Heritage, Gentrification, Urbanisation & Tourism

Historic conservation, writes Regina Bures (see reference below), is frequently associated with gentrification: the incursion of middle-class "gentry" on an urban frontier, resulting in the displacement of lower income residents. However, historic conservation need not be a consequence or cause of gentrification, she writes. The term ‘historic conservation’ implies the maintenance of both the social environment and the physical environment. Gentrification, on the other hand, implies the improvement of the physical environment at the expense of the existing social environment. Both historic conservation and gentrification are social processes that evolve over time. Historic conservation reflects the social perception that single structures or entire neighborhoods are culturally significant. Older neighborhoods may also experience stages of gentrification through a "chain of gentrifiers" which has a cumulative effect on the social environment.

Fig.1 – Union Square, Pyrmont (NSW) Australia – Urban gentrification in heritage precinct.

The relationship between culture and capital is an important consideration in the redevelopment process. The capital-intensive nature of gentrification often requires "cultural validation" in the form of a historic designation. Historic designation raises property values and displaces less affluent residents. Historic designation may also lead to increased tourism, another form of urban redevelopment. In this context, the history and culture of a city serve as leverage for attracting capital investment and tourists; writes Bures (reference below).

Understanding the consequences of urban redevelopment is a central theme in urban sociology. Historic conservation, gentrification, and tourism are three related, yet distinct, redevelopment processes. All three can lead to improvements in the physical environment of a city but will have different consequences for the social environment.

Historic conservation and gentrification can change communities. While the early conservation efforts in Sydney (NSW) sought to maintain community, the long-term aim, it does result in the displacement of the social fabric. However, an indirect consequence of the continued success of the historic conservation movement, is the growth of tourism and the displacement of native families to other sections of the city. This represents one of the contradictions often inherent in conservation:present-day communities may be destroyed in order to restore the past. Yet, this need not be the case: conservation can appeal to a broader proportion of the population and offer them an opportunity to regain a sense of community identity that is often lost in the process of urbanisation (Bures 2015).

Paul Rappoport – Heritage 21
8 October 2018

Regina M. Bures, "Historic preservation, gentrification, and tourism: The transformation of Charleston, South Carolina" In Critical Perspectives on Urban Redevelopment. Published online: 10 Mar 2015; 195-209.


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