Remco Vermeulen

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Understanding gentrification and heritage conservation in Southeast Asian cities through rapid urban appraisals

Luxury hotels and boutiques in old shop houses in George Town, Penang, sky-high selling prices for restored character-apartments in Singapore, a historical canal transformed into an urban park in Jakarta, hipster cafes in colonial villas in Bandung or beautification projects in the inner city of Semarang. Heritage conservation and gentrification are going hand in hand in cities all over Southeast Asia, fuelled by booming economies, tourism, real estate demand, or in three of the mentioned examples, a (potential) designation on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Many historical cities in Southeast Asia are shaped or founded by colonial rulers. But increasingly, city governments are recognizing the development potential of their historical city centres. These developments usually result in the displacement of local communities and businesses and an overall loss of local culture. Although discussions on gentrification have moved from academic circles to mainstream media, it is not always easy to recognize its characteristics. Also, the conditions in which gentrification takes place differ from city to city. This paper describes a rapid urban appraisal method which enables urban professionals from different backgrounds to recognize gentrification as a result of heritage conservation projects in their own city. It also encourages them to find their own definition of gentrification. The learning experience of this method is two-fold: not only do the urban professionals taking part in the method learn about gentrification and its conditions, it also allows for the collection of case studies and new understandings of gentrification.

Remco Vermeulen (MA in Heritage Studies, University of Amsterdam, 2012) is Urban Heritage Strategies expert at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS), and an external PhD candidate at the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences. His research and teaching focuses on gentrification, urban heritage management and postcolonial cities, particularly in Indonesia, as well as the (post)colonial relationship between Indonesia and the Netherlands. Currently he is also working as advisor for cultural cooperation with Indonesia at DutchCulture, an organization that stimulates international cultural cooperation as part of a Netherlands’ national government policy.


IHS, Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies