How does gentrification affect the poor

What does gentrification actually mean?

Gentrification or gentrification describes a certain form of change in urban districts: the change from a population with low income and status to a higher-status population with more income. The term gentrification coined the British sociologist Ruth Glass in the 1960s to describe precisely this process in the London borough of Islington. gentry is the English word for lower nobility or land nobility. In her research, Glass drew parallels to developments in the 18th century, when the lower nobility moved from the country to the metropolises and competed with the poorer population for living space. In the 1970s and 1980s, researchers then observed the phenomenon in various cities in Europe and the United States - for example in New York's SoHo district and the formerly run-down Meatpacking District. At the turn of the millennium, the subject of research then became a topic that interested the general public in Germany as well.

How does gentrification work?

The typical process can be described - in simplified form - as follows: First of all, apartments or old factories are empty in the affected districts, where mainly people with low incomes live. Artists and students move there because rents are cheap and the district leaves plenty of room for creativity and experimentation. Pubs and cafes, galleries and small shops are emerging. In research, the first newcomers are called "pioneers". With their work they make the district interesting and attractive for people with higher incomes, the first "Gentrifier"They are willing to pay higher rents, some of them are also buying old apartments at ridiculous prices and renovating them. Fewer and fewer apartments are vacant, rents and land prices are gradually rising. Investors are also discovering the district, buying apartments, renovating and then rent them out for expensive money.

The original residents cannot afford the now higher rents. They are often forced to move, for example when an investor completely refurbishes a house and then demands a correspondingly higher sum. And so it comes to the above-described change from the "low status" to the "higher status" population. The environment is changing accordingly. Where the Urberliner Eckkneipe used to be, a techno club and finally a chic restaurant will open shortly afterwards. This often bothers not only the old population, but also the pioneers.

To illustrate this, researchers and activists often use a simple phase model. In reality, of course, gentrification does not strictly follow the pattern F. A relatively classic example is likely to be the developments in some quarters of the Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg, where gentrification is now considered complete. But, as the researcher Christian Diller from the University of Giessen explains, there are also other cases in which, for example, pioneers and gentrifiers come at the same time. Or in which a functional upgrade takes place (for example, there are suddenly many pubs in one street), but without much change in rents and residents.

Is Gentrification Always Bad?

First of all, there is nothing wrong with renovating houses in city centers and creating cafes and shops in a district. Diller warns, for example, against rejecting all changes in one's own district across the board: "Experience shows that if nothing changes in districts over the years, then they develop negatively." He remembers discussions in the 1980s: "Back then, the top priority of all urban planners was: stop suburbanization." For a long time, wealthy people tended to move to the outskirts, to single-family homes with a garden. In the city centers, the four "A" stayed, as the gentrification researcher Ilse Helbrecht from the Humboldt University in Berlin said in an interview with the SZ expresses: poor, old, unemployed and foreigners.

That is why the planners tried to make the city centers more attractive for other social classes. "There were also ecological reasons for this," says Diller. "After all, it makes more sense to use areas that are already built on than to keep building new ones." And a lot of commuters going from the suburbs to the cities lead to too much traffic. The fact that the middle class is now moving to the cities again is a positive development from the planners' point of view - also for the four "A" s. "In the gentrified districts, the social mix is ​​often better than in other districts," says Diller with a view to Berlin. Because the real problem is the socially difficult outskirts, to which no members of the middle class move, but only people who cannot afford the apartments elsewhere, says Diller.

In addition: the extent of the change in a quarter is often perceived selectively. Urban researcher Gerhard Hard points out that actual gentrification is often limited to a few blocks of houses and symbolic places. Nevertheless, the question arises where the people come from who move to the socially difficult neighborhoods mentioned by Diller. Critics of gentrification are convinced that they are moving from the city center, where they can no longer afford the rents - but that is not clearly demonstrable. "In a narrower sense, gentrification does not mean any change or upgrading in urban neighborhoods, but explicitly the displacement of poorer households from the city districts brought about by real estate or political upgrading programs," emphasizes the sociologist Andrej Holm. So: Not every building project or playground improvement is problematic, but targeted upgrading and rising rents, which ultimately lead to poor residents being forced to leave the neighborhood.