Does Gentrification Help or Harm Urban Neighbourhoods? An Assessment of the Evidence-Base in the Context of the New Urban Agenda

There has been a renewed interest in ways of encouraging the middle classes back to the cities that many have left. Gentrification describes an interest in working class and cheaper neighbourhoods by middle class and professional households. The image of trendy Islington has done much to aid the greater currency of the term but gives us some idea of the outcome if little idea of the social costs involved. Recent research for the ESRC Centre for Neighbourhood Research sought to evaluate the relative value of gentrification as a possible route towards an urban renaissance by reviewing all empirical research on the topic for the last thirty years. The review covered more than a hundred pieces of research, predominantly from North America and the UK.

Comparing Gentrification in South Parkdale, Toronto and Lower Park Slope, New York City: A ‘North American’ Model of Neighbourhood Reinvestment?

This paper is an attempt to move on from the intractable theoretical divisions and overgeneralizations which have pervaded the gentrification literature for decades, and by doing so it offers a response to several calls for a ‘geography of gentrification’. This
takes the form of a comparative assessment of the gentrifying neighbourhoods of South Parkdale, Toronto, Canada and Lower Park Slope, New York City, USA. A central part of this research represents an engagement with two contrasting academic discourses on gentrification, the ‘emancipatory city’ (a Canadian construct) and the ‘revanchist city’ (an American construct), to examine how gentrification may or may not have changed since these discourses were produced and articulated.  The author combines narratives from in-depth interviews (with a particular focus on displaced tenants) with insights from action research and supplementary data from secondary sources, and elaborate the main similarities and differences in gentrification between these two contexts. In doing so, he demonstrates that gentrification is neither emancipatory nor revanchist in either case; while we can see crucial broad similarities in both the causes and effects of ‘post-recession’ gentrification, the process is also differentiated according to contextual factors, and these factors are illuminated and clarified by international comparison.. Furthermore, references to a ‘North American’ model of the process obscure some subtle local and national differences between the gentrification of individual neighbourhoods within that continent. The paper therefore demonstrates the need to exercise caution when referring to ‘North American gentrification’, especially as the geography of gentrification is only in its infancy.

The Impact of Gentrification on Ethnic Neighbourhoods in Toronto: A Case Study of Little Portugal

Despite extensive literature on the nature and impact of gentri?cation, there has been little consideration of the effects of gentri?cation on ethnic neighbourhoods. This study evaluates the negative and positive effects of gentri?cation on the Portuguese in west central Toronto. Details concerning the settlement patterns of the Portuguese, the characteristics of Portuguese residents and patterns of gentri?cation in inner-city Toronto were obtained from census data. Evaluations of neighbourhood change and attitudes of the residents towards gentri?cation were obtained from key informant and focus group interviews. The results suggest considerable ambivalence among the respondents, but most agreed that the long-term viability of Little Portugal as an immigrant reception area with a good supply of low-cost housing is in doubt.

The Factors Inhibiting Gentrification in Areas with Little Non-market Housing: Policy Lessons from the Toronto Experience

Urban Studies, 45(12), November 2008. This paper examines the factors that have limited gentrification in two Toronto neighbourhoods which have below-average proportions of public housing and which have traditionally acted as immigrant reception areas. The first failed to gentrify despite the existence of gentrification nearby, whereas gentrification stalled in the second in the early 1980s. Analysis of the historical reasons behind this suggests ways in which policy could intervene to limit the spread of gentrification in the absence of support for local affordable housing. These include the maintenance of areas of working-class employment, different approaches to nuisance uses and environmental externalities, a housing stock not amenable to gentrifiers’ tastes and state encouragement of non-market and ethnic sources of housing finance. However, the Toronto experience also highlights the importance of policy in a negative way, as changes in municipal policy which run counter to these prescriptions are now resulting in the gentrification of these two neighbourhoods.

Toronto’s South Parkdale Neighbourhood: A Brief History of Development, Disinvestment, and Gentrification

Research Bulletin 28, May 2005, 7 pages.  This brief history of a neighbourhood in Toronto just west of downtown describes the changes over time that have led to conflict between incoming gentrifiers and artists on one hand, and a long-standing population of poor and marginalized residents on the other. An area that was once an affluent enclave near the lake was disrupted by expressway building in 1950s, the deinstitutionalization of mental health patients in the 1970s, and by an influx of artists and middle-class homeowners beginning in the 1990sm. Although the area needs reinvestment, gentrification threatens the stability of the remaining.

Ethnic Identity, Place Marketing, and Gentrification in Toronto

Research Paper 203, April 2005, vi, 26 pp.  Urban theory has historically viewed ethnic commercial strips as a more-or-less organic extension of nearby ethnic residential enclaves. This paper argues that some of these areas function as a branding mechanism (intended or not) to produce nearby residential gentrification. Certain forms of ethnic identity attract affluent professionals looking for an alternative to suburban life. Some neighbourhood institutions have recognized this attraction and begun to manufacture a saleable form of ethnicity to tourists and prospective residents alike. This paper explores the influence of ethnic packaging on the process of gentrification in Toronto, using the examples of four ethnically defined business improvement areas (BIAs) – Little Italy, Greektown on the Danforth, Corso Italia, and the Gerrard India Bazaar.


Gentrification and Displacement Revisited: A Fresh Look at the New York City Experience

Research Bulletin 31, July 2006, 8 pages.  Since the 1960s, researchers and policy-makers have argued over whether gentrification represents equitable reinvestment in inner-city neighbourhoods or polarizing displacement. Newman and Wyly re-examine the arguments for and against gentrification, based on a quantitative evaluation of displacement in New York City and its changes over the past decade as well as field work in gentrifying neighbourhoods. They conclude that the extent of displacement is often underestimated, and that gentification represents evidence of urban restructuring on a vast scale. Although some long-time residents in gentrifying neighbourhoods may find ways to stay put and enjoy the benefits that gentrification brings, their achievements are likely only short-term, as supports for low-income renters are dismantled.


The Timing, Patterning, and Forms of Gentrification and Neighbourhood Change in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, 1961 to 2001

Research Paper 211, May 2008, viii, 109 pp.  This report presents a method for determining the timing, patterning, and forms of gentrification and residential neighbourhood upgrading between the 1960s and 2001 in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, using census data. The resulting maps show a clear geography of gentrification in each city, whereby the process starts in a few core areas and moves outwards into adjacent neighbourhoods, as well as a “gentrification frontier” in each city, where gentrification is likely to occur in future. The authors also identify the main forms of gentrification (deconversion of older housing stock, new construction, and the conversion of non-residential buildings to housing) and the way in which these forms combine to produce gentrified neighbourhoods in each city. They note that although new construction presents an opportunity to mitigate the problems caused by gentrification, this opportunity has not been seized. If present trends continue, the inner cities of Canada’s three largest cities will become the preserve of elites, while low-income households are forced to occupy less accessible fringe locations, a situation that contributes to social exclusion

Neighbourhood Gentrification and Upgrading in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver

Research Bulletin 43, September 2008. In this study of neighbourhood change, the researchers traced the attributes of a consistent sample of 1,130 census tracts in the central cities of Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver between 1961 and 2001. For each tract in each decade, the authors looked at conversion from rental to owner-occupation; changes in social status; changes in relative land values and housing affordability; changes in income; and changes in the average monthly rent. They found that gentrification has affected more than 36 percent of prewar inner-city neighbourhoods, where affordable housing has traditionally been located. Gentrification appeared more prevalent in Vancouver, followed by Toronto, and then Montreal. The results suggest the continuing displacement of low-income households from the inner cities.


Liberty Village: The Makeover of Toronto’s King and Dufferin Area

Research Bulletin 32, January 2007, 7 pages. This short history of one of the neighbourhoods in west-central Toronto describes the stages of transformation of a formerly industrial area. The area first became a distinctive and diverse artists’ community on the margin of Toronto’s mainstream culture, but has more recently become an increasingly homogenized space that has been made safe, clean, and attractive for capital investment and new residents. The author argues that the gentrification of the area was municipally managed, as Toronto’s economic development corporation, in combination with Toronto Artscape, worked to attract investment to the area.


Toronto’s Inner Suburbs: Investing in Social Infrastructure in Scarborough

Toronto’s Inner Suburbs: Investing in Social Infrastructure in Scarborough, by Deborah Cowen and Vanessa Parlette, Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership, University of Toronto, June 2011

Changes in immigration policy and in labour and housing markets, the dismant]ing of the social welfare safety net, the closing of psychiatric institutions, and the rising costs of living in the city’s core have all affected the inner suburbs. These areas today are home to many poor households, including members of many racialized groups. At the same time, social services in the inner suburbs are few and far between.

The result: dramatically under-serviced inner suburban neighbourhoods characterized by large numbers of residents with low incomes, many of whom face physical and mental health challenges, as well as greater numbers of newcomers.

Deborah Cowen is a professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Geography and Programme in Planning. Vanessa Parlette is a doctoral candidate in geography at the University of Toronto. Both have been active in community projects in Kingston Galloway/Orion Park for the past five years.

Cowen 2011 Social Infrastructure – Toronto’s Inner Suburbs