Here's how you can use social media to spot early signs of gentrification

London's rapidly gentrifying East End. Image: Getty.

When you walk through a neighbourhood undergoing gentrification, you can sense it. The area is dominated by strange contradictions. Public spaces are populated by vagabonds and cool kids; abandoned buildings sit in disrepair next to trendy coffee shops; blocks of council housing abut glassy new developments.

Urbanists describe gentrification as a form of urban migration, where a more affluent population displaces the original, lower-income population. In statistics, gentrification appears as the lowering of crime rates, rising housing prices and changes to the mix of people who live there.

If we could only predict where gentrification is likely to strike next, we might be able to alleviate its negative impacts – such as displacement – and take advantage of its more positive effects, which include economic growth.

That’s why our latest study – conducted with colleagues at the University of Birmingham, Queen Mary University of London, and University College London – aimed to quantify the process of gentrification, and discover the warning signs.

Detecting urban diversity

We constructed four measures of urban social diversity using data from social media. By combining these measures with government statistics about deprivation, we were able to pinpoint a number of neighbourhoods undergoing gentrification in London.

Of course, social media is notoriously unsuitable for population studies, because of the “digital divide” – the split between people who can access the internet and those who can’t exists even within urban areas. And so, information from social media only captures part of the overall picture. Twitter users in particular are known to be predominantly young, affluent and living in urban areas.

But these are precisely the demographics responsible for gentrification. So, we used information from social media from 2010 and 2011 to define the “social diversity” of urban venues such as restaurants, bars, schools and parks.

Urban social diversity – in terms of population, economy and architecture – is known to be a factor in successful communities. In her famous book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, urban activist Jane Jacobs wrote that “cities differ from towns and suburbs in basic ways, and one of these is that cities are, by definition, full of strangers”.

Dropping in. Image: David Abrahamovitch/Flickr/creative commons.

In our work, we first measured the amount of strangers that a place brings together as the fraction of the social network of visitors who are connected on social media. This gave us an idea of whether a place tends to be frequented by strangers or friends. We further explored the diversity of these visitors in terms of their mobility preferences and spontaneity in choice of venues. Although we did not consider demographics or income levels, there is a known relationship between the wealth of people and the diversity of their geographical interactions.

We studied the social network of 37,000 London users of Twitter, and combined it with what we knew about their mobility patterns from geo-located Foursquare check-ins posted to their public profiles.

By studying the amount of strangers versus friends meeting at a bar, or the number of diverse versus similar individuals visiting an art gallery, we were able to quantify the overall diversity of London neighbourhoods, in terms of their visitors.

Networks are powerful representations of the relationships between people and places. Not only can we draw links between people where a relationship – such as friendship – exists between them; we can also draw connections between two places if a visitor has been to both. We can even connect the two networks, by drawing links between people in the social network who have visited specific spots in the place network.

In this way, we are able to extract the social network of a place, and the place network of a person. By the time we’d finished crunching the data, we could take stock of the range of people who had visited a specific place, and the different places visited by any individual.

When we compared the diversity of urban neighbourhoods with official government statistics on deprivation, we found that some highly deprived areas were also extremely socially diverse. In other words, there were lots of diverse social media users visiting some of London’s poorest neighbourhoods.


Diminishing deprivation

To find out what was going on, we took the newly published deprivation indices for 2015 and looked for changes in the levels of deprivation from our study period in 2011. The relationship was striking. The areas where we saw high levels of social diversity and extreme deprivation in 2011 were exactly the same areas that had experienced the greatest decreases in deprivation by 2016.

A prime example can be found in the London borough of Hackney. Anyone visiting Hackney might describe it in terms of the contradictions we mentioned before – but few of us could afford to live there today. In our study, Hackney was the highest ranking in deprivation and the highest ranking in social diversity in 2011. Between then and now, it has gone from the being the second most deprived neighbourhood in the country, to the 11th.

So, although social media may not be representative of the entire population, it can offer the key to measuring and understanding the processes of gentrification. Neither entirely good nor thoroughly bad, gentrification is a phenomenon that we should all watch out for. It will undoubtedly help to define how our cities transform in years to come.The Conversation

Desislava Hristova is a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

More than 830 cities have brought essential services back under public control. Others should follow

A power station near Nottingham: not one owned by Robin Hood Energy, alas, but we couldn't find anything better. Image: Getty.

The wave of cities worldwide rejecting privatization is far bigger and more successful than anyone thought, according to a new report from the Transnational Institute, Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation. Some 835 cities in 45 countries have brought essential services like water, energy and health care back under public control.

The persistent myth that public services are by nature more expensive and less efficient is losing its momentum. Citizens and users do not necessarily have to resign to paying increasingly higher tariffs for lower standard services. The decline of working conditions in public services is not an inevitability.

And the ever larger role private companies have played in public service delivery may at last be waning. The remunicipalisation movement – cities or local authorities reclaiming privatised services or developing new options – demonstrates that cities and citizens are working to protect and reinvent essential services.

The failure of austerity and privatisation to deliver promised improvements and investments is part of the reason this movement has advanced. But the real driver has been a desire to meet goals such as addressing climate change or increasing democratic participation in service provision. Lower costs and tariffs, improved conditions for workers and better service quality are frequently reported following remunicipalisation.  Meanwhile transparency and accountability have also improved.

Where remunicipalisation succeeds, it also tends to inspire other local authorities to make similar moves. Examples are plentiful. Municipalities have joined forces to push for renewable, climate-friendly energy initiatives in countries like Germany. Public water operators in France and Catalonia are sharing resources and expertise, and working together to overcome the challenges they meet.

Outside Europe, experiments in public services are gaining ground too. Delhi set up 1,000 Mohalla (community) clinics across the city in 2015 as a first step to delivering affordable primary health care. Some 110 clinics were working in some of the poorest areas of Delhi as of February 2017. The Delhi government claims that more than 2.6m of its poorest residents have received free quality health care since the clinics were set up.


Local authorities and the public are benefiting from savings too. When the Nottingham City Council found out that many low-income families in the city were struggling to pay their energy bills, they set up a new supply company. The company, Robin Hood Energy, which offers the lowest prices in the UK, has the motto: “No private shareholders. No director bonuses. Just clear transparent pricing.”

Robin Hood Energy has also formed partnerships with other major cities. In 2016, the city of Leeds set up the White Rose Energy municipal company to promote simple no-profit tariffs throughout the Yorkshire and Humberside regions. In 2017, the cities of Bradford and Doncaster agreed to join the White Rose/Robin Hood partnership.

Meanwhile, campaigners with Switched on London are pushing their city to set up a not-for-profit energy company with genuine citizen participation. The motivations in these diverse cities are similar: young municipal companies can simultaneously beat energy poverty and play a key role in achieving a just and renewable energy transition.

Remunicipalised public services often involve new forms of participation for workers and citizens. Remunicipalisation is often a first step towards creating the public services of the future: sustainable and grounded in the local economy. Inspiration can be found in the European towns and villages aiming for 'zero waste' with their remunicipalised waste service, or providing 100 per cent locally-sourced organic food in their remunicipalised school restaurants.

Public services are not good simply because they are not private. Public services must also continuously renew themselves, grow, innovate and recommit to the public they serve.

The push for remunicipalisation in Catalonia, for example, has come from a movement of citizen platforms. For them, a return to public management is not just an end in itself, but a first step towards the democratic management of public services based on ongoing civil participation.

Evidence is building that people are able to reclaim public services and usher in a new generation of public ownership. The momentum is building, as diverse movements and actors join forces to bring positive change in communities around the world.

You can read the Transnational Institute report, “Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation”, on its website.