Gentrification is now such a widespread phenomenon that you most likely have heard of it – or lived it. It has risen over the years and affects multiple countries, from major cities such as London, New York, San Francisco, Barcelona and Porto to smaller municipalities. Have you ever seen a neighbourhood suddenly flourish with new indie businesses? New housing developments which seem tailored for the upper classes? An inexplicable rise in rent prices? These are all signs of gentrification examples happening on a much larger and more impactful scale in the 21st century. 

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Cityscape of Istanbul in Turkey, one of the latest examples of how gentrification modifies a city._ ©Murat Halıcı.

Developers and other actors redefine urban sprawl patterns and inflict their economic and political interests in the spatial equation. In today’s era, the city has again become the “heart of the world economy” with the return of its golden age. Understanding and spotting gentrification in cities today is an exercise in unfolding part of the capitalist logic that dictates how to shape cities. This article will look at the roots of gentrification and the different ways it manifests in cities.

How Gentrification Starts | Gentrification Examples

Leonardo Benevolo (1984) states that the city is not the proper projection of society as a whole but a more rigid mechanism to benefit a hierarchy of consolidated interests. Studying this mechanism is crucial to know the agents responsible for “controlling” current urbanisation, where there is a bias for creating spaces that favour wealthier classes to the detriment of urban strategies that seek social inclusion. “Gentrification” is one of the more efficient and indirect ways to assure the efficiency of this control since it is a consequence of those mechanisms, not precisely one of them. 

The term derives from English gentrification, which originates from the English word gentry. It was first employed by Ruth Glass in the early 1960s to “describe the process by which middle-class families had populated former devalued neighbourhoods in central London” as opposed to the characteristic occupation model until then. From then on, the term was improved and began to acquire new definitions.

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The complex phenomenon of gentrification_ ©Miguel A Amutio

Gentrification implies a social change in housing stock on the scale of neighbourhoods: an economic change in the land and real estate markets. This combination of social, physical, and economic changes distinguishes gentrification as a process or set of functions. So how does it work? The factors in favour of gentrification compose a complex picture. Simply saying, gentrification occurs when new developments, usually real estate, push working classes out of their homes and communities using the excuse of diversifying the area, with crime rate reduction also being a central factor in their speech. Multiple times the government leads and implements these projects. Government endorsement and private capital are essential attributes of gentrification. The perversity of it is that it might occur slowly, using different mechanisms, of which architecture is a pivotal part.

Prominent examples

Spain Setting Trends

One of the outstanding examples is the city of Barcelona, Spain, full of neighbourhoods and regions currently suffering the effects of requalification interventions. The latest example would be the town of Bilbao in Spain.

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The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain._ ©David Vives

Bilbao is predominantly urban, notorious for being an industrial and port city. However, during the wave of urban regeneration, the city faced an economic depression, and its central port region was decaying. The solution was proposed in 1991 with a new museum and a larger redevelopment plan to boost the city’s economy through renovations and modernisations in Bilbao’s industrial sector. The foundation entrusted the task of designing the museum to renowned architect Frank Gehry.

The choice of a “star architect” and the monumentality of the final product has made the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao a phenomenon. But the problem itself lies in something other than the museum. There is a contemporary tendency of “architecture as spectacle” where the image’s relevance overlaps with the real needs of the population, and profit and prestige are more exciting consequences than the efficiency of the architectural object in social and cultural terms.

The “Bilbao effect” was a mechanism of gentrification of the port region, serving as an element of exclusion and forced remodelling of the socio-spatial relations already existing in it and now describes similar cases of gentrification and spectacle architecture around the globe.

Brazil Following Suit | Gentrification Examples

One can argue that the most recent and prominent case in Brazil is the area labelled as Porto Maravilha, which entails a large-scale project to renew the port district at the core of Rio de Janeiro city centre. In light of the 2014 Olympics, the city saw the opportunity to convert a decaying port waterfront into a mixed-use zone with new urban infrastructure and arguably extravagant architecture. Similar to the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro acts as an architectural monument and is somewhat of a consequence of the “Bilbao effect”.

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The port area in Rio de Janeiro._ ©

Many urban planners, architects and local community members criticized the development. The number of public resources spent on the construction was a constant source of criticism, as well as the lack of social housing in the area- initially one of the included goals in the master plan proposal. The number of evictions and the final cost of the entire ordeal were also a source of public scrutiny.

As far as gentrification goes, this is an explicit example of how urban renewal with the pretence of increasing the population’s quality of life can act as a veil for the interests of private parties, whose prime goal is to clear slums and set up developments for capital investment and profit. A consequence of this strategy is often racial and class segregation, drawing low-income and minority communities out of the city, thus hindering their rights to the urban space.

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View of the Museum of Tomorrow on the Mauá Pier._ ©

The Case of Istanbul

Istanbul in Turkey has a population of over 15 million people and a booming economy generating 40% of the country’s tax revenue. Real estate interest has risen over the last few years, with capital investment in urban developments and luxury infrastructure being crucial parts of the economy. The setting for a radical gentrifying structure is set.

With the government sponsoring these urban transformation enterprises, the local population sees high-density skyscrapers replacing their homes and local business, completely changing the original dynamics of the neighbourhoods. 

Fikirtepe district of Istanbul, a single house amidst the skyscrapers skyline._ ©The Guardian, Bulent Kilic

It becomes a battle between the organisations of dwellers and the local government, the latter protecting the interests of foreign parties while the former fights for the preservation of their rights. It is a complex picture, not a black-and-white one, with the local political climate playing a big part in these disputes. Gentrification in Istanbul behaves more fast-paced and radical than it has manifested in other contexts and constitutes, in this context, a mighty tool serving particular hierarchies to shape the urban environment.

A Weapon of Consequence | Gentrification Examples

The city of the 21st century is a stage for gentrification. The gentrification of spaces is always the consequence of a conscious act. When interested parties idealise the renovation of seemingly decadent regions, they also deliberately plan the displacement of its dwellers, which shows that capitalist logic imbues and directs the planning. The urban space ceases to be a social environment and becomes a source of wealth, modifying the city and its landscape to suit the needs of specific social classes that are much similar in their traits: white, and wealthy.


Annalee Newitz (2014). What Gentrification Really Is, and How We Can Avoid It [online]. ArchDaily. [Accessed 17 of Feb 2023]. 

GLASS, R.(1963) Introduction to London: Aspects of Change. London: Center for Urban Studies

HAMNET, Ch. (1995) Les changements socio-économiques à Londres. Sociétés Contemporaines, n. 23, p. 15-32.

UKDETR (1999) Towards an Urban Renaissance. Available in

The Guardian (2014). Istanbul’s gentrification by force leaves locals feeling overwhelmed and angry [online]. Available at: [Accessed 15 of February 2023].

Tara Nelson (2018). ‘Marvelous Port,’ Rio’s Largest Urban Redevelopment Project, 10 Years On [online]. Available at: [Accessed 15 Feb 2023]. 


Sofia Rezende is an Architect and Urban Planner from Brazil. She graduated in the class of 2015 from the Federal University of Viçosa, Brazil, and later pursued a Master’s (MSc) degree in the same subject with a focus on studying social housing and family demography, topics she’s very passionate about.