Desmond Sham

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Gentrification everywhere: Is ‘gentrification’ losing its critical edge?

In Taiwan and Hong Kong, there is a tendency to use ‘gentrification’ (in Chinese: 縉紳化 or 士紳化) as a shorthand to describe various neighbourhood transformation phenomenon (most notably culture-led urban regeneration and opening of ‘hipster’ / wenqing cafes and stores) and the rent increase. My question is: Is ‘gentrification’ losing its critical edge when the term is applied randomly? This paper would use the phenomenon in two East Asian cities, Taipei and Hong Kong, to answer this question.

While acknowledging the impacts of rent increase, I assert that it should not be equated to gentrification. Rent increase should not be regarded as the definitive element of gentrification, either. Instead, I agree with Lees, Shin, and Lopez-Morales’ (2016) definition and put ‘displacement’ at the centre gentrification. Although I agree with Lees, Shin, and Lopez-Morales’ ‘planetary gentrification’ thesis, I assert that gentrification should not be applied to describe the transformation in every neighbourhood.

The paper will bring in two cases. First, I will use the case of Twatutia in Taipei to argue how ‘gentrification’ is unable to see the nuanced relationship between the existing and new businesses, and is unable to see who is really affected by the increase in rent. Secondly, I will use the case of the gentrification debate in Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong to discuss how the shorthand notion of gentrification can sometimes misidentify the symptom as the cause.

Dr. Desmond Hok-Man Sham is an Assistant Professor at the International Master's Program in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, Taiwan.  His research interests are in postcolonial studies, Inter-Asia cultural studies, cultural heritage, cultural economy, cultural memory, urban studies, and Sinophone Literature, with focus on East/Southeast Asia.


National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University