authority is useful because a wider area was apprehened than would be possible under
the given resources of the research. It is clearly advisable to approach such
organisations to obtain such data, especially when such areas can encompass large
tracts of gentrified space, as was the case with Wandsworth. In focusing on one
authority it was possible to explore the issue in greater depth and as a result managed
to approach all departments who were in some way involved as well as holding focus
group meetings in each department and interviewing each officer in charge of that
It is acknowledged that focusing on one authority has important implications in
attempting to extrapolate results to wider contexts. It is indeed debatable whether one
can infer from such work to other geographical areas. That said it has already been
acknowledged that this work is seeking explanation via triangulation, attempting to
build an explanatory framework from a range of forces. In this context focusing on a
small sample or an individual authority, as here, undeniably renders the approach in
isolation and open to the criticism that inference is not valid. With this in mind a
simple case study was selected (a) because the area in question had widely exhibited
gentrification over the inter-censal period and (b) wide-ranging access was obtained.
The former factor is perhaps most important in coming to an understanding of the
degree to which such results could logically be applied to other political, temporal or
geographic conditions. In fact a key aim was to separate out those factors which might
be held to have created unique conditions of the gentrification of that area with
another set of conditions which could be generally found elsewhere.
Wandsworth provides us with an atypical example of the gentrification process since
it was the only area, over the time period, to exhibit such high levels of gentrification
in such a concentrated area. This means that it is not a typical example but
nevertheless has the benefit of illustrating what may happen in an extreme case. This
must be considered within the aims of the research rather than as a methodological
weakness; it is argued that it is highly relevant to evaluate the strongest simply
example of gentrification since it has already observed how difficult displacement is
to measure. It follows that the use of this, the most extreme example of gentrification,
exposes significantly more information about the process, albeit in extremis, and that
this may be used to infer to other less noteworthy examples.
There was always the possibility that gentrification in certain contexts would be a
non-displacing feature of urban restructuring and that further, a large scale example of
its manifestation might still retain such a feature. The later use of interviews at
tenant’s rights projects showed that, in fact, the observation of gentrification was
clearly dependent on the method of observation as much as definition which makes
this point more salient.
To give a geographically constrained example of gentrification in terms of its being
confined to a local authority may appear misjudged since gentrification is an
unconstrained example of migration and change. The degree to which this is true is
also tempered by the active and passive roles of the local authority so, for example,
the influence of a (passive) zero ‘poll tax’ and an (active) priority group sales policy
may be seen to influence the geographical distribution of certain gentrification types
which may evolve as much in relation to local political contexts as to the whims of
market supply and demand.
As it emerged, the use of the local authority approach proved to be more useful in
identifying the features of the gentrification than the displacement processes. It
became clear that the tenure and social restructuring of the borough formed a more
visible component to the changes over the last two decades in Wandsworth. This may
be linked to two things; (a) displacement did not exist for the borough because it was
an absent process (where it has occurred there is little or no sign to reveal its
occurrence), where it had happened the people were no longer there and were
therefore not a problem. Whether this later re-emerged as an increase in housing need
was a point that needed to be established, or (b) what later turned up as housing need
was not labelled as displacement from a process of socio-economic and tenure
restructuring in the area but simply as need stemming from eviction, harassment,
inability to afford private rents and so on. It was these hypotheses which were open
for refutation/testing in the work.
A process of displacement did not appear to be evident. While the socio-economic and
housing changes that had occurred in the borough clearly appeared to provoke interest
by the local authority officers these were perceived to be related to external processes
outside of the borough’s control or due to ‘natural’ changes rather than be linked to
policies at either a local or central level.
The gentrification of Wandsworth has been ongoing for some time and its extensive
nature has led to significant change in the socio-economic constitution of its environs.
The largely Conservative political constitution of the borough, with its zero council
tax a key feature for some time, have made it a flagship borough for the Conservative
party in the Labour dominated local government arena of Greater London.
Justification of the selection of Wandsworth can be made on three grounds;
- The borough itself was eminently suitable as initial evaluation of empirical data
seemed to suggest significant levels of gentrification across the borough. It was
noted that 21 out of 22 wards showed above city-wide mean increases in the
numbers of professionals and managers with a range of 5.7 to 18.3ppi. The census
data showing the percentage point increases in the gentrification scores and the
respective displacement scores prompted interest in the project which in turn led
to interest in the nature and location of data relevant to the project
- The initiation of access via the good will of the chief executive and the resources
made available showed Wandsworth to be unique of the Inner London authorities
- In terms of gentrification and politics the borough appeared to be unique but this
did not mean that inferences would not be possible to make and generalisations of
some kind observed. Beyond political considerations there were a host of other
factors from which wider inferences could be drawn – locational, demographic and
architectural, for example. It was intended that a control borough would be
examined but this proved nearly impossible in practice since exploratory
comparative work carried out (in Lambeth) revealed an incredulity on the part of
officers to view gentrification as operating in the borough so that displacement
was non-existent. The value of pursuing this line of enquiry was debated before
dropping it in favour of the adopted approach. The idea of a ‘control’ environment
to see if apparent displacement occurred without the impact of gentrification did
not make sense for this type of research technique, it would be more appropriate in
a statistical analysis.
Access was initiated via a letter which informed the Chief Executive that a researcher
would be visiting various departments in order to gain information on local housing
markets and revitalisation processes in the borough in question . This approach adopted
ostensibly for two reasons, first, gentrification is a potentially emotive and ambiguous
term which might have closed more doors than it opened. Second, gentrification as a
term and concept may have inspired a state of confusion on the part of the reader which
may have necessitated further time-wasting explanation.
A number of boroughs had been approached initially and while a number refused to co
operate it was later perceived to be of little benefit that they were approached due to the
later realisation that the elucidation of the research question was advanced relatively
little by the local authority approach in general. Lack of co-operation from Kensington
and Chelsea, more interestingly, was linked to a covert policy of gentrification by a
member in that borough. Such processes were apparently continuing in code at
committee meetings so as to remain invisible to the untutored eye.
Access and data availability were also key criteria for the targeting of Local Authority
districts. Even if a sample of Greater London authorities had been used the
achievement of data collection at each would be clearly tempered by the willingness
of the authorities to take part. In the final analysis it was reasonable to assume that to
establish Wandsworth’s linkages with a process of displacement meant that
willingness and availability of data were primary concerns.
A first meeting enabled the making of an in-depth presentation regarding what work
had been done to date as well as providing a justification of why the borough had been
selected. The good will and interest expressed by the various directorates (specifically
housing, planning, environmental health and policy) meant that the research could
continue with two main identifiable stages; first, a set of interviews with the head of
each directorate and personnel who had relevant expertise in our field. Second, the
extraction of data relating to an identification of location and extent of gentrification
and displacement across the borough.
This meeting also had the advantage of economy of scale given that officers relevant
to the project were appraised of the aims and objectives of the research in one go
allowing them to confer and discuss the project with us before data extraction proper
began. It also allowed the officers to make inputs and contribute to the identification
of further data resources and give their own views on what data would be valuable to
Stage two involved secondary meetings with each directorate’s head of service and
those officers who had direct field experience to gain a more in-depth assessment of
their role and the information already available from them which, albeit not designed
for the specific purpose, did monitor the existence of gentrification and displacement.
In addition to interviews with individual housing officers, two interviews were held
with the Deputy Director and Director of Housing to obtain the fullest possible picture
of the involvement of the housing department together with any personal views and
opinions which might have had on the nature of the work. After this an approach was
made to the rent officer for Wandsworth and, under the auspices of the housing
department, Housing Aid Centre personnel were interviewed.
This approach provided an in-depth and clear exposition of the interrelationships in
and between departments particularly in relation to their role in monitoring processes
which could offer insights into gentrification and displacement. The results of this
aspect of the research is presented and evaluated in chapter nine.
The selection of the case study areas: The case study as sample?
Although the selection of an area for study was not arbitrary the idea that it was in
some way ‘typical’ is misleading because it is clear that the selection of areas because
they exemplify the characteristics of gentrification may indeed lead to atypical cases
being selected. Indeed, it is this very atypical or unique quality that has been sought in
the selection of the case study area. As discussed later, the nature of such research
when placed in the context of inferential comments and comparisons, may become
problematic because of this atypical viewpoint.
Mention has been made of the difficulty in asserting the discreteness of a case study
area. This problem can also be expanded in another dimension, over time, which
complicates the issue even further. Use had been made of the 1981 and 1991 census
data in order to account for the location of gentrification, the extension of this
knowledge via the use of the LS clearly did not extend that time period for analysis. For
the purpose of the case studies it was seen as realistic to be searching for evidence, in
whatever form, from the beginning of the eighties to the present day. This narrowed
down the search for documentary evidence but it was clear that a general fuzziness of
the coverage of the data would have to be accepted.