In reality… gentrification results in winners and losers, thus creating or enhancing social and physical divisions in societies.
On the face of it, most local inhabitants of a city district or neighbourhood would not be against efforts to improve the security, cleanliness, aesthetic appeal and infrastructure (e.g. transport, telecommunications etc) of their surroundings. Intuitively, one would welcome such improvements in anticipation that they will be beneficial to all. In reality, what tends to happen is that the process of gentrification results in winners and losers, thus creating or enhancing social and physical divisions in societies.
Just what is gentrification anyway? In the 1980s, gentrification was seen as the rehabilitation of working class or derelict housing and the consequent transformation of an area into a middle class neighbourhood. More contemporary definitions reflect a broader interpretation of gentrification, whose key components are, according to this definition:
- Re-investment of capital
- Changes in types of residents or occupants due to the influx of people from higher income groups
- Changes in land use
- Direct and indirect displacement of low-income groups
It is therefore possible nowadays to talk about super-gentrification (the process by which an already gentrified area becomes even more gentrified), which would not have been possible under earlier, narrower definitions of gentrification.
Regardless of whether it is Cape Town’s Woodstock or Johannesburg’s inner city, the displacement of lower-income groups is a consistent feature of gentrification
Other descriptions of gentrification focus on the key role players: for instance, new-build gentrification led by private developers and investors; local government-led urban renewal programmes; and ‘yuppification’ and ‘studentification’ which focus on the characteristics of the new inhabitants of an area. South Africa is familiar with all of these faces of gentrification. Regardless of whether it is Cape Town’s Woodstock or Johannesburg’s inner city, the displacement of lower-income groups is a consistent feature of gentrification.
It this that is of particular concern – commercial and private residents being forced to relocate as they can no longer afford to stay in their old districts or neighbourhoods, or confined to small enclaves which have been able to withstand the assault of gentrification (at least in the short-term). Those forced to physically relocate may not necessarily enjoy the same quality of life, and also have to contend with their separation from the communities they left behind.
Those forced to physically relocate may not necessarily enjoy the same quality of life, and also have to contend with their separation from the communities they left behind.
Those who are able to hold their ground financially in a gentrifying area confront a different set of challenges. The newly arrived high income groups may have different social and political values, cultures, behaviours and vision for the future of the district or neighbourhood in question. Long-established residents may find that whilst they can still afford to live or conduct business in an area, they no longer wish to do so because its identity has changed fundamentally and irrevocably.
Understanding the full consequences of gentrification, warts and all, is essential for ordinary citizens, town planning officials, investors and developers to make conscious and informed decisions about what kind of cities they want to live and work in.
In an already fractured society such as South Africa’s, is gentrification really the right way to go?
Does development inevitably entail displacing and leaving behind the poorest and most vulnerable?
Fadzai Munyaradzi is a freelance writer with an interest in a wide range of topics including SMEs and entrepreneurialism, sustainable development and other useful stuff. She is currently a full-time Master’s student at the University of Freiburg (Germany), where she is trying to kick habits like African time-keeping and a predilection for spicy foods.