Gentrification is a highly controversial process in which urban developers convert lower income neighborhoods and inner-city ghettos into more upscale communities with condominiums, loft apartments and wealthier tenants for renovated homes. Since the current residents often cannot afford to pay the higher rents or assume a mortgage, gentrification efforts usually force them into even lower class areas with even higher crime rates. Meanwhile, local businesses which formerly catered to the needs of working-class residents may either have to relocate, close or sell out to new investors. Gentrification does achieve its stated goal of renovation and renewal, but it can also create an entirely new set of social and economic problems for those who have been displaced.
The concept of planned urban renewal is not a new one, but the practice of gentrification first appeared in the 1950s as many city planners looked for ways to eliminate urban blight. Local landlords and politicians also appreciated the economic wisdom of inner-city renovation as a means to attract middle and upper class workers to the area. Government funds earmarked for urban renewal were commonly used to finance the wholesale gentrification of working-class or poor neighborhoods. In San Francisco during the 1960s, for example, the Haight-Ashbury district became a popular refuge for young adults displaced by gentrification efforts elsewhere.
A British sociologist first identified the trend towards urban renewal as gentrification in the 1960s, noting that many of these efforts only benefited the developers and the landlords, leaving current residents trapped in an untenable position. Many could not afford to leave the area voluntarily, but they also could not afford the raised rents imposed by landlords seeking to cash in on the gentrification efforts. These frustrations often led to confrontations between the established residents and the new affluent tenants of renovated housing.
Gentrification does have a significant amount of tangible benefits for the city, however, which makes criticism of the practice difficult. The creation of more affluent neighborhoods through gentrification does raise a city's tax base, which in turn could lead to better services for all of its citizens. Once a gentrified area gains a favorable reputation, other areas may also agree to similar gentrification efforts. In this way, city leaders appear to reduce crime and improve blighted inner-city regions, which often helps to allay fears keeping the new wealthy class from moving into certain parts of the city.
There are a number of pros and cons surrounding the practice of gentrification, so it helps to do some research before deciding if a particular renovation project would help or harm a neighborhood in decay. Sometimes the solution is to help current low-income residents find suitable and affordable housing elsewhere before allowing gentrification efforts to completely overtake the affected area.