The combination of demographic and economic changes accompanying sustained reinvestment in inner urban areas, although it has also been used in rural contexts (see rural gentrification). By implication, the social character of the neighbourhood changes, affecting shops, restaurants, places of worship, and public spaces. Gentrification in its initial narrow sense of the occupation and renovation or upgrading of dwellings in working-class inner city neighbourhoods by the middle-classes, was identified by sociologist Ruth Glass in 1964, based on her observations in Islington, North London. A broader sense of urban transformation was elaborated by Neil Smith based on the experience of New York, especially the Lower East Side, in the 1980s. Defined more as a return of capital investment than simply a change in the class position of residents, this interpretation encompasses new building, planning, and tax code changes, changes in urban political government, new forms of consumption, and wider cultural shifts linked with neoliberalism (see creative class).
Gentrification is a key area of urban geographical research, initially perhaps because it conflicted with the expectation that middle-class households would seek new suburban rather than old inner urban residences (see concentric zone models). Empirical work has focused on whether there are distinct stages of gentrification and how it has diffused from a small number of major Western cities in the 1950s (London, Paris, New York, Washington, DC) to urban areas worldwide by the 1990s. A major concern has been its effects on working-class households and whether they are displaced (see displacement). Explanations of gentrification focused first on supposedly temporary demographic factors, such as the delayed family formation of the post-war baby boomers. Once it was recognized as more long-lasting and diversified, the causes were sought in the more general shifts towards a post-industrial society, including the rise of urban professionals and post-materialist values. In the 1980s gentrification was the focus of a debate between Marxist accounts that emphasized the return of capital (see rent gap) and more humanistic explanations in terms of occupational and lifestyle changes. These accommodated the growing evidence that gentrification was more than just a matter of class, but could also be implicated with new gender-related and sexual identities (see gay geographies). In the 1990s some authors have identified new forms of ‘super-gentrification’. Taking Brooklyn Heights as her example, Loretta Lees describes how super-rich individuals linked with global financial industries are taking over already gentrified districts.
The gentrification of small villages and towns in rural areas, as well as the restoration of individual dwellings. Traditionally, gentrification has been considered a highly urban process, particularly relating to large towns and cities. The same processes of gentrification, such as the reinvestment of capital, social upgrading of a locale by incoming higher-income groups, landscape change and upgrading, and displacement of indigenous low-income groups, take place in some rural locations. These locations are usually within commuting distance of larger settlements, or are home to large higher-skilled employers such as higher education institutions, or have developed into vibrant cultural centres, or desirable tourist or retirement destinations.
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