Heide Imai

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Gentrification, Revitalization or what: Changing Spaces, Places and Scapes in Japan

Co-author: Florian Purkarthofer, University of Vienna.

While the core meaning of gentrification - the spatial expression of economic inequality - is still a relevant research topic for metropolitan regions, the forms, structures and processes of urban change are differing by place and neighborhood. Yet, there is also a rich discourse about revitalization and recovery of cities and neighborhoods, facing population decline due to aging and migration into the metropolitan areas. Looking at newly opened coffee shop, galleries and shared work spaces in those places, one might be forced to rethink the overly simplified dichotomy of gentrification (bad) and revitalization (good). Hence, the paper tries to move beyond such concepts to ask how the ambiguity of urban change can be understood.

The case studies — rich in data and from different urban spheres in Japan, which experienced decline, failure but also rebirth and revival — allow us to develop a deeper understanding for the ongoing restructuring processes which happen around us, yet we cannot fully understand until we know how they affect the everyday life of the ordinary residents, users and visitors (often in contrasting ways). We use metropolitan case studies from Tokyo (Kiyosumi Shirakawa) and outside the metropolitan area (Morioka) to substantiate our pursuit. While the influx of richer households is still replacing poorer tenants in Tokyo, the arrival of new (wealthy) people in many shrinking cities throw-out japan is perceived as a blessing, reducing the number of deserted houses. And while some symptoms might seem similar, the actual meaning and impact on the city and its social fabrics can be antithetic.

Focusing on changing spaces in contemporary Japan, we try to show that urban change is multifaceted and context-sensitive and that it needs more than two buzzwords to grasp its complexity.

Dr. Heide Imai is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Intercultural Communication, Senshu University, Tokyo, Japan.

Heide Imai holds a PhD (2009) in Urban Sociology from Manchester Metropolitan University and a MA (2005) in Cultural Studies from Oxford Brookes University. Dr. Imai has taught at different universities in Japan, the UK and Germany and she has researched widely about vernacular landscapes, cultural identities and urban practices in times of globalization, currently working on new projects in Korea and China.


Senshu University, Tokyo