Understanding Neighbourhood Dynamics: A Review of the Contributions of William G. Grigsby

This paper summarises William G. Grigsby’ s contribution to our understanding of neighbourhood change. We discuss seven contributions among Grigsby’ s most-lasting. First, he staked out the boundaries of the still-nascent field very early in his career. Secondly, he situated the subject within the broader framework of metropolitan housing market dynamics. Thirdly, he developed a theoretical framework for investig ating the subject that featured the analysis of housing sub-markets, the market process of neighbourhood succession, and residential segregation. Fourthly, he identified the economic, social, institutional and demographic forces that create neighbourhood change. Fifthly, he linked neighbourhood decline and deteriora tion to the spatial concentration of poverty. Sixthly, he underscore d the significance of this understanding for formulating public policies to deal with deteriora ted neighbourhoods. And seventhly, he provided a remarkably complete and robust framework for analysing neighbourhood change. This last-mentioned contribution is the culmination of his lifetime work and will prove perhaps to be his most significant. It provides a road map to future research on neighbourhood dynamics that others may wish to follow.


What We Know About Neighbourhood Change (2004 Literature Review)

Our starting point was to understand how people conceptualise neighbourhood change, and how concepts of neighbourhood and of change can be operationalised in research designs. We identified four key issues of debate: the concept of neighbourhood itself; issues of space and time; issues about the interpretation of change and the need to take on board different perspectives, arising both because people have different levels of involvement in and stake in their neighbourhoods; and the question of whether relative or absolute change is most relevant to measure.  Reviewing these debates leads us to conclude that neighbourhood research needs to:

  • find a balance between using composite indicators in order to be able to identify patterns and generalise about neighbourhood types and trajectories, and illuminating the nuances of change within these overall patterns.
  • be underpinned by a theoretical understanding of which changes should be measured at which spatial levels and over which timescales, and to incorporate different tiers of measurement of space and time.
  • evaluate changes and outcomes for different groups of people within neighbourhoods, and also ensure that different perspectives are considered in making evaluative judgments of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ change.
  • be clear about whether absolute or relative change is being measured and why.

Who Cares About Neighbourhoods?

The purpose of this paper is to reflect on the current revival of interest in ‘community’ and ‘neighbourhood’ in much of the western academic and policy literature and to explore some of the different ways in which the idea of the neighbourhood continues to have resonance with the contemporary world. In other words, why should we care about neighbourhood and in what ways? The paper approaches the neighbourhood from different angles: as community, as commodity, as consumption niche and as context. The idea of the neighbourhood is a necessarily fluid concept and for the purposes of research its definition must vary according to the questions being addressed. The paper is concerned as much with the ways in which neighbourhoods are packaged and sold as with their social construction over time. It is also impossible to discuss neighbourhoods without some reference to debates around the concept of globalisation. Finally, there is the need to consider the continuing relevance of the neighbourhood cross culturally. There is a strong element of ethno or Eurocentrism in conceptions of the neighbourhood and its role in contemporary urban society. The literature on neighbourhood derives in the main from US or European studies.

Theories of neighbourhood change and neighbourhood decline: Their significance for post-WWII large housing estates

In the 1920s, researchers of the Chicago School developed what is often considered as the first theories and models designed to explain neighbourhood change. Subsequent research into neighbourhood change has been carried out in many different ways and has focused on different fields. The early researchers considered neighbourhood change as a more or less inevitable result of a filtering process that causes changes in areas with an ageing housing supply. Others have paid more attention to the importance of a strong neighbourhood attachment, while again others have referred to the impact of larger economic and social transformations on neighbourhoods. Researchers have also aimed to capture the process of neighbourhood change, and of decay in particular, in all-embracing models in which several variables and developments are linked. Despite the comprehensiveness of many models, we think none of them is all-embracing; there is still room for improvement and addition. This paper sets out an approach, which combines crucial elements of different theories, approaches and models. The aim is to find out how we can use the existing theories in the case of the post-WWII large housing estates in Europe. Especially in these areas significant physical, economic and social changes have emerged in the past two decades. The central questions to be addressed in this paper are therefore: To what extent can models and theories explaining neighbourhood change, and decay in particular, be applied to post-WWII large housing estates in European cities? And how can the useful elements of these models and theories be combined to explain the development of European post-WWII housing estates?


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.

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.