Most people still see gentrification as the domain of the middle classes or the urban rich living in upmarket city neighbourhoods. However, new ESRC-funded research highlights the fact that gentrification is big business in rural areas as well as urban conurbations - and can lead to conflict within villages as a result.
Researcher Dr Martin Phillips, at the Department of Geography, University of Leicester, questioned residents in six rural parishes in the counties of Berkshire, Leicestershire and Norfolk to find out the extent of residential conversion, extension and refurbishment and their reactions to it.
His research project explodes the myth of the lone gentrifier, buying and doing up a property using their own labour and resources. It shows that many so-called gentrifiers are in fact employing a range of increasingly specialist contractors. Some have even come to view gentrification as a means of wealth accumulation or as a full or part time business.
"Very little attention has so far been paid to how existing residential properties constructed for other uses such as agriculture, industry or retailing are being physically transformed through conversions, refurbishment and extensions", says Dr Phillips. "My research found that these physical alterations can bring about significant social changes, even in villages where planning authorities have restricted the building of new homes. These changes can include the displacement of the pre-existing population by the wealthier incomers", he adds.
"The image of the lone gentrifier is outdated", says Dr Phillips. "It simply does not do justice to the range of people and organisations involved in what could now realistically be described as 'the gentrification business'".
The research also highlights:
The research also looked at how local people reacted to gentrification. There were three clear types of response. The first group seemed unaware of the processes of gentrification around them and still perceived their neighbourhoods as largely unchanged.
The second group was keenly aware of gentrification activities and saw them as very negative. Many thought the newly done up properties would have the effect of displacing local people from villages and that rural areas would lose their traditional distinctiveness.
The third group saw gentrification as a positive force, which would bring increased economic investment into the countryside along with a movement of people with a concern for rural community life, and for the natural environment of the countryside.
"These contrasting perceptions of gentrification can be seen to have led in several cases to disagreement and conflict within villages", says Dr Phillips. "Whilst these at times can appear very localised and personal we must accept that they will have far wider social causes and resonances", he adds.
For further information please contact Dr Martin Phillips who, until the end on January, can be contacted in New Zealand on phone number: +64 7 838 4046, extension 5043, Fax: +64 7 838 4633 Ext. 8795, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From February, he will return to the Department of Geography, University of Leicester.
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