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Gentrification in provincial cities

Press release issued: 12 November 2003

Provincial cities such as Bristol differ from world cities like London when it comes to gentrification, according to new research from Bristol University sponsored by the ESRC.

Provincial cities such as Bristol differ from world cities like London when it comes to gentrification, according to new research from Bristol University sponsored by the ESRC.

A study, Housing, Taste and Place: The Housing Histories of Gentrifiers, led by Dr Gary Bridge found that the term used to describe the process by which homes and entire districts are renovated and improved to reflect middle class tastes, in fact masks a diverse range of lifestyles, housing histories and motivations.

The findings, based on interviews in Bristol, provide important new background for urban planners at a time when 60 per cent of the four million new dwelling starts over the next 20 years are earmarked for brownfield sites in cities. It also throws new light on the new middle class, their tastes and way of life.

Dr Bridge said: “The message from our research is that gentrification is not the same everywhere. There are patterns and processes revealed in a provincial city, which are quite distinct from the global cities where most of the attention from the media and researchers has been focused.

“Evidence from Bristol suggests that gentrification in a provincial city is more tentative and socially diverse than people may think.”

For the study, homeowners were, as far as possible, interviewed both before and after moving – the first time this approach has been attempted in this area of research.

Interviews explored their housing histories, experience of the current neighbourhood and any housing renovation they had undertaken. People were asked also about their reasons for wanting to move and how they went about finding a suitable new home.

The study reveals that some middle class residents are actively committed to restoration and improvement whilst others show minimal interest during their time in an area.

It suggests that with a wide range of reasons for people moving into or through a gentrified area, in addition to traditional concerns over housing space and schooling, for many the motives and intentions commonly attributed to them may be unwarranted.

For some people, living in a gentrified area may be a result of constraint as much as choice, linked to the nature of the housing market and housing opportunities in a provincial city.

The size and intensity of somewhere such as London leads to distinct middle class neighbourhoods, but the constraints of a provincial city result in a greater continued social mix within the gentrified area.

While there is scope within London to accommodate changes during the course of life, the same requirements may mean people having to move out of the provincial city.

The study says that the generally accepted idea of gentrification, involving restoring original features such as Victorian fireplaces, ornate plasterwork, stripped floorboards and sash windows, is blending with a more generalised style of IKEA-type furnishings to produce a clean, light space.

This is true for a wide range of people.

One noticeable and unanticipated finding concerns the growth of middle class self-employment and home-based work.

People said the Internet and computer technology was freeing them up to consider a range of places in which to work and live, along with using websites as a way to search for neighbourhoods in the UK and abroad.

Further information about ESRC social science research can be found on REGARD, the ESRC's database of research, at  

The REGARD website is hosted by the Institute for Learning and Research Technology (ILRT) at the University of Bristol.


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