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Case Study Gentrification

Immigration and Gentrification – a case study of cultural restructuring in Flushing, Queens

Weishan Huang

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The aim of this article is to introduce how culture and economics intertwine in urban re-structuring before and after the 1990 recession in New York City by using the case study of Flushing, Queens. My research will bring in a cultural perspective to contribute to the understanding of gentrification as economic, social and cultural restructuring under the impact of international immigration. First, this case of neighbourhood transfiguration was initially triggered by a private immigrant developer, not a cooperation, whose successes were based on factors including Taiwanese immigrants’ residential and housing preferences in the 1980s and 1990s. Ethnic residential preference and cultural tastes are cultural factors which accelerated gentrification during the early 1990s recession. The residential pattern of Asian immigrants in New York has showed the continued concentration of ethnic enclaves since the 1980s. Secondly, there has been diversification in Flushing since the 1980s, which is different from the kind of gentrification which creates a social, economic, and racial hegemony in a neighbourhood. The diversification of races and ethnicities in this neighbourhood has increased since the 1980s through the contribution of post-1965 and later post-Cold War immigrants, especially the settlement of Asian immigrants. We need to distinguish between gentrification that creates homogenous racial or ethnic communities that push immigrants out, and this new form of super-diversity gentrification, based on a transnational flow of capital that fosters diversity and uses diversity as a form of investment capital.

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:

Huang, Weishan. Immigration and Gentrification – a case study of cultural restructuring in Flushing, Queens. Diversities. 2010, vol.12, no. 1, pp. 56-69, UNESCO. ISSN 2079-6595.

About the author:

Weishan Huang is a sociologist and a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. Her work focuses mainly on migrants, ethnic communities and religious movements. Email: HuangW(at)mmg.mpg.de

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Source: Islington Council
Map displaying the location of the London Borough of Islington.

Barnsbury was built in the early 19th century – approximately 1820 – as an upper middle-class suburb.However, in the period following World War II, suburbanisation fuelled the abandonment of Barnsbury as the residents fled from the working classes.Raban (1974: cited by Butler and Lees, 2006) explains “A combination of class fear and railway engineering turned a vast stretch of residential London into a no-man’s land . . . Camden Town, Holloway, Islington, were abandoned to the hopelessly entrenched working class.”As the demand for housing in the capital post World War II became greater than ever, Barnsbury became one of the city’s areas of greatest housing stress.Consequently, the properties left behind by the upper middle-class residents soon went into multi-occupation.

The first wave of gentrification in Barnsbury occurred between 1961 and 1975.This first generation of gentrifiers consisted of; architects, planners, university lecturers, comprehensive school teachers, social workers, medical technicians and so on.The initiation of this wave of gentrification occurred as a result of the value gap and its attendant tenurial transformation.Landlords were receiving a decreasing return on their rented property whilst developers were realising capital gains through buying rented property, evicting the then current tenants and selling it in a vacant state, with middle class personnel being a captive market.The 1957 Rent Act was utilised in Barnsbury throughout the gentrification process, where tenants were forced to leave their dwelling as a consequence of bribery and harassment by their landlords.The gentrification process in Barnsbury was aided by The 1969 Housing Act which conveyed the government’s commitment to rehabilitation rather than renewal.As a result of the implementation of this legislation, authorities were granted with the power to allocate discretionary improvement Grants.However, since the grants had to be met in equal measures by the improver, they automatically favoured the affluent improver or developer (Hamnett, 1973: cited by Butler and Lees, 2006).

Source: Google Maps

Google Street View displaying a number of houses on Hemingford Road in Barnsbury undergoing gentrification.

Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, a second wave of gentrification occurred throughout Barnsbury.This second generation of gentrifiers were a wealthier group of professionals than the pioneer gentrifiers and were overwhelmingly represented in Social Class 1 – Higher Managerial and Professional.In the period from 1981-1991, the only social class in Barnsbury to witness an increase in numbers was Social Class 1.House prices in Barnsbury rose year on year following the start of the initial gentrification, with the average sales price of all houses rising from £1200 in 1955 to £208,125 in 1991 (Lees, 1994b: cited by Butler and Lees, 2006).However, the recession affected the property prices as the flow of capital became constricted after this period.As well as this, the tenure of housing in Barnsbury changed throughout the gentrification process; the percentage of owner occupied housing increased from only 7% of properties in 1961, to a staggering 34% in 2001.

Corporate participation increased in Barnsbury as gentrification progressed.  This was notably evident in the commercial gentrification of Upper Street, where, by the late 1990s, it had become an upscale consumption playground for the rich living in its adjacent streets and squares. Islington Borough Council subsidised the redevelopment of Upper Street and, as its reputation grew, it attracted increasingly more expensive shops and restaurants (Butler and Lees, 2006).

Richmond Crescent in Barnsbury, Islington; the former home to former Labour PM, Tony Blair
Click HERE to read an article portraying the changes in Barnsbury from the Telegraph newspaper.
Click HERE to listen to a debate on gentrification from BBC Radio 4.

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