The average rental price in the district of Harlem (New York) rose by 90% between 2002 and 2014. However, until the 1980s, a third of all families that lived there depended on government welfare, proof that cities grow and change. There is a current trend towards urban transformations in the form of gentrification, which is a process that displaces the original population of a district in favour of another with higher purchasing power, making housing and businesses more expensive. Hence its meaning: the word gentrification is derived from the gentry.
[Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, is the clearest example of gentrification], so much that ‘The New York Times’ has banned its journalists from using it as a reference. Nowadays Harlem has taken up the baton. Its streets boom with jazz, swing, cabarets and Afro-American culture. ‘The Guardian’ newspaper states that “Harlem is increasingly white”. This is a process that began when Bill Clinton installed his offices in the district: from an area in decline to a desirable, high-profile location with features such as abandoned buildings to luxury housing and modern cafés like Red Rooster, which offers live music and photography exhibitions.
Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, is the clearest example of gentrification.
Another example of this urban transformation is Puerto Madero (Buenos Aires), a response to the need to create a port to connect Buenos Aires with Europe. Who would have thought that the addition of four dams and two docks could turn it into a luxury district! Its streets are now lined with famous Parisian furniture shops (Roche Bobois) and five-star hotels such as Faena Hotel, decorated by Philippe Starck. This ‘foreign invasion’ has meant that it has lost part of its original essence, although Marcelo, one of the best Italian restaurants in the city, is one of the few that maintains its traditional feel.
It’s easy to forget the real history of a place when you’re in a new, trendy café drinking a $25 organic shake. That’s why the Tai Hang District (Hong Kong) is making an effort to preserve its roots and keep its old mechanical workshops and open-air food stalls, which live side-by-side with a new wave of sophisticated restaurants, such as Go Ya Yakitori, and small cafés like La Famille and Noah Castella, where you can try green tea roll cake.
Barcelona (Spain) is also not immune to gentrification. First to experience this urban pehnomena were the Raval and Born districts, now shortly followed by the neighbourhood of la Barceloneta. Fishermen, boat owners, craftsmen and workers from the shipyards in Barcelona used to live here. Its close proximity to the sea has meant a massive influx of tourists and new designer businesses. In the Vioko shop, chocolates and sweets are elegantly presented in display cabinets, as if they were diamonds in a jewellery shop. Sal Café is a ‘deluxe chiringuito’ on the seafront. It’s such a trendy spot that the former fishermen who lived in the area 50 years ago wouldn’t even recognise it now. The future of these districts is characterised by renovation or deterioration.