Gentrification in New York

Subject: Sociology
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 10
Word count: 2593
Topics: American Culture, Gentrification, Government, Urbanization


In 1964, Ruth Glass coined the term gentrification (Lees, 2012). In Britain, gentrification was referred to as “Haussmann” which involved the practice of making breaches within the working class premises for either beautification purposes or public health considerations (Bernt & Holm, 2014). In France and particularly in Nantes, Louis XIV displaced the poor and their place was occupied by the wealthier citizens, merchants and landlords (Bernt & Holm, 2014). This wave of gentrification spread into North America. In mid nineteenth century, gentrification became more sporadic as urban development crept in; in north America, the tearing down of wooden buildings and their subsequent replacement with brick structures was the closest they ever came to realize gentrification. However, this was done to make room for single family or larger tenement houses. Based on the spatial redevelopment, the aspect was a result of expansion geographically meant to realize reconcetration. As late as 1940, gentrification remained largely sporadic and its occurrence was premised on a precursor of aristocratic and European resolution coupled with incidences of guilt (Farrugia, 2014). By and large, the systemic nature of the central and inner cities as well as the extent of their rehabilitation and rebuilding inform the gentrification process.


The profits intended from the rebuilding as well as the desire by the bourgeoisies to control the city were cited as “improvements” within the urban landscapes (Lees, 2012). In the early 1960s, the term gentrification was coined in New York and specifically in Greenwich Village and was associated with the sprouting of middle class resident action group, influx of immigrants from Southern Europe, rental deregulation and sustained disinvestment within a society that was largely counterculture (de Oliver, 2016). The occurrence of gentrification led to studies that discussed the attachment of the concept to large cities. For example, in 1977, more than half of the cities in the United States with a population of more than 55,000 experienced incidences of gentrification (de Oliver, 2016). Today, these “improvements”, “Haussmann” or “gentrifications” are ubiquitous in the inner and central cities (Timberlake et al, 2016). In addition, verticalization has been attributed to the incidences of redevelopment especially premised on the scarcity of land. Nonetheless, integration of the aspect has become systematic and involves various global and urban processes. According to Ruth Glass, the spate of events she witnessed in London reflected dispersed developments in housing and land market. In 1970, the process was fast becoming the norm with regard to urban restructuring within residential premises (de Oliver, 2016). Within the global city, gentrification was equally present with regard to regional and national centers that were hit with incidences of geographical, political and economic restructuring. Based on this argument, it is clear that gentrification has undergone massive transition and as a consequence can no longer rely on the specialized and quaint language of rehabilitation on residential premises as portrayed before. Gentrification can narrowly be described as rehabilitation of stock that is already in existence distinct from urban renewal (Bernt & Holm, 2014).

Gentrification no longer assumes the quixotic and narrow oddity it ascribed to before but rather assembles the central and inner city urban landscape aimed at redevelopment. There is an interconnection between gentrification and suburbanization provided a platform for accumulation of capital has resulted to comparative disinvestment (Radovac, 2011). The current wave of suburbanization experienced in New York has been ushered by gentrification. The recentralization of hotel, recreation, retail and office functions coupled with decentralization has led to integration of functional suburbs that are a consequence of the cycles of contraction and expansion of the economy. Gentrification involves expansion of the physical area belonging to the downtown without paying regard to the inner city (Timberlake et al, 2016). At the same time, it means a diffusion of cultural power from the geographical center to the outward/downtown. As a matter of fact, gentrification results to social transformation of the downtown. Is gentrification a spatial, aesthetic or social phenomenon? In this study, I will look at the conditions that led to gentrification in New York City and compare them with some early incidences of gentrification in other parts of the world.  Afterwards, I will delve into gentrification on the physical, economic, cultural, demographic and political platform to come up with features of the landscape as well as local housing stock in new York more especially Brooklyn heights and Manhattan. By and large, the study will look at the suburban development and its impact as factor in gentrification. Moreover, I will look at how gentrification has reconciled the market and the place in the current society.  Finally, the study will offer conclusions and recommendations that will be of use in future among proponents of gentrification. Gentrification has resulted to neighborhood change, rent increases and displacement induced by the process.


Gentrification is individualistic in the sense that it refers to housing; however, it can take diverse approaches that entail individual decisions and small events that rely on social transformation (Plunz, 2016). “Just as the white settlers in the nineteenth century forced native Americans from their traditional grounds, so gentrifiers, developers, and new commercial uses have cleared the downtown frontier of its existing population”(Plunz, 2016).The contemporary approach is logic and coordinated with expansion of facilities and jobs being the resultant effect. Decentralization of jobs to the suburbs has led to a shift in the economy of the city towards communications, tourism, entertainment and finance without altering the trends in income inequality, decreasing median household income and urban economic decline. On the contrary, gentrification fosters inequality by initiating emergence of contemporary juxtaposition of vernacular and landscape (Hwang et al, 2016).

Recently, gentrification has witnessed investments from the private market (Radovac, 2011). In addition, the widespread use of personal loans, family loans and inheritance has seen the paradigm shift in development of the downtown from the public to the private sector. As a matter of fact, the movement of manufacturers from the center outwards was inspired by the obsoleteness of the center due to cyclical decline and deindustrialization that was a result of congestion (Millington, 2016). Furthermore, the appeal was a product of reduced wages, taxes and prices within the suburban setting. In New York, services that were centrally located such as apparel printing and manufacturing thrived in areas that paid low rents premised on their proximity to suppliers, competitors and customers (Hwang et al, 2016). In addition, they also accrued benefits from huge transit lines that connected midtown and downtown Manhattan to distant areas where the working class lived especially, the minority and immigrant workers.

Regardless of their historic association to the areas in the downtown and economic viability, the real estate developers, elected officials and elites that were behind economic growth (Lees, 2012) treated the manufacturers suspiciously. This led to reformation of mayors in the suburban cities who merged with banking interests and corporate businesses. For example, the New York mayor John Lindsay shed light on the alliance between labor unions as well as small businesses and city hall premised on orientation towards the real estate developers and the finance sector. Location of businesses downtown was symbolic (Millington, 2016). Insurance companies, banks, offices of financial services and foreign owned corporations found it anachronistic since such areas preserved their cultural and economic value. Redevelopment within downtown New York was under the watchful eye of the patricians who controlled property values, cultural legitimacy, city government authorizations and investment capital (Hwang et al, 2016).  It is on this premise that they shaped local historical societies, city planning commissions and bank policies. All the way through they pressed for highway construction and new buildings.


The politics of the culture in downtown New York were centered in Manhattan (Millington, 2016). In 1970, the region witnessed displacement of “socially obsolete” and low rent uses especially on the premise of a coalition between a historic preservationist and an artist. The coalition for growth pushed for demolition of the low rent areas inhabited by the artists based on the fact that they worked and lived in the buildings and their contribution to the New York economy. In 1973, the artists won the battle for the region and this marked the transition of Manhattan from a cultural zone to a manufacturing zone. The landmark victory was symbolic in the sense that the landscape changed into a conceptual, sensual and visual reorientation. On the same note, the architectural heritage and historical style of Manhattan was preserved from the harm of private commercial development and urban renewal that had been experienced elsewhere in the world. This was contrary to the notion that improvement could only be arrived at through demolition. For example, the cast iron, masonry and handsome stone structures had been torn down during redevelopment.

The traditional view of the landscape was similar to the contemporary view of the urban vernacular premised on history and aesthetics (Plunz, 2016). In addition, the need to preserve buildings that were old based on their cultural value assisted in the construction of a market that harbored the place. A combination of residential and commercial projects in Battery Park City within  New York have in the past been found to water down the taste for downtown diversity brought forth by old buildings that the gentrifiers intended (de Oliver, 2016). Gentrification paid special attention to the demands of art producers and histrionic preservationists in their quest to claim space. As a matter of fact, appreciation of these historic buildings can only be appreciated if their maximum worth is understood, analyzed and explained as part of the discourse for aesthetics. “These buildings belong to the residents who restore mahogany paneling and buy copies of nineteenth century faucets instead of those who prefer aluminum sliding”( Hwang et al, 2016). Notably, the aesthetic value of gentrification is both pliable and selective. The greatest boost that gentrification received was a product of symbolic and substantive legitimating the cultural claim to space within the urban setting. Urban growth was premised on the works of producers of culture while at the same time French restaurants and storefront art galleries became mediators and outposts of gentrification in the cities and neighborhoods with huge number of artists.

New York City has shifted its focus to conspicuous consumption and intense investment premised on its inhabitants who are super rich emanating from corporate service and global finance industries (Timberlake et al, 2016). Traditionally, gentrification has always focused on cultural and economic appreciation of devalued and disinvested areas within the inner city by a wealthy middle class. In this regard, super-gentrification within New York means transformation of prosperous, gentrified and solidly upper middle class into expensive and much more exclusive enclaves (Plunz, 2016). At the moment, gentrification is a globally accepted strategy that has displaced the old policy of liberal urban with an emerging retaliatory urbanism deeply tied to the cultural circulation and global capital less concerned with social reproduction as opposed to capitalist production.

The third wave of gentrification takes the classic or traditional form (Lees, 2012). On the same note, renovation of old houses by gentrifiers through hired interior designers and builders or sweat equity that lead to displacement of poor residents and/or embourgeoisement of a neighborhood. However, initiatives on gentrification are now tied to the state with policies emanating from the local and national governments. Scholars on gentrification have found the concept “chaotic” premised on its geographically contingent differences in operation and contexts (Timberlake et al, 2016). Gentrification is increasingly becoming unpredictable with changing patterns in contexts and modus operandi making the concept rather too broad for any meaningful conclusion to be made from it. However, other commentators assume that the process will eventually arrive at a self-perpetuating and stable stage with a possibility of manifesting itself altogether. Brooklyn heights presents gentrification with regard to the scale used at the neighborhood level; however, the situation is not unique to the area. For example, park slope, not too far from Brooklyn heights has also experienced similar incidences of gentrification (Hwang et al, 2016). Financial sector as well as finance workers that are employees in the region drives the region.

Impact of gentrification within Brooklyn heights and Manhattan in New York

Negative impactPositive impact
Displacement of the poor through price/rent increases

Conflict and resentment from the community

Areas that suffer decline are stabilized
Housing becomes expensive thus unaffordableVale of property increases
Increase in prices resulting to homelessnessThe rates of vacancy are reduced
Spending at the local level increases due to articulacy/lobbyingFiscal revenues at the local level increase
Industrial/ commercial displacementIncreased chances of further development
Increased to changes and costs in services offered by the local government

Housing demands and displacement pressures on poor areas surrounding the areas

 A reduction sprawls within the suburban regions
Diversity in social development is lost i.e. shift to rich ghettos from socially disparate individualsIncrease in mixing of people resulting to social development
Loss of population to areas already gentrified as well as under occupancyProperty rehabilitation whether they have state sponsorship or not


Since gentrification is not unique to New York, a brief look into it on a global platform would do much good towards understanding the global, social and spatial phenomena. Currently, gentrification is global (Timberlake et al, 2016). Aspects of colonization and neighborhood change represented in New York are not unique to it only. The same gentrification found in New York can now be found in Leeds, Moscow, Brussels, Barcelona and so on. As a matter of fact, gentrification has even penetrated rural areas such as upstate New York (Timberlake et al, 2016). On a global scale, gentrification involves growth of residential enclaves hat are rehabilitated as well as professional managerial classes that are selected for colonization (Lees, 2012). Moreover, gentrification is regional, national as well as cultural specificities. Over the years, the aspect has been largely plagued with incidences of mercantile and colonial expansion premised on gaps within the regional scale. In other words, the migration occasioned by gentrification seems to be continental based on the migration and permeability of populations. At the neighborhood level, the classes that are more privileged exercise colonization on vulnerable and poor residents thus gentrification is occasioned as a consequence.  The table below presents the neighborhood, city, national and global changes brought forth by spatial transformation in the global scale:

  • Gentrification
  • Poverty that is ghettoized
  • Administration of the city
  • fiscal autonomy
  • regulations on labor
  • Local infrastructure
  • quality of life
  • Relativity in terms of the middle class scale
  • legislation and property rights
  • movement of the poor


  • Migration of the educated and the rich
  • trade policy rules and global governance
  • finance markets
  • travel and communications


The study has looked at gentrification on a spatial, global and social scale. In addition, it has espoused on the predictors of gentrification premised on the needs that the society shows deficiencies. Crucial to note is that gentrification is not unique to New York alone but rather has a global acclamation. Largely, the study has explained instances of super-gentrification in new York based on the fact that it is already gentrified. The study will be influential in decision making for countries, cities, rural areas and towns faced with a threat of gentrification premised on the measures on housing and preservation of cultural heritage. This will enable the stakeholders in the public sector build affordable housing and avoid the negative consequences of gentrification stated above. By and large, the study will deal be influential for future research.

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  1. Bernt, M., & Holm, A. (2014). Exploring the substance and style of gentrification: Berlin’s “Prenzlberg”. The Berlin Reader: A Compendium on Urban Change and Activism, 107.
  2. de Oliver, M. (2016). Gentrification as the appropriation of therapeutic ‘diversity’: A model and case study of the multicultural amenity of contemporary urban renewal. Urban Studies, 53(6), 1299-1316.
  3. Farrugia, D. (2014). Towards a spatialised youth sociology: The rural and the urban in times of change. Journal of Youth Studies, 17(3), 293-307.
  4. Hwang, J., & Lin, J. (2016). What Have We Learned About the Causes of Recent Gentrification?.
  5. Lees, L. (2012). The geography of gentrification Thinking through comparative urbanism. Progress in Human Geography, 36(2), 155-171.
  6. Millington, G. (2016). Urbanization and the city image in Lowry at Tate Britain: Towards a critique of cultural cityism. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.
  7. Plunz, R. (2016). A history of housing in New York City. Columbia University Press.
  8. Radovac, L. (2011). The” War on Noise”: Sound and Space in La Guardia’s New York. American Quarterly, 63(3), 733-760.
  9. Timberlake, J. M., & Johns-Wolfe, E. (2016). Neighborhood Ethnoracial Composition and Gentrification in Chicago and New York, 1980 to 2010. Urban Affairs Review, 1078087416636483.
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