part of town.

Real estate development by the private sector may follow. This subsequently brings more businesses into the area.

In nearly every case, gentrification leads to population migration and declining crime rates. Population migration means people moving into an area from outside.

Video – Gentrification, what we don’t understand

In this TEDx Talks video, Stacey Hutton talks about the true costs of gentrification. Hutton is an urban planning scholar who teaches at Columbia University in Upper Manhattan, New York City. She thinks deeply about our common misconceptions regarding the term.