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Gentrification – developing city districts in a socially responsible manner

Symposium held on November 17, 2011 at the Kolpinghaus Frankfurt/Main

Press roundup on gentrification, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

Gentrification describes that process of upgrading of districts/residential quarters which goes hand in hand with the displacement of the local residents and companies as a result of fast-rising rents and property prices. All prospering cities both in Germany and elsewhere currently face this issue or similar problems.

Gentrification can therefore also be described as the result of a shift in the appreciation of downtown urban areas in economically prosperous regions. From an urban development and ecological point of view this kind of population growth is essentially regarded as positive as it helps foster compact cities with short commutes.

In Frankfurt/Main, the first wave of gentrification took place as early as the 1970s. There are indications that some quarters are experiencing a second wave at present. In particular, areas close to downtown are feeling great pressure to upgrade facilities. The continuing influx of residents (the population is estimated to grow to 724,000 by 2030), tension in the housing market, a surge in rents (in particular in areas close to downtown) and high property prices (strong price and sales increases in the residential property market) along with the conversion of rented accommodation into owner-occupied apartments have given cause for concern to many people, who are worried that they may lose their homes and familiar neighborhoods. It is therefore important that their legitimate need for a sense of belonging, for protection from change and for the preservation of neighborhoods that have arisen naturally be respected and taken into account.


Convention on gentrification, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

However, the focus on gentrification must not distract from those areas that are moving in the opposite direction, developing problems that call for special remedial action. It is equally the city planners’ responsibility to stabilize those quarters that have a considerable need for renewal. Enhancing facilities, in particular as part of promoting urban development in these quarters, is explicitly desired or required and therefore receive funding.

The balancing act between desired upgrading processes which fall under the urban renewal programs on the one hand, and the displacement of the population as a result of gentrification on the other, prompted the City Planning Department to organize a symposium on this subject.

The aim of the symposium was to demonstrate requirements, processes and results of gentrification and illustrate current strategies and control mechanisms. Moreover, it provided an opportunity to present and discuss current research, experience gained in other cities, and alternative perspectives. Speakers with backgrounds in the business world and in planning administration from the cities Nuremburg, Hamburg, Berlin and Munich were invited to exchange ideas on the subject. A report from a critical observer relating his experiences rounded out the program.
The symposium was also attended by representatives of the City Council and Municipal Departments along with representatives of the housing industry, not-for-profit associations and initiatives.


People attending the gentrification convention, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

The event demonstrated that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to handling the negative impact of upgrading and gentrification processes. It is crucial that we better get to know and understand what causes such processes and how they evolve, for example when the intended enhancement turns into non-intentional displacement. Only in this way can effective control mechanisms be developed and mistakes prevented. The event illustrated the difficulty in controlling gentrification processes in a socially responsible manner. Several speakers pointed out that so-called statutes for the protection of social environments can provide a positive control function in particular in such cases where in connection with the state’s legal regulation (not yet available in Hessen) establishing residential property is subject to prior approval. A strategy that will handle gentrification processes successfully thus needs to address the issue on two levels: First, in existing quarters that are affected the strategy must cover a set of measures, such as issuing statutes to protect social environments or granting rights of preemption to the local authority. Second, it has to ensure that in an expanding city, additional residential areas and new dwellings (including social housing units) are built to accommodate new residents and meet the increased demand for residential space.

Documentation of the symposium including the speakers’ presentations along with the issues raised and discussed in the course of the event has since been published. It forms the basis for future work within the administration and political committees as well as with citizens and initiatives. A foundation for developing a strategy for “socially responsible urban development” is currently being devised. It will be submitted to the vote of the political committees in due course.

A print version of this documentation can be purchased for 5,00 euros from the City Planning Department at the opening times set out below or downloaded online under Publications.

The publication and the speakers’ slides can be downloaded via the link below.


Relevant publications by the City Planning Department

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