Gentrification refers to the remodeling of an urban center or an urban area originally occupied by a low-class community, to give way to a more productive environment with more socio-economic opportunities and activities. Gentrification is usually carried out by the middle class, which is a more powerful and creative class aiming for more power in the society. The low living status in the community is seen by the creative class to have great potential. New costly structures are put in to replace the original poorly constructed structures which instantly raises the standards of living in an area. Bourdieu, through social class theory tries to explain the process and factors of gentrification in a community. Williamsburg in New York presents as an excellent example of a gentrified neighborhood. Most of the original structures and people are no longer in Williamsburg. The trendy culture of art and fashion among other factors have contributed to the overall change of the appearance of the area. The creative middle class saw the potential in the art culture in Williamsburg and put in new fashionable socio-economic structures in the area. This essay aims to explain the process of gentrification while using Williamsburg in New York City as a case study.
Gentrification as a term originated centuries ago and was used to refer to various terms. Gentrification was associated with the term, ‘gentlemanly.' A philosopher, Rose, first coined the word while explaining the reconstructions that took place in England. The word has been used, since then, to refer to the remodeling of an urban center or its section, to give way to a more productive environment. The creative, business-oriented middle class in the society is known to initiate the process of gentrification in urban areas. During the process of gentrification, the low class is seriously affected. These people, initially staying in such areas, are forced to adapt to a new standard of living or move to other places where they could afford to live (Watt, 2008). The creative group competes for specific sections in the area where they lay down their investments such as shops, residential areas or restaurants. A new level of business operation and social life comes life in the urban area as a result of gentrification. This way, gentrification, presents both as an economic process as well as a way of cultural domination.
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Bourdieu’s Class Theory
According to Bourdieu, power is culturally or symbolically formed or created. Bourdieu in his social class theory uses various concepts which he uses to explain this approach. These are habitus, which relates to socialized norms which guide the way people think or behave, capital and fields. Habitus according to Bourdieu is never fixed and is subject to change under unexpected conditions or situations over long periods. Capital, in this case, goes beyond material assets to capital. Cultural capital may include, social factors such as residents, shops, restaurants, music clubs, language, education systems, and the activities of daily life. These forms of capital can be changed or conveniently put in new areas so as to bring about new developments or culture. Fields, according to the theory relates to various social and institutional areas where people get to express their dispositions. It is also in the fields where people get to compete for the distribution of the various capital. The theory shows how people react to, reach out for, or possess power in various fields such as in public and private arenas (Harker, Mahar & Wilkes, 2016).
In the society, a creative class of individuals is always eyes open to the availability of ‘capitals' and ‘fields' in various areas. This group majorly consist of the middle class in the society, who have the adequate cultural capital and ideas. This creative class, coined by Richard Florida to represent human capital, consists of worker in science and technology, arts, cultural media, entertainment among other modern sectors. According to Richard Florida, currently, in most cities, there has been a shift towards human creativity and talent in economic and cultural dominance. The creative group is able to take control of various fields in the society by using various capital. This group of individuals is able to come up with new ideas and use the right capital in the right fields. They are well informed in various cultural ways and practices such as art, music, and fashion. This group are to transform a particular social class through the transformation of various fields using appropriate cultural capital (Harker et al. 2016).
Williamsburg and Socio-economic Demographics
Prior to the early 1990s, Williamsburg was a center for the low-class artists who were mainly attracted by the low house rents in the area. The rise in markets and business opportunity in the area led to a drastic change in the area. Williamsburg has seen one of the highest forms of gentrification in which a busy middle class has practically replaced the low class. Many factors and activities carried out over the years in the area have contributed to the gentrification in Williamsburg. Art and fashion, trendy bars and restaurants, an attractive culture, various subways and railways leading directly into the town's business center, are among the factors which have actively facilitated gentrification in the area. New buildings with higher rents have been constructed in the area giving rise to a flock of the middle class and driving away the original low-class community. The neighborhood has been, for a long time, known for its rich music, art and fashion culture (Zukin et al. 2009). It seems the more powerful middle-class individuals saw the potential in the area and took it, giving the place a new feel.
Today, Williamsburg is a center of many wonders and attractions. Many films have been produced from the streets of this section of the city. In Williamsburg, there are people of different cultures, every generation, race and every social affiliation. One thing that shows brightly enough, as one gets into this part of the city, is the extreme sense of fashion and art (Curran, 2004). There unique place around streets where many vendors sell some nice snacks in open places. One of the most striking feature in Williamsburg is the rooftop bars and restaurants. In Williamsburg, parties do not have to wait until dusk. People of some together in various joints as early as in the afternoon. Williamsburg attracts well-known musicians. Live acts and hard rock music are the most popular form of music in the area. The creative class and the lower class mutually work together in the neighborhood. Most of the businesses are owned by the creative class while the lower class work as employees in shops, stores, bars and restaurants.
The total number of people living in Williamsburg is approximated to be about two hundred thousand with the female population being a bit higher than the male population. The median age of the inhabitants here is around 29, implying the area is majorly composed of the young artistic population. Racially, the white population is the highest comprising of about fifty three percent of the overall population. The Hispanic population follows with about thirty percent of the total population while the black community comprises of about ten percent. In recent years, house prices have gone quite high. Today, the rent prices or most houses in Williamsburg are as high as rent prices in Manhattan. The average apartment rent is about one thousand three hundred dollars today. The lower class live in the cheapest apartments available while the creative class live in more sophisticated apartments.
Gentrification Process in Williamsburg
Back in the days, many artists came into the area to try to earn a living as it suited their livelihood as well as lifestyle. The rents were relatively lower which made life much simple and cheap in the neighborhood. The artistic culture developed and showed great potential. As early as the 1990s, Williamsburg had become one of the most trending places in the city. The creative class saw an opportunity to bring a socio-economic change in Williamsburg. The upcoming trendy fashion in the area attracted many other people over the years. People saw the opportunity to come up with artistic and adorable social and cultural capital. Rooftop bars and trendy restaurants came up and filled the place. The way of life made it easy to come with such ideas which people readily embraced. Such developments led to the growth of the neighborhood, attracting many more outsiders. Outsiders mainly comprised of the creative middle class came in with more socio-economic ideas for the neighborhood.
The creative class identified various points and joints in the neighborhood which suites various cultural and economic investments such as music clubs and clothing stores. There are places where vendors sell fast food to people in the open. Such places are quite convenient during lunch hour or in the evening. There numerous clothing stores in the streets of Williamsburg, with fashionable clothes of all kinds (Zukin et al. 2009). It is hard to walk past some of these stores without roping in, even just to take a look. Trendy restaurants with great food are available at particular joints in the streets. In Williamsburg, it is not hard to look for a restaurant as they are quite conveniently situated. The rooftop bars is considered the ‘next thing’ by those who visit the neighborhood. It is nice, just hanging on top of the roof, having a beer or two with lots of friends.
Williamsburg has seen a lot of changes, both economically and socially. New buildings have been constructed in the area giving rise to a new class and new forms of businesses. There are many business streets in Williamsburg such as Streets BK, Dean Street and Franklin Avenue. Andrew Tarlow’s Diner restaurant is one of the most competitive restaurants in the streets of Williamsburg. The restaurant has great food and great customer service. The creative individuals have brought new ideas, more fashionable practices, and culture. Gentrification in Williamsburg has highly benefited the creative class of individuals. Various cultural and economic capitals such as restaurants, clothing stores, music clubs, and rooftop bars have been diploid in specific fields around the neighborhood. The creative class tends to dominate in Williamsburg by controlling most of the cultural and economic capital in the area. The process of gentrification came about as a result of the great art culture in the area. The creative class and other outsiders contributed enormously to the gentrification or the social and economic changes in the area.
As seen from the discussion above, the process of gentrification impacts on different social classes positively and negatively. The creative class gets to benefit from gentrification through their investments in various sites around the urban center. The low-class, on the other hand, face serious challenges as the gentrification process unfolds. These people get to experience an elevated standard of living, one which they obviously cannot afford. The major issue is the increased rent prices in areas where gentrification occurs. These individual are forced to cope with such condition or move away to other affordable places. Gentrification is dependable of factors such as social and economic capital and fields or places where the cultural and economic capital are laid. As seen from the case study, the process of gentrification is initiated by the creative class who see the potential to invest in an area using appropriate cultural or economic capital in the right fields or sites.
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Curran, W. (2004). Gentrification and the nature of work: exploring the links in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Environment and Planning A , 36 (7), 1243-1258.
Zukin, S., Trujillo, V., Frase, P., Jackson, D., Recuber, T., & Walker, A. (2009). New retail capital and neighborhood change: boutiques and gentrification in New York City. City & Community , 8 (1), 47-64.
Watt, P. (2008). The only class in town? Gentrification and the middle‐class colonization of the city and the urban imagination. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research , 32 (1), 206-211.