The so-called ‘gentrification’ of cities across the globe was initially coined in 1964 by
Ruth Glass who observed an influx of the middle classes into the east end of London.
The term has gained widespread currency since then as the process has proliferated
and the characterisation and explanation of gentrification has provided academics with
a rich and debatable field over the past thirty years. Its distinctiveness as a new social
force in the regeneration of the urban environment and the displacement of indigenous
communities has made it worthy of such attention but often this focus has tended
toward the epistemological and theoretical explanation of gentrification rather than a
more rounded surveying of the theories and processes at work.
However, this theoretical work was often produced on the back of criticism which
argued that gentrification research had been overtly empirical in nature (Smith and
Williams, 1986) so that it is possible to see the need for a more balanced approach.
Within this country there has also been a deficiency in the amount of attention given
to the anti-social results of the process in terms of displacement and its impact on
communities. It is easier to understand the biasing of gentrification research in the
context of inadequate data on the subject. This work starts from the premise that some
work is better than none and that such efforts can cumulatively contribute to our
knowledge of such areas.
In view of the social harm that gentrification can lead to it can in turn be argued that
there is some moral worth in undertaking research in this area were in not for fear that
such ‘moral’ research agendas can, in themselves, be viewed as a form of bias. On the
other hand, it is possible to see the initial theories that guide research as forms of bias
in their own respect although the highlighting of an area to examine can be considered
desirable in the sense that preconceptions are essential in guiding research to the
fruitful understanding of an area.
This work, however, is concerned with both the set of problematics arising over the
explanation of gentrification and the social ill-effects that gentrification may have
given rise to over the years; displacement. The time period covered reflects the use of
the 1981 and 1991 censuses and the updating of that data through the use of other
means of data collection so that a temporal and geographical level of analysis, from
aggregate to grounded levels of enquiry, are considered. Finally, the context for the
research was restricted to Greater London, even though it was understood that this
would mean considering its connections with outside areas.
The idea of gentrification, wherein run-down inner city neighbourhoods are
transformed by the middle classes, is rooted in the notion that a neighbourhood
change in a certain direction and at a certain pace constitutes a ‘novel’ urban process.
It will become clear that this process is not, however, simply a neutral process of
social change; certain amounts of social exclusion and hardship and a ‘displacement’
of the indigenous people in gentrifying neighbourhoods can occur as a result and it
was also this that was sought to be explained.