Examining the Effects of Gentrification on Human Health and Well-Being

Since its inception by Ruth Glass an urban geographer in the 1960s, the term “gentrification” has been applied in the description of the acts and purchase behaviors of the upper middle class in their attempt to acquire properties from the deprived communities (Keels, Burdick‐Will and Keen 239). The process of gentrification was marked as a new phenomenon that focuses on the transformation and conversion or an area into a middle class neighborhood (Lees 150). Mixed findings have been reported on the effects of gentrification on the resident well-being and health. Since such findings are vital facets in the formulation of urban planning and management policies, it is imperative that the accurate outcome of gentrification on a specific neighborhood is determined. This justifies the need of the current study that focused on examining the effects of gentrification on the health and wellbeing of residents in Toronto.

The process of gentrification is overly linked with the economic and social development of a neighborhood. Nevertheless the process has also been associated with adverse effects on households in the said areas ((Skaburskis 199). The main aim of the gentrification is to change the infrastructural development through renovations and construction of new buildings in a region. While the process of gentrification improved the value of property and infrastructural development in the gentrified area it results in the displacement of low-income households affecting their health and general well-being.

Background Information

The Process of Gentrification

Gentrification was first identified as a process of class succession where middle and upper class families displace the unskilled household in a given neighborhood. The displacement occurred as a result of the changes in the housing conditions, a shift in forms of employment to include more formal jobs that requires expertise, or the reinvestment in public sector that causes significant changes in the commercial and residential developments (Lees 151). The upward transformation of the economic and social landscape of a region thus forms the basis of the gentrification process.

It is believed that the market-driven factors in a specific region necessitates such improvements, thus gentrification is believed to occur spontaneously. However, the account of gentrification reported in different parts of the world points different factors as the major causes of gentrification (Vigdor, Massey and Rivlin). In the US, it was reported that the first wave of gentrification was attributed to the public and state-sponsored efforts to redevelop certain towns. Similarly, the second wave of gentrification in the country was as a result of redevelopment of the private sectors that led to the creation of white collar jobs and improvement in infrastructural development (Lees 150). Even though, it is argued that gentrification is instigated by market demands, a significant part of literature shows that the process of gentrification is pre-planned and influenced by the actions and decisions of humans.

The first account of gentrification was reported in the UK. However, in the last decade, gentrification processes have been witnessed in different countries and major cities in the USA, China, Canada, Pakistan and South Africa among many other nations. Evidence or region alterations have been reported in different parts of the world, with the concentration of the middle class in such areas being observed. The widespread of gentrification across the globe makes it important that it’s perceived benefits and value to the targeted communities and households is ascertained.

Gentrification in Toronto

The Canadian construct of gentrification is that it is a multidimensional process focused on rehabilitating the physical buildings, changing the overall structure of the social systems in a neighborhood as well as increasing the economic value of the region (Skaburskis 198). Based on this meaning, the gentrification process in Toronto has had meaningful outcomes in the context of economic, social and physical effects. This study sought to establish whether the outcome has been desirable to all the communities in the region.

Different accounts of gentrification have been reported in Toronto since the year 1960. The gentrification process has been categorized into three waves depending on the period of occurrence; the most recent wave of gentrification was reported in the year 2001. The process of gentrification in the region can be described as a social, physical and economic process, since it was focused on making changes and infrastructural development in those lines (Murdie and Teixeira 62). The major actors during the gentrification process were mostly middle class people, developers, artists and the lower households. The process most focused on renovation and rehabilitation of the commercial and residential developments that were present in the region. The implication of the process was significant changes in the social status, physical forms of the region and economic value of the various towns in the region.

The maps below show the process of gentrification in Toronto and its effects on income in the year 1970 and 2005. The map shows that the number of low income earners has been increasing due to three accounts of gentrification that has been reported in the region.

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Figure 1: The outcome of gentrification in 1970

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Figure 2: The outcome of gentrification in 2005

The Effects of the Gentrification Process

Different opinions have been presented on the impacts of gentrification in literature. While some scholars have focused on its problems others emphasize the economic benefits of gentrification. The politicization of the process has resulted in the liberals believing that the process is essential in inner city development while the politicians point to the social issues such as displacement and poor relations associated with the process (Vigdor, Massey and Rivlin). The precise review of the impacts of gentrification on specific aspects such as health is thus necessary to establish the outcome on health and suggest on changes that will engender the gentrification process. The table below presents a summary of the negative and positive impacts of gentrification as evident in literature.

Positive Impact Negative Impact
Improves the value of property in the neighborhood Increase the rise in the cost of acquiring or renting the property Displacement of people through increase in renting costs
Enhance the amount of  fiscal revenue Enhance the taxes for the residents in the region
Reduce rates of crime in the neighborhood Increase rates of crime
Increase social interactions Results in a significant loss in the social diversity of the communities
Minimize the number of old and vacant houses Loss of cheap or affordable housing Enhanced demand pressure for cheap houses
Stabilizes a neighborhood that was at the verge of declining Can result in conflicts between communities from the different social classes
Provides opportunity for further development and expansion Displacement of people, through limited lands

Data Collection and Analysis

This study collected primary data from the residents to ascertain their view on the effects of gentrification. The study participants included in the study consisted mostly of those residing Toronto. Online surveys were conducted to determine their view on the gentrification process and its impacts on the communities in the region. The secondary data on the concept of gentrification was used to guide in the discussion of the findings attained.

Analysis of the Findings Obtained

Effects on overall Well-being

The survey findings indicated that the increased cost of rent, displacement, long commuter distance, crime, high rates of unemployment, and increased level of poverty are the major impacts of gentrification that has negatively affected their well-being and quality of life of the original residents

The residents reported that there has been a continuous increase in the prices of rental houses leading to the displacement of many people, especially the low income earners. The high pressures on the demand for the affordable houses have resulted in the homelessness of most of the original residents in the larger Toronto area. The implications are displacement into other neighborhoods that are relatively affordable. This displacement is equally not beneficial to these residents since they have to commute through longer distances to access their places of work and other social amenities. The constant escalation of the prices of houses in the region means that many cases of displacement will still be reported. Even though the gentrification process has enhanced the value of the houses in Toronto, the issue of their pricing needs to be addressed to make them more accessible to the different social classes in the region.

A growing gap between the poor and the rich is evident in Toronto. A vast difference in the nature of the housing accessible to the poor and those made available to the rich is observed. Also, the retailing patterns in the region have shifted to focus on more quality and highly priced commodities that are preferred by the working class and the rich population in the region.

Besides, the social diversity caused by the distinction of the two classes of people, the gap has had negative effects on the quality of life in the region. Conflicts between the two social classes are reported. Also, increasing cases of crime have been witnessed in the region, with the poor trying to get access to certain amenities that are costly. Moreover, the issue of discrimination has been reported with the segregation of the poor from participating in certain activities or accessing some social amenities. This has not only escalated the conflicts but has led to poor relations between the poor and the working class.

Even though the gentrification process in Toronto has resulted in significant infrastructural development, the creation of employment opportunities in the region is minimal. According to the survey findings, most of the jobs are accessible to the immigrants with high educational qualifications who moved into the areas. Very few opportunities are availed to the low-skilled workers leading to a relatively lower income for them. Since the rental income is on the rise, and their commuter distance increased, the cost of living for the poor has gone high. The fact that there is a shift in the retailing of products towards the sale of high quality goods further justify the assertion that the cost of living for the poor has increased significantly, consequently their poverty level has also increased.

Effects on Health

Significant health issues have also been reported amongst the displaced communities. According to the residents, there is a significant disparity in health of the displaced from the working class and the rich in the region. Many cases of cardiovascular diseases, flus, and diabetes and high levels of stress are reported amongst the population that is displaced from the inner city (Gibbons and Barton 908). These poor health conditions are as a result of their environment and the stress that comes with the increase in cost of living. The inaccessibility of food and good houses increases their chances of developing a poor health condition. Moreover, the psychological torture exposed to the marginalized communities also lead to the illnesses that they develop. Gentrification process caused significant health and well-being problems to the displaced residence in the region.

ConclusionThe process of gentrification increases the infrastructural development and the value of property in a region, but causes significant health and well-being challenges to the low-income earners in the region. The renovation processes are significant in improving the physical and economic development of the region; however, the social effects of the process are devastating. In Toronto, the increase in price of houses as a result of the gentrification resulted in the displacement of the low-income earners in the region that affected their health and overall well-being. It is important that the government works towards making affordable houses accessible to the poor in the region to minimize the social disparities between the poor and the rich and to promote good health and quality life to all the communities in the region.

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