The movement of middle- and upper-income households into inner-city neighborhoods is affecting small pockets of large European cities in a pattern similar to the neighborhood revitalization occurring here.
Dennis Gale, professor of Urban Planning at George Washington University, says that one of the major reasons the gentrification phenomena is taking place is economic -- the change in urban employment from blue collar to white collar in large cities both in Europea and the United States.
Gale has done a study for the Department of Housing and Urban Development on what he calls "Upward Socioeconomic Transition" in selected areas of six European cities--London, Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Munich and Copenhagen. He researched an area in each city that exhibits three kinds of activities typical of the process:
Change from predominately blue-collar residential, commercial and industrial land uses to white-collar uses such as apartments, offices, restaurants and specialty shops.
Rehabilitation or restoration of older buildings, called embourgeoisement in France.
Change in ownership patterns for apartments or flats, from a single landlord for the complex to separate owners and individual units.
Generally speaking, Gale said he was surprised at the similarities in the transition process between the six European cities and cities he has studied in the United States.
"In all cases, the people who are buying homes and investing in the areas are young, highly educated, and in white-collar employment -- professional, managerial or the arts," he said. He found, as others have, the decline of manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs, as industry moves out of the central city and white-collar service jobs provide the predominant urban employment.
Gale's study reinforces previous findings by HUD and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that "the prevailing dynamic among the larger cities in the industrialized nations of the Western Hemisphere has been the declining central-city population."
And he found that the areas of upward socioeconomic transition have been losing population at a greater rate than the city as a whole. Household loss is greater than population loss, indicating that smaller households are replacing larger ones. The transition areas in Europe, as here, have a high proportion of working adults in their twenties or thirties and show a loss of families with children.
In Stockholm, the population as a whole dropped about 10 percent between 1975 and 1979, but in Gamla Stan, the area studied, population declined about 53 percent for the same period. In Paris, population declined about 11 percent between 1968 and 1975, but dropped 24 percent in the Marais, a transition area, during the same time.
In addition to smaller household sizes, the gentrification areas are showing an increase in the average size of the dwelling unit, as small rooms of these older units are combined to provide more spacious quarters for the affluent who move into the areas. Thus, there is a great reduction in density in the transition areas but -- as Gale points out -- without any physical or economic deterioration.
The transition process is concentrated near the heart of European and American cities in areas with some of the oldest remaining buildings. The areas often are designated as historic districts or landmark areas.
Gale found that the designation does not instigate, but simply increases, the gentrification activity that was already in progress. However, he says that, once an area has received public recognition for its historic and architectural treasures, there is little doubt that it sooner or later will be dominated by middle- or upper-income households.
Similarities are striking between the transition process in European and American cities, but the process is more visible here and much more of a topic for debate and study. Gale was surprised at the almost ho-hum attitude of European planners and city officials about the phenomenon. Part of the reason for that attitude, he discovered, was that the process has been going on longer and is less obvious or dramatic.
Inner-city neighborhoods in Europe were less likely to have been abandoned by the middle class because of the severe housing shortage caused by the damage of World War II, the slower development of suburban housing patterns and the existence of tenant-protection measures in most European cities. Consequently, inner-city areas in Europe never reached the level of abandonment and deterioration that took place in many American cities.
Physical changes of revitalization are not as dramatic in Europe as here, Gale says. Apertments in large blocks sometimes are renovated completely by individual owners, but the facades of the huge complexes remain the same, with only a few hanging plants in windows as evidence of interior change.
Gale says one exception is in waterfront areas, where many warehouses are being converted to offices and apartments. A lot of upward socioeconomic transition has been going on in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam, for instance, and this change is very visible.
Gale feels that studies of gentrification too often look only at numbers of persons involved and ignore the larger impact of the change. In transition neighborhoods, there is a significant increase in property tax and personal expenditure, evident in Europe as well as the United States.
Ethnic, racial, socioeconomic and cultural diversity declines wherever gentrification takes place, but Gale has found that the European transition is not as painful as America's.
In most European cities, tenant-protection measures slow the process to a more natural succession pattern rather than the American norm of disruption and displacement.
Gale's study also points out that Europe has something of a safety valve, with greater supplies of public or quasi-public housing to offset the loss of private rental units for low- and moderate-income families.