The world is urbanizing faster than ever and lingo that used to be kept inside City Halls and university theaters is now making its way into the public realm at a rapid pace. The terms that accompany sophisticated discussion about cities are innumerable, but today I will offer a few of them to help you understand the rapidly evolving urban environment itself.
The first term is one you've probably heard by now: gentrification. It refers loosely to the unfortunate pattern of wealthier members of society relocating to low-income neighborhoods, renovating homes and starting businesses that cater to higher-income customers. This is not so bad in itself, but what happens next is catastrophic for communities: new businesses and nicer homes raise the cost of living and create demand to live in these neighborhoods which drives poorer residents out of their homes due to higher costs of rent, groceries and local services.
Because demand for housing increases in the process of gentrification, new housing becomes more desirable. This leads us to our next term: density. This word is borrowed from physicists and in this case refers to the number of people who can live and work in a given neighborhood. When housing is in short-supply, many people bring up a need for more housing, which will increase population density, or just density for short. Cities like Tokyo or Paris are extremely dense while cities like Atlanta or Dallas have less density.
Density, however, is not only about housing. A city, after all, is more than apartment buildings and duplexes. This brings us to our final term for today: mixed-use. For a city to be vibrant, it must have a variety of uses for a diverse number of people. This has led to a growing trend in the development of mixed-use buildings which serve more than one primary purpose. A perfect example of mixed-use would be the streets of an Italian city with a cafe or restaurant at street-level with residential apartments stacked above. Mixed-use development is more complicated than single-use construction, but the benefits to a city's culture are vast if done correctly.
These three terms are growing more and more common today and are incredibly useful if you have a love for cities. Try using gentrification, density and mixed-use in a conversation in the upcoming weeks and see if you can impress someone. In future posts, I will delve into other aspects of the urban environment with new vocabulary to go along with them.