Students outside library

SLM Students' Insights on Innovation Infusion Events: Olaf Ernst, NHTV Breda

By Xinting Liang (Wendy) & Pranav Reddy

Anti-gentrification activists picketing outside a new upscale restaurant in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, say they are protesting out of "peace and love" for the low-income residents of the long-troubled neighbourhood. Via The Toronto Star
The lecture, presented by visiting scholar Olaf Ernst, focused on urban gentrification of pubs and restaurants in Amsterdam, Vancouver and Nanaimo. According to the lecture, gentrification means “replacing and upgrading deteriorate urban properties by middle class or affluent people resulting in displacement of lower income people”. In Western countries, pubs and restaurants are important places for residents to socialize which enhance the social cohesion of a community. Therefore, gentrifying these places becomes a people’s concern. This lecture revealed a full picture of how residents in the three Western cities view the phenomenon of gentrifying pubs and restaurants. Generally speaking, residents’ perspectives vary from person to person, city to city and country to country. Some people accept it for the more enjoyable environment to socialize. Some bear resentment to it because of their strong attachment to the original style of the buildings. Some people have other concerns beyond gentrification, such as the hatred of natives of a neighbourhood toward immigrants who move into the area and spur gentrification and the legislation for local business to survive in those places. Some don’t even care about it – they only care about whether the beer is still good! Studying gentrification is worthwhile because it provides a unique angle to explore how to increase social capital and sustainability. In developing countries, the phenomena of gentrification are dissimilar. In China, with the rapid development of urban areas, old buildings have been replaced by new ones which have been taken for granted. To a certain point of development, people started to realize that, although we pursue modernization, we should not obliterate the past. Here comes the notion of gentrification and it gradually becomes a trend. The Shanghai Xintiandi (which means "new world" or "new field" in English) is a successful and well-known example of gentrification. The site of Xintiandi was a vibrant neighborhood with a blend of Chinese and Western architecture features. In the 1990s, a developer rebuilt this area while maintaining the old building structures. Now the Xintiandi is a bustling pedestrian zone featuring outdoor cafes and boutique stores. It provides an elegant environment for locals, expats and tourists to enjoy their leisure time. However, some people argue that Xintiandi is too much of a “Western-friendly consumer playground” and it doesn’t represent the authentic Shanghai lane house well. Despite the architectural preservation and restoration, this neighbourhood still appears to be on its way to destroying the traditional style. Also, Shanghai continues to sell off and redevelop old neighborhoods at an alarming rate — often despite the protests of local residents and historical preservationists. But Xintiandi can act as a role model of compromise between the economic demands of the new China and the charms of the old and brings new hope for developers to restore and preserve old buildings.

The Shanghai Xintiandi

In India, cities are still growing at a rapid pace and gentrification is not common. For instance, movies are a big part of Indian culture and there are movie theaters in the central part of every Indian city. Lately after the advent of multiplexes and malls, these theaters have lost their appeal and were left vacant in many places, many of which were demolished. But in some places these theaters got converted in marriage halls, because Indian marriage is a length process and these theaters can accommodate traditional ceremony with minor adjustments. It is noted that, some cities have huge slums which have not been gentrified in spite of some high profile attempts. Rapid migration to urban areas feeds the slums, which makes the slums hard to be gentrified. 

Overall, compared to leveling old building to compromise modernization, gentrification can be a process showing respect to the tradition values and history of a city. Even that, gentrification still should be handled carefully and steadily. Old buildings are ways for people to feel the past and connections between the old generations and new generations. Being aggressive to gentrify will disturb the locals’ life and harm their feelings. So any gentrifying plan should be thoughtful and respectful to the locals’ opinions. Only by that, gentrification can be socially sustainable.

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