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In the 1960s, British sociologist Ruth Glass took notice of the phenomenon of anti-suburbanization taking place in London. This showed the middle class replaced the working class and returned to the urban centre, which he called “gentrification” (Glass, 1964). After the climax of suburbanization in western countries during the 1970s – 1980s, a great many cities experienced the rapid population growth, economic recovery and revitalization of central urban areas. It was called ′the movement of returning to the city′. During the process of urban renewal, high-income groups  replaced the low-income one in the decrepit areas of the urban centre. The environment of the urban landscape was also improved, becoming the symbol of urban socio-economic transition.

Gentrification in Nanjing, China

Gentrification is a socio-spatial process of two-way interaction. It is not merely a phenomenon of the renewal of the environment and the relocation of wealthy residents. The occurrence of gentrification is attributed to the realization of housing expense disparity (Smith, 2002). In recent years, the price of commercial housing in Nanjing has been increasing at a high speed. That of the central area has been the highest among all the districts. The differential of housing expenses is more and more obvious between urban central and outlying areas as well. Due to factors like differential rent and price of land, the land blocks of demolition in the inner city of Nanjing are distributed in small size.

Taking Xinjiekou as the centre, the subway line and main streets as axes, most of demolition land are on the streets or on the waterfront. After demolition, industrial land and traditional residence are constantly being replaced by green spaces, open spaces, modern residences, business, working and entertainment functions. Therein, residential land is mostly used for top-grade superintended apartments, mainly attracting the young middle class. Though the middle class with higher consumption level tends to choose a living environment with better ecological standards and high quality, those who claim life taste, cultural preferences and class spirit are likely to seek superior life quality. Consequently, many gated communities are built rapidly in the areas within sight of central areas, such as the waterfront of Xuanwu Lake and Qinhuai River. These areas gradually become the new assembling areas for the middle and upper classes. Figure 1 shows that urban renewal in Nanjing dictates that poor residents move out of the inner city, the gentrified class relocates there.

Fig1. Residents′ replacement and relocation in gentrification process in Nanjing

Indifferent neighbourhood in gentrified communities

The gated community is one of the important spatial representations of gentrification in China. This phenomenon makes up for the deficiency of ′collective assumption′ by privatizing public space and renovating aspects of the residential environment. So it is pursued by developers and urban residents because it caters to residential demands of the middle and upper class. Small-scale gated communities lead to polarization and fragmentation of urban space. For example, gated communities cover less than 5.0×104 m2on average in the inner city of Nanjing. The characteristics of spatial segregation are transforming the city.

Splintering urbanism are obvious (Graham and Marvin, 2001). Partial homogeneity and integration heterogeneity have become typical features of living space in Nanjing. Figure 2 shows that the initial residential structure in the form of blanket is gradually disjointed after the gentrification process. And it recombines to a structure of urban residential differentiation which is characterized by central polarization and diversification. The original social sequence and urban fabric are continuously separated by gated communities. Simultaneously, the mosaic spatial segregation between new and old, lower and higher income areas intermingle with each other. The new spatial order presents great heterogeneity both in residential structure and in spatial image, which results in the fragmentation of social space and residential segregation at the neighbourhood level.

Fig. 2 Reconstruction and polarization of residential differentiation in inner city of Nanjing before and after gentrification


In gated communities, it is hard to form stable social communication in neighbouring communities because they are gated and residents′ identities differ greatly. Even within the same community, residents associate little with others and they are not quite familiar with each other. As a result, it is difficult to form a community cultural attribute and stratum identification. In addition, the invasion of the network communication, the fast-paced urbanism and other factors also make the sense of estrangement increase greatly in urban neighbourhoods, especially in gentrified communities. This further weakens and destroys human relationships of the urban neighbourhood.


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