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The Impact of Gentrification on Our GLBTIQ Life

by De Ket in Columns & Opinions , 30 April 2020

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

What is gentrification exactly? Wikipedia has the most concise, and in my view, downright pertinent definition: "Gentrification is a process of upgrading a neighborhood or district in the social, cultural and economic field, attracting wealthy new residents / users and the associated expulsion of the lower classes from a neighborhood or district. The 'upgrade' is accompanied by an increase in property prices and rents."

The only drawback in this definition is the mention that this social / financial phenomenon mainly occurs in larger cities, such as provincial capitals or capital cities. It is often also a political decision by the city council to convince many wealthy people or large chain stores to move closer to the centre or to start an outlet there. Thus, the city council hopes to raise more money through taxes. Social housing in the centre? Forget that! That doesn’t bring in any money. It only costs money, so they say.

The first victims of gentrification are the non-wealthy inhabitants. In the long term, they can no longer pay the rent and are subtly forced to live in a (problematic) neighborhood outside of the city. “They don’t contribute to the local merchants anyway,” is a frequently heard argument. Retailers, bakers and butchers often have to cough up more rent and consequently have no choice but to either close or move to another location.

The same holds true for the quasi-only bookshop in Paris with a full range of GLBTIQ literature, Les Mots à la Bouche (literally Words in the Mouth) in the Parisian district of Le Marais, a neighborhood with the largest number of gay bars and establishments.

Gentrification has been going on in Le Marais for several years. Where until recently there were cosy bars and brasseries, those retail spaces were bought and/or rented out to global cooperations, such as Zara, H&M, and Vuitton and Chanel also open shops there. This attracts of course a certain clientele, which only comes if there is a large supply of that type of store.

At the end of the commercial lease contracts, owners are not at all hesitant to offer a new lease with double, or even triple the rent. Some traders, who have to survive on narrow sales margins, have no choice. Booksellers fall under this category, especially if they target a specific readership.

Les Mots à la Bouche
Les Mots à la Bouche is a household name in Paris. I have rarely seen such a wide range of French, but also international GLBTIQ magazines and books. However, economic laws have forced the owner to cancel the lease, which will immediately remove an iconic GLBTIQ establishment from the Parisian Marais district. It has long seemed it would finally close its doors, but Les Mots à la Bouche will reopen due to a combination of circumstances.

Not in Le Marais, but in the eleventh “arrondissement,” between the Gare du Nord and the Bastille, two famous spots in the city. In fact, following the book shop, other GLBTIQ bars and venues now also plan to eventually create a new gay neighborhood there. Other establishments are now also in dire straits financially.

Paris is not the only example of how GLBTIQ bars and venues are forced to either close or move due to the phenomenon of gentrification. Look at London, where infamous clubs like Hoist or XXL have decided to put a stop to their activities because of high rents and large-scale real estate projects.

They can no longer stay in their original venue.

According to certain sociologists, it is not strange that neighborhoods where many gays come and live, through real estate speculation, are the first targets (or victims) of the phenomenon of gentrification.

Le Marais
A large group of GLBTIQ people do not have a bad life, have a good purchasing power, and can either pay a decent rent, or buy a nice (and therefore expensive) apartment. With gentrification, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to continue to live there if the prices go up.

In Paris this may be possible for the relatively well-off GLBTIQ’s, but for their night and social life, they will have to move to or visit another part of Paris. And the other part of the GLBTIQ community that still lives in Le Marais will have to move to cheaper city districts, or its periphery.

Yours sincerely,

De Ket




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