Jose, The nearest thing that I can think of is URBAN BLIGHT. But some may define it more as the result, rather than the process, of neighborhoods in cities slowly deteriorating with the middle class gradually leaving as it slowly becomes a slum. I experienced this first hand when I lived in New York City and watched various areas, including my own, decline as the original inhabits fled to the suburbs. At one time Flatbush in Brooklyn where I grew up was actually very nice with large Victorian homes and tree-lined streets, with well-kept apartment houses (doormen and all). I left that area in the 1950s and by the 1970s it was a disaster.
The south Bronx was another famous example of urban blight which eventually got so bad that the area resembled a bombed out city after a nuclear attack. The main cause of this particular brand of blight was the rent control laws that were enacted in NYC after WWII whereby landlords could not increase their rents by any reasonable amount and as a result many landlords abandoned and even torched their buildings to collect the insurance (this has been referred to as the “South Bronx Effect”).
But in general I think that ‘normal’ urban blight occurred as upwardly mobile folks left the cities for the suburbs and were replaced by waves of immigrants from the U.S. South and from overseas. In NYC, at least, there was a vast influx of Blacks from the southern states and immigrants from Puerto Rico in the 1950s and 60s who quickly filled the vacuum created by the older fleeing population.
And BTW I suppose that if we want a precise word to describe the reverse of ‘urban blight,’ it might be ‘urban renewal,’ which is defined as the ‘clearance and redevelopment of slum areas, ghettos, etc.” I suppose that a ‘blighted area,’ as Soho in Manhattan, could either be said to have undergone ‘gentrification’ or ‘urban renewal,’ but I think that urban renewal may officially include the use of public funds. In my own town of Ft. Collins it would be hard to say whether the process should be called ‘urban renewal’ or ‘gentrification’ (maybe both) because the city is designating many old and beat up houses and commercial buildings as ‘historic sites’ and gives grants for restoration. However, even with the grants it takes a pretty hefty chunk of money to restore these old homes and buildings so that the people who end up occupying them are fairly well-to-do.
Ken G – December 22, 2004
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)