We don’t yet have a settled understanding of what gentrification is
For something so hotly discussed, gentrification is a somewhat slippery concept. First coined by sociologist Ruth Glass in 1964, the term’s exact meaning is still contested. While one might confidently intuit that gentrification is underway in a given neighbourhood, the hard metrics are slightly harder to pin down.
“Traditionally, the focus has been on property values – particularly as relative to incomes,” says Ciaran Gunne-Jones, Senior Director and Head of Economics at London-based planning consultancy Lichfields. “The general sense is of people getting priced out of areas as urban change takes place. But, of course, property values are just one measure; they can be quite simplistic, and they’re influenced by other factors. Over time, the metrics have broadened out. Today, we look at deprivation, quality of housing and education, access to services and, pertinently, health and care issues. These give a much better sense of the ways in which a particular area’s economic and social dimensions might be changing.”
In recent years, policymakers and developers have become better at recognising the social complexity of urban regeneration schemes
Regeneration was originally conceived as a means of reinvigorating and repurposing inner-city districts hollowed out by the deindustrialisation. As such, it was embraced as an uncomplicated “good idea”, with the potential for social damage and exclusion scarcely considered. As urbanisation continued at pace over the course of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the importance of getting the regeneration process right has only been heightened. Happily, policymakers and developers have seemingly grasped the nettle.