Gentrification is a highly debated topic not only in urban planning experts’ circles but way beyond. The processes labelled as ‘gentrification’ are very diverse. Each case is quite specific and depends heavily on the local context. The processes may differ between global cities and smaller cities, but the effects gentrification has in cities is quite similar. The impact is often negative on the community, on social cohesion and on access to affordable housing for the local inhabitants. Here we analyse the case of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
What is gentrification?
Gentrification is about transforming streets or districts into places for upper social classes. The story of SoHo New York City (NYC), analysed by Sharon Zukin is a well-known case. The artists started moving in the formerly industrial or working class districts using older buildings for lofts, studios, galleries etc., which attracted wealthier populations, first as visitors and later as residents. The artists, the first groups of newcomers in the district of the process of gentrification are called gentrifiers by Zukin, but are later displaced by super gentrifiers, a population with higher incomes. The consequence of the first wave of gentrification is a change in supply of local amenities and, usually, increase in safety of the streets.
The institutions and by the locals those who have the means to enjoy the new cafes, galleries, boutiques, and clubs appreciate those changes. They are also thought for as a way to revitalise and regenerate older districts. More problematic is the parallel process of displacement, through which people are pushed out from the neighbourhood because they cannot afford increased rents.
The changes in local amenities and the increase of rents are unwelcomed by the less financially advantaged social classes, usually a community residing in the area since long. Changing amenities may give them a feeling of losing their district and community – a perception that locals are no longer welcome in their area. The impact of increased rents is even more severe. It actually pushes the initial community out of the neighbourhood. Often, these communities are places of solidarity, mutual help, social contacts and identification. Residents who need to relocate usually experience lower quality of life in the new area, as they have no community to count on.
In many cases, gentrification has been considered as unwelcomed but inevitable, since it simply reflects the gap between social classes. The wider the gap between social classes the more intense the negative perceptions of gentrification. One example of clash is the protest against the Cereal Killers in East London.
Hipsters as defenders of independence or actors of gentrification
New York seventies’ artists have been replaced by ‘hipsters’ in the last decade. Hipsters have been moving to working class neighbourhoods in which affordable spaces can be found. Are hipsters first wave gentrifiers of an area that would eventually attract super gentrifiers? Or are they the last defender of local authenticy? This ambivalent role of hipsters has been well analysed by Phil Hubbart.
Is the Cereal Killer a symbol of independent local creative entrepreneurialism or is it bringing new, more globally oriented and more middle class values in the area? Are long term residents forced to leave because if they stayed their rent would be so high that they certainly wouldn’t be buying overpriced cereals for breakfast?
Revitalisation or gentrification of Cities in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE): the example of Ljubljana.
Gentrification theories do not apply easily in the context of Central and Eastern European (CEE) cities. In most CEE cities, if class divide has grown in the nineties, it remained small as a consequence of late deindustrialisation and of the socialist past. Industry stayed in the inner city until the late nineties, or even up to today. Gentrification was not a concept often heard of. The focus was on revitalisation, which was the new moto of main strategic development documents. The City of Ljubljana is a good example of that.
In terms of bringing in life in the city, the revitalisation of the centre of Ljubljana has been mostly successful. The city previously well known for being deserted during the weekends, as the famous book entitled ‘Where do Slovenes go on Sundays?’ published in the 80’s suggested, became lively and vibrant. It now attracts many tourists. A 2011 report shows that out of 24 European Capitals only Berlin and Stockholm have experienced a quicker rise in the number of tourism (highest growth rate of overnight stays by tourists in the preceeding five years). The amount of overnight stays of tourists in Ljubljana doubled between 2006 and 2016.
Ljubljana’s streets are changing quickly
The increased amount of city users has changed the face of the city, but not all of the changes have been welcomed. There is a significant increase in urban amenities in the city centre, which had an impact on prices of goods and services. Some suppliers have changed and the share of tourists in some places has increased significantly. It cannot be claimed that locals feel unwelcome because of that but some signs of protests have been noted and should be taken seriously. As most inhabitants own their flats, the number of relocations has not been as large as in some other cities. But displacement might be taking place elsewhere.
Airbnb drives the process further and becomes a real challenge. People renting their apartments might be considered as the first victims of gentrification. As in most Central and Eastern Europe countries, after most of the public housing stock was privatised in the early nineties, the renting market became quite unregulated. As Airbnb tourists are willing to pay more than long term residents, it became harder for locals to rent. According to the newspaper Delo (in Slovenian) the amount of flats offered by Airbnb in Ljubljana increased exponentially in the last years. In 2013 there were 151 flats in Ljubljana rented at least once on Airbnb. This number increased to 1600 in 2017.
How to protect the locals and their right to use and reside in the centre?
One answer would be to intervene on the housing market with providing enough publicly owned housing, but this requires significant investments and cooperation between local, city, and national level. This would be quite a challenge for Ljubljana considering the already very low supply of public social housing. Less than 9 % of households live in social housing. The demand for publicly owned flats exceeds the supply of about ten times, according to data of the City of Ljubljana.
Some cities, such as Berlin, have started to regulate short term renting, mainly aimed at tourists, in order to provide better options for locals who rent.
Another way might be to revitalise the city in partnerships with local communities, in order to put the development in line with the interests of the locals and to preserve the community as an intangible part of the local identity. After all, that is what is missed most in gentrified areas: an authentic feeling of community.
Cover picture: BockoPix
Photo 1: Abbey Hambright