Neighborhood consumption spaces and their representation : what and who should be visible and what and who should not be visible in gentrifying neighborhoods?

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This project concerns two major issues; gentrification and representation. Gentrification is a physical, social and cultural process in which the neighborhood becomes socioeconomically revalued by the introduction of high-income residents. Representation is in this research approached as the way how people’s cultures and lifestyles become integrated into space by the use of symbols. In the scientific debate there exists a gap between the issue of gentrification and representation. What happens to the neighborhood’s representation when a neighborhood undergoes a process of gentrification? The neighborhood changes and thus it would be a logical thought that its representation should change also, because different people, hence different cultures and lifestyles enter into the gentrifying neighborhoods. The neighborhood becomes inhabited by different kind of residents with different kind of; needs, desires and lifestyles. The neighborhood economy, in terms of shopping streets and shopping-centers, should provide answers about the gentrifying neighborhood’s transforming representation. Consumption spaces explain much about public culture. Shops have a great symbolic power and they are integrated into space. Therefore shops are approached as spatial mediums of representation. In this research, the transformation of retailers’ symbolic representation in gentrifying neighborhoods have been analyzed in five cases; the ‘Oude Pijp’ in Amsterdam, Lombok in Utrecht, Parkhaven-Dichterswijk in Utrecht, the Dapperbuurt in Amsterdam and Nieuw-Hoograven in Utrecht. The prime social relevance of this research is that representation concerns people and their connection to place. In gentrifying neighborhoods an upwardly socioeconomic process is taking place in which people from different classes, the ‘poor’ and the ‘better-off’, meet one another. However, this process goes together with the issue of inclusion and exclusion. The urban ‘better-off’ becomes more and more included into the neighborhood, while the urban ‘poor’ becomes more and more excluded out of the gentrifying neighborhood, a process that is understood as ‘displacement’. The process of displacement is frequently discussed in the scientific literature, however what does it mean for people’s representation? Will the urban poor recognize themselves in their neighborhood after the process of gentrification? Does the neighborhood yet still represent their identity? Approaching consumption spaces as spatial mediums of representation, they should be able to explain what happens to the neighborhood’s representation as a consequence of gentrification. What and whose culture will be represented by the neighborhood consumption spaces? How do these transformations proceed? Who are the prime actors in the transformational process of the neighborhood’s representation? By studying five cases that show different histories and diverse types of gentrification, this research has shown different effects concerning the neighborhoods representation. The most important result are the insights concerning the ‘production of space’. This research shows how the ‘makers’ of space try to ‘(re-)prescribe’ space conform their thoughts and ideas about what space should become and what space should represent. The ‘makers’ of space try to produce their desired images and identities that should attract the postindustrial ‘new middle class’, known as; yuppies and ‘urbanites’. While doing that, they exclude those; identities, cultures and lifestyles, that do not fit in their thoughts about ‘good’ spaces. In gentrifying neighborhoods this implies the exclusion of the urban poor’s representation. The cases show how economical principles and moral judgments intertwine among one another. In terms of the ‘users’ of space, large contradictions between the ‘makers’ thoughts about space and the ‘users’ desires have been analyzed. Representations of the urban poor are not per se disliked. Financially weak entrepreneurs that operate in the lower segments of the marked, among who many immigrant entrepreneurs who seek their prosperity in an independent business, produce symbols of ‘poverty’. Nevertheless, they are equally able to create attractive urban environments that have an extraordinary unique and authentic representation, often characterized by the representation of the local community and multiculturalism. This project calls for attention to the urban poor’s visibility. Independent entrepreneurs, also the financially weak(er) ones, are important in shaping the cities identity. Affordable business units, offering space to all kinds of retailers are important in order to democratize the construction of the city’s identities. People show commitment to their space, they recognize themselves in space and neighborhood consumption spaces have a great deal in these kind of people’s feeling of belongingness. Commodification of space conform economic principles and the ‘revitalization’ of space conform moral principles, should not become a ‘law’ in urban policy. Consideration in regarding to the production of people’s “sense of place” is of great value for the production of the city’s true identity and its attractiveness for a wide range of people. Reconsideration in regarding to the economical and moral judgments that have been put upon ‘marginal’ retailers might contribute to the production of unique and authentic ‘people’s places’.
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