Gentrification and the Right to Places

What do gentrification trends affecting Portuguese neighborhoods in Toronto have in common with the closing of city parks in Oulu, Finland? On the surface these two issues seem unrelated in every sense.  One deals with the movements of people into and out of neighborhoods due to property renovations, increased property values, and dismantling of ethnic communities.  The other discusses the political activity of young people through, “voiceless” politics. The commonalities between the two include debates over space and ultimately who has the right to specific places and the effects on places when two groups of people desire separate goals for the same area.

In Toronto for example, increased gentrification has brought in middle-and upper class citizens from suburbs who buy housing for relatively cheap and turn around and sell the property for a profit. This not only increases property values but also brings wealthier citizens into neighborhoods that historically attract poorer people (73). The case study in Toronto examines not only the shift in the economic status of the citizens but the social impacts as well. In 1981 the Toronto neighborhood was made up of over 51 percent Portuguese first and second-generation immigrants. By 2006 only 32 percent of the neighborhood was Portuguese. Due to gentrification the social make-up of the neighborhood continues to change. Some younger families have taken advantage being able to sell their houses for higher prices and use that money to move into smaller suburbs. However many older citizens are concerned not only with the unsustainable and increasing property taxes but they are concerned with their Portuguese community being broken up by outsiders. (73-74).

Citizens moving into the neighborhood have no ties to Portugal nor do they have intentions of keeping the traditional Portuguese businesses, and entrepreneurs in business. Incoming neighbors desire more upscale business (76). The debate over which group of people has rights to this space is unfortunately not political in the sense that those who were there first have a powerful say in what happens to the space. The argument over who has rights to this neighborhood is more economically driven. Whoever has the most money at the end of the day, is going to determine what the neighborhood looks like, what businesses survive, and which ones disappear.

The second discussing parks in Finland also deals with the idea that separate groups of people have conflicting views over how space is used. However this issue is much more politically driven. Young people use parks in Oulu, Finland for “lively celebrations speeded up by intoxicant use, to the extent that it is not safe for other people to go there” (11).  Occupants in nearby homes view the young people’s loud music, disruptive parties, and noisy cars as a nuisance and wish that the park be unavailable to them. For over ten years residence tried to separate themselves from the park by building fences around their homes and “thus separating the public from the private” (12).  However the partying continued and even after attempts by community groups, neighborhood groups, and law enforcement the young people used what political geographers refer to as “voiceless politics” to fight for their right to a specific place. This article interestingly shows the activist politics from the neighbors by use of community organizations to fight for their right to the “place”, or park as well as describing the politics by youth who have no idea they are engaged in something political.

Do you think that rights to places/spaces are controlled by who has the most money or the loudest voice? Is there any hope for the poorer or younger groups of political activists?

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1 Response to Gentrification and the Right to Places

  1. stevenradil says:

    In the case of the Toronto neighborhood, money will certainly shape the outcome but not fully determine it. The economic resources of those moving into the neighborhood are a kind of power but not the only kind used in these sorts of ‘small p’ urban issues. Consider the Portland example with Trader Joes – if material resources were the only way power could be exercised, the residents wouldn’t have been successful in their political efforts to keep the store from building in their neighborhood. Maybe these sorts of dynamics are at play in the Oulu story, only in reverse. How is it that the residents and property owners haven’t been able to realize their preferred outcome about the use of the park? Using these readings to reflect back on some of our earliest discussions might suggest that empowerment is more than just a bank balance.

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