In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gentrification

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Readers
  • Resistance to Gentrification
  • Cultures of Gentrification
  • Geographies of Gentrification
  • A Critical Edge?

Geography Gentrification
Renia Ehrenfeucht
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0162


In 1964, Ruth Glass coined the term gentrification to describe a redevelopment process in which middle-class professionals were moving to, and changing, London’s working-class neighborhoods. Her prescient work framed numerous themes that would develop into the gentrification debates. Why was gentrification occurring? Why are middle-income people moving to central city neighborhoods? How would this trend affect longtime residents? The specific circumstances of former industrial, emergent global cities in the North and West—notably London and New York—framed the early debates. In this context, neighborhood-scale demographic transition and changes to the built environment became gentrification’s most visible effects. Gentrification was defined as a neighborhood-scale class transition occurring in cities that are transitioning into a postindustrial economy. In the process, working-class residents who live in cities as they deindustrialize are displaced. In the following decades, gentrification and its scholarship broadened. By the late 20th century, variations of gentrification were visible in rural and urban areas of all sizes, in both thriving and shrinking cities and countries. Some scholars also looked backward and identified earlier incidences of redevelopment they now called gentrification. Gentrification was observed globally, integrated in global circuits of capital, migrations, aesthetics, and culture, and nonetheless contingent and therefore uniquely articulated in different spaces. Summarizing half a century of research, gentrification refers to a demographic transition where higher-income residents replace lower-income residents, with accompanying changes to the built environment including but not limited to land use transitions where former industrial uses become residential; disinvested areas being renovated, or working-class housing being replaced by middle- or upper-income housing; increased property values, rents, and decreased affordability; and changes in an area’s character where businesses—increasingly but not entirely global chains—serve middle- or upper-income residents but also seek to create or retain an authentic and unique character.

General Overviews and Readers

The concept of gentrification was vigorously debated in the decades after Ruth Glass coined the term in 1964. During this period, the scholarship was highly attuned to the potential impact on residents living in gentrifying areas, and the essays in Laska and Spain 1980 outline the potential for displacement, social displacement, and other impacts on longtimers who were living in gentrifying neighborhoods. Lees, et al. 2008 was the first textbook, accompanied by a reader, Lees, et al. 2010. A second reader, Brown-Saracino 2010, offered a different framing of the critical debates. Despite being fundamentally embedded in processes of global economic restructuring, the debate began in countries in the Global North and West, and this continues to frame the discussion. Atkinson and Bridge 2005 was the first edited collection that intentionally moved into a wider range of regions. In a refreshing step forward, the edited collection Lees, et al. 2015 has significantly reframed the debates to better explain the effects of flows of global capital and the multiple, particular forces shaping regional redevelopment throughout the world.

  • Atkinson, Rowland, and Gary Bridge. Gentrification in a Global Context: The New Urban Colonialism. London: Routledge, 2005.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203392089

    The first edited volume to attempt to theorize and describe gentrification in places around the globe, among them cities in Brazil, Turkey, Japan, and Central and Eastern Europe, as well as some lesser-known cities in more extensively studied countries.

  • Brown-Saracino, Japonica, ed. The Gentrification Debates. New York: Routledge, 2010.

    A useful reader that divides the debates into four themes: definitions and key concepts; the why, when, and where of gentrification; the gentrifiers, and the consequences.

  • Glass, Ruth. London: Aspects of Change. London: Macgibbon & Kee, 1964.

    The key work that named gentrification. It outlined many of the causes, economic restructuring and associated social trends, and potential consequences later taken up in debate.

  • Laska, Shirley Bradway, and Daphne Spain. Back to the City: Issues in Neighborhood Renovation. New York: Pergamon, 1980.

    An early edited volume that discusses numerous strands that continue to be heavily debated: private market action versus public policy and investment, residential and social displacement, cultural dimensions, and gentrification as a force for historic preservation. Includes case studies from around the United States.

  • Lees, Loretta, Hyun Bang Shin, and Ernesto López Morales. Global Gentrifications: Uneven Development and Displacement. Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447313472.001.0001

    A edited collection, with cases from around the world, that interrogates the concept of “gentrification” to describe the multiple ways that central locations have become increasingly important in a globally integrated economy, as well as the appropriation of working-class neighborhoods and cultures outside central cities. Speaks to both the usefulness and limitations of the concept and alternative ways to frame related phenomena.

  • Lees, Loretta, Tom Slater, and Elvin K. Wyly. Gentrification. New York: Routledge, 2008.

    The first synthetic textbook on gentrification with an accompanying reader. Has a critical edge that highlights that gentrification is a spatial manifestation of inequality.

  • Lees, Loretta, Tom Slater, and Elvin K. Wyly. The Gentrification Reader. London: Routledge, 2010.

    A reader that accompanies the editors’ textbook on gentrification. Divides the gentrification debates into seven major sections, including definitions, stage models of gentrification, theorizing and explaining gentrification, geographies of gentrification, urban policy, and resistance. Part 1 is a useful section about gentrification definitions.

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