Explaining Gentrification

Embed from Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Gentrification: It's the word of the decade if not the last few decades. It's been associated with such neighborhoods and cities as Harlem, Washington D.C., and Downtown Los Angeles. While the repercussions of gentrification are easy to see: the rise of cafes, art exhibits, nicer streets, a higher police presence and a wealthier community, the process by which gentrification takes place and it's more insidious effects have yet to be explored. In order to analyze the effects of gentrification, one must first understand the process by which it comes about. Gentrification follows three stages: pseudo gentrification, inflation, and actualized gentrification.

Pseudo gentrification can most easily be understood as the movement of artist, bohemians, and young professionals, and the associated business they bring: cafes, art exhibits, theater, and bike shops into communities. These new residents serve as scions of culture increasing the quality of leisurely events available to residents. As many artists and bohemians tend to be on the lower end of the income scale and require a large enough clientele base to fund their endeavors, they both rely on and are attracted to densely populated areas with low costs of living. This is a difficult pairing to find as urban neighborhoods are known for their high rents and mortgages. In order to combat this, many artist, bohemians and young people choose to take on roommates to lessen the cost of living and allow for a higher amount of discretionary income to enjoy the leisure activities which their communities bring.

In response to apartments being populated by not one, but instead several people, landlords raise rents. This proportionately leads to the increase in value of all surrounding real estate. Thereby further economically restricting those of low income brackets to rent. After the multiple tenants leave the apartment, the inflated rate remains if not increases. This leaves behind a higher expense for future renters, who are then further motivated to take on roommates to counteract the cost. This continues until the amount of roommates required by these low income individuals becomes intolerable to either tenants or the landlord. At this point, tenants either choose to or are forced to find new living arrangements in cheaper neighborhoods often leading to pseudo gentrification and inflation being started in another community.

While the high price of living will detract certain communities, it will attract others. Many affluent individuals are attracted to places with high cost of living for their socio-economic and culturally segregating properties. The movement of affluent individuals into communities which were previously populated by young professionals, artist, and bohemians is known as actualized gentrification. What separates pseudo gentrification from actualized gentrification is the ability by those belonging to the latter group to actually afford their lifestyle while being able to pay inflated rates and mortgages. While the former group struggles to live a life of affluence, the latter can comfortably compete.

The migration of the young artistic populace out of cities replaced by an older, more affluent and more homogenous populace leads to a shift in culture and the commodification of the bohemian and multi-faceted culture that originally attracted people to the city. These areas then become akin to upscale and more densely populated suburbs -- homogenous, affluent, and focused on consumerism. While some consider gentrification progress it makes others cringe. One real estate developer and longtime resident of Manhattan New York, Leong Diong, compared the process to colonialism; it displaces the indigenous cultures of New York with a homogenous entitled elite.