Photo: Flickr / nycstreets
This post originally appeared at Networx.You know the old saying, “There goes the neighbourhood”? In today’s urban American real estate climate, it’s more likely to mean that yuppies are moving into a lower-income neighbourhood which ultimately will succumb to higher real estate prices, than that a neighbourhood is becoming blighted by crime.
See 10 Neighborhoods That Were Redefined by Gentrification >
Pockets of my own neighbourhood are getting gentrified, and I wanted to learn more about how the process played out in other neighborhoods. I interviewed three experts in urban gentrification research, who told me stories about 10 neighborhoods and enclaves that were redefined by gentrification.
What I learned is that the process is complex, and rarely (but occasionally) totally changes the character of a neighbourhood or enclave. Did what they tell me make me less nervous about the possibility of getting priced out of my own neighbourhood? Honestly, no. Still, it is interesting to see that the process of gentrification operates slightly differently in each city and enclave.
This list is just a sample of parts of cities that have been changed by “urban pioneers”, real estate developers and commercial expansion. It’s by no means exhaustive, and I invite you to discuss other gentrified neighborhoods and enclaves in the comments.
“There were several different waves of gentrification,” said Dr. Japonica Brown-Saracino, a faculty member in the department of Sociology at Boston University whose book A neighbourhood That Never Changes: Gentrification, Social Preservation, and the Search for Authenticity (The Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries Series of the University of Chicago Press, 2009) explores the Chicago neighborhoods Andersonville and Argyle.
'Halsted Street North is a part of Lakeview, which used to be very much kind of deteriorated corridor and now it has become a destination for anyone who wants to go and have a night of gay life, or a day, because there is a clustering of gay-oriented retail, and that has made that strip change identity completely,' said Dr. Betancur. 'Now it is viewed as a gay enclave which is mostly because of the retail, not because of who lives there. It is a very expensive neighbourhood and it's not a necessarily a residential gay enclave, it's more like a gay motif that gave identity to that strip,' he said.
'It's also called 'Boys Town'. It goes from Belmont Street to Grace along Halsted Street --
a quite long strip. If you get out of that strip it is a whole different world. Clark Street, which is the next large thoroughfare and retail street west to it, is geared toward people who go to the Cubs games,' said Dr. Betancur.
'Pilsen is one of the best-known communities in Chicago and the last identity was Mexican, and before that the identity was Czechoslovakian. The east side of Pilsen has been very much gentrified and the main core and identity has been art,' said Dr. Betancur.
'There was the formation of an art colony there that concentrated on open galleries that started doing shows and catered to the public. It became a cultural enclave destination within a Mexican neighbourhood, carved out at the expense of Mexicans; now it's predominantly white. It didn't take the whole neighbourhood, it took a corner of it,' Dr. Betancur said.
'The real estate industry is big in changing the names of places,' said Dr. Betancur. 'Wicker Park is a section of a neighbourhood in Chicago traditionally called 'West Town'. But the real estate people, as part of the effort to attract people to the neighbourhood, focused in an area at the centre of the neighbourhood that was named after a local park, Wicker Park, and the name became better-known now than 'West Town', a much larger community area. In fact, for the most part people know where Wicker Park is but they don't know where West Town is, because West Town is a larger area. Wicker Park is like the heart of West Town. But the branding was so strong that it named the entire area as Wicker Park. It is an area in Chicago that has been totally gentrified. It is undergoing regentrification which means that the early gentrifiers (principally artists who developed a Bohemian style destination around the intersection of Milwaukee, North and Damen Avenues) could not afford to stay there and higher-income gentrifiers are replacing them,' he said.
'Real estate agencies and gentrifiers use 'sexy' names, particularly including the name 'Park' or 'Village'. A strategy of the real estate industry is to give unique identities to a subsection and it becomes very much a new entity carved out of an old geography,' said Dr. Betancur.
The West End in Boston 'no longer exists,' according to Herbert Gans, whose sociology classicUrban Villagers: Group and Class in the Life of Italian-Americans reports on the working-class immigrant community that dwelled there. The West End was an enclave of Boston's central business district, and was torn down between 1958 and 1960 'under the federal renewal program' (Gans, xiii). Though the West End was declared to be 'a slum', Gans lived there for about two years, and did not judge it to be a slum. Nevertheless, the low-rent tenements of the West End were torn down and its predominantly Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrant residents dispersed across the city.
60 years later, the West End has faded from public memory. 'I had an undergrad who decided to go and stand on a street corner in the neighbourhood that was the West End and ask people, 'Do you know what neighbourhood you're in?' and nobody said 'the West End'. Even public memory of the neighbourhood and of what happened there is disappearing as well,' said Dr. Brown-Saracino.
SoHo is a name that was given to a large area but in reality the one that is identified with the galleries and all the boutiques and all the more trendy activities is not such a large area. It was either factories or warehouses that had been abandoned or were hosting sweatshops so they were just reoccupied. That is what some people call 'commercial gentrification',' said Dr. Betancur. Want to buy a loft in SoHo with a custom roof deck? There are plenty of renovated lofts there to buy, but they could cost you in the millions.
In the past 20 years, Hell's Kitchen (a neighbourhood on the west side of mid-town Manhattan) has changed from a rough bastion for immigrants and low-rises to an area populated by high rise buildings and sky-high rents. Real estate developers like to call it 'Clinton', after Dewitt Clinton Park, a park inside the enclave. (As Professor Betancur said, real estate developers like to name enclaves after parks.)
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