During most of the twentieth century, starting with the first urban economist Hurd (1903), the explanations of urban structure focused on the tensions between centripetal and centrifugal forces. Implicit in the work of the early urban ecologists was the behavioral assumption that households preferred to live near the periphery and would do so if they had the means. The assumption developed a normative dimension as Burgess (1925) saw the “equilibrium of social order” as moving “toward an end vaguely or definitely regarded as progressive”. So strong was this view that Charles Colby (1933) could ignore the imperative implicit in his own observation on human desire while denouncing its effect:
The human desire to be in the center of things probably leads to an over estimation of the value of a location in the central zone. Sentiment and perhaps stubbornness leads some wealthy families to cling to sites in the central zone Colby (1933, 17).
The Alonso-Mills-Muth neoclassical models of the 1960s continued to explain the paradox formed by the presence of lower income households on the most expensive inner city land and the well-off people moving out to the lower priced suburban land. Later models by social theorists spoke of complete decentralization due to innovations in communications and the move away from of work-home commute as the main factor explaining urban structure.
The 1970s appeared to reverse the trend in many inner city neighbourhoods and the observations of social upgrading introduced a new phenomenon to be studied. Analysts in North America and Australia documented the inner city changes as young professionals move in to form the “café society”. The centers of cities have been changing but do the changes challenge the long held view of economic progress leading to more decentralized cities?
This study looks at the changes in 10 Canadian CMAs between 1981 and 2001 and builds on the work of other Canadian researchers (notably Ley, Filion and Bunting) to show how the extent, location and nature of gentrification processes have continued since the 1970s. The next section places this study in the context of other work on gentrification. The following section describes the methods used to identify gentrifying tracts. The next section presents the estimates of the extent of gentrification in the 10 CMAs. The census tracts are mapped for Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver to show their location and relationship to the neighbourhoods that gentrified before our study period. Graphs illustrating the relationship between key variables in Montreal are included as examples. The statistical profiles of gentrifying neighbourhoods are compared with those of the potentially gentrifying areas and with the rest of the CMA to show the main changes that have taken place since 1981. The conclusions are at the end.