Gentrification refers to the process by which wealthier people move into neighborhoods that was originally inhabited by poor people. The process of gentrification is also referred to as sprawl. Gentrification is a gradual transformation of neighborhoods from slum to suburbs. The wealthier newcomers acquire property, renovate and establish planned development in the areas. They may even establish businesses. Gentrification has occurred in most major cities, but the most popular examples are in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York, Brooklyn Heights in New York, some areas of Atlanta, and Cape Town, South Africa (Palen and London 43).
Several theories have been forwarded in an attempt to explain gentrification. The most prominent are the Production-side theory, rent-gap theory and consumption-side theory.
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The production-side theory was forwarded by geographer, Neil Smith. According to Smith, gentrification is based on the relationship between money and production. Smith explains that the low rents in slums after the Second World War, led to movement of capital from urban areas. The rent-gap theory further explains the gentrification process. According to this theory, landlords and real estate developers perceive the anticipated profits that could be earned by re-investing in inner city properties and re-developing them for affluent customers. The consumption-side theory is associated with a geographer David Ley, who explains gentrification by investigating the socio-cultural characteristics and motives of the gentrifiers. The people who lead to gentrification are in most cases people who perform advanced services like doctors, lawyers and bankers. Their demand for social amenities, arts and leisure paves the way for gentrification to occur (Atkinson and Bridge 21).
Gentrification has both positive effects depending on one’s perspectives. Some of the adverse effects are; rise in property values, political implications and changes in racial composition.
The migration of affluent or middle class people to inner cities leads to an increase in property values. The affluent are ready and willing to purchase and renovate houses in inner cities. This gradual trend leads to the formation of high class estates with condos and luxury homes. As a result the property taxes for such houses in such areas shoots and the poor inhabitants are left poorer than before. The increase in middle class societies also faces out the convenience stores and retail shops. Development of more expensive malls takes place and shopping for poor communities becomes a problem.
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Most inner cities and slums are inhabited by minority ethnic groups. These are mainly Afro-American and Latin communities. The middle class are mainly whites. The onset of gentrification leads to displacement of the minor communities.
In some cases, this does not augur well with the original inhabitants, and results in violence and racial tension. For instance, gentrification in Kirkwood, Atlanta led to violence between blacks and the white newcomers. As with much gentrification, the first wave of whites moving back to Kirkwood was mainly made up of gay men and lesbians. Homophobia further heightened the hostility and tension in the neighborhood (Atkinson and Bridge 23). In some cases, gentrification leads to chaos in the political system. For instance, Sherry Dorsey, the Atlanta city council member stand for Kirkwood, East Lake, and East Atlanta, was famously notorious for refusing to attend to white incomers needs since ‘they did not vote for her.’
In spite of all the negative effects mentioned above, gentrification has a few benefits. The high property tax revenues are re-invested in the area. This leads to better social amenities such as public parks, better police force, and fire brigade. Gentrification also leads to growth of businesses in the inner cities. The low class are therefore, more likely to increase their income, and get easier access to job opportunities. This is likely to improve their overall welfare and living standards. Furthermore, gentrification reduces suburban sprawl and the effects of environmental degradation.
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