Horizontal and Vertical Gentrification

By Renard Teipelke

The best design feature of One Museum Park is that not a single view is compromised. Every vista, from every home is a spectacular one – and each is guaranteed to be unobstructed forever. From it’s [sic!] unique vantage point nestled on the shoulders of Grant Park, the panoramas stretch as far as the eye can see. The sun greets you in the morning, invigorates you in the afternoon and warms you in the evening. Simply put, this is the One with views that surpass all others.

[http://www.onemuseumpark.com/views.asp]

Living on the highest level of the recently opened One Museum Park skyscraper on Chicago’s South Side right next to Museum Park and Grand Park might provide you with sovereignty over the airspace. Approximately 200 meters above automobiles and pedestrians that are passing by one of the tallest buildings in America’s Windy City, residents might also feel superior or just happy having invested millions of US dollars in a prestigious real estate object. Besides financial considerations, purchasing an apartment above the city has something to do with values and identity – or better: identification. Along with an apartment in a high-class skyscraper come multiple amenities a majority of its residents can enjoy. This homogeneity goes against human nature to constantly differentiate oneself from others – seeking visual differences between us and them, between classes, milieus, or socio-economic strata. Applied to housing, we can observe this feature in relation to gentrification.

I think that the gentrification concept have to be furthered by differentiating between horizontal and vertical gentrification. The former one is well known as the eviction of socio-economically weaker residents from inner-city and/or popular neighborhoods to other, often more remote parts of the urban region – horizontal gentrification is a process in which change particularly takes place horizontally, which can be best identified if we look at a city from above. On the other hand, vertical gentrification can be best identified by a front view at the city – or better: its ‘skyline.’ Vertical gentrification describes affluent people’s conquest of the highest floors in high-rise buildings. Caused by increasing rents or purchase prices for the whole neighborhood, the relational difference of unit prices for different building levels increases. This change often comes along with a distinctive remodeling of top floors – as duplex apartments or merged apartments with grand balconies or generously laid-out terraces. While horizontal gentrification stands for a striving for centrality (in a popular neighborhood and in a city), vertical gentrification stands for a striving for height (in a building and over the city).

One could say that it was (and is) the basic idea of apartment housing, with its increasing prices from the lowest to the highest floor, that people of different socio-economic backgrounds live together and intermingle. Aside from the implicated idealism, I would argue that it is much more likely that direct neighbors on the same floor develop a relationship than the resident from the 16th floor with the resident from the basement flat. Even though the aforementioned Chicago skyscraper One Museum Park does offer luxury apartments on every floor, we can assume that its residents can (at least implicitly) make a fine distinction between residents from the 6th, 26th, and 60th floor. For sure, it is not a new phenomenon that top floor apartments are relatively more expensive, but the situation aggravates when these apartments get occupied by DINKs (double income, no kids) while, for instance, big families cannot find sufficiently spacious flats.

In conclusion, what is most interesting is that this vertical gentrification manifests itself in physical features of housing, whereas horizontal gentrification is much more related to aspects like the lifestyle, cultural richness, and popularity of a neighborhood. Thus, identifying the described changes to architecture in a particular neighborhood can help to recognize gentrification tendencies early on (and deal with possible challenges accordingly).

Note: I am completely aware that One Museum Park does not ideally fit the description of vertical gentrification since it is a newly constructed building. Nevertheless, its marketing perfectly illustrates the strive for height (because the ‘unobstructed view’ will definitely be partly obstructed for all the apartments of One Museum Park that do not top adjacent buildings’ height). Furthermore, this example illustrates the exclusion of particular socio-economic groups from central urban neighborhoods – though exclusion and gentrification are related but different concepts.

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One Response to Horizontal and Vertical Gentrification

  1. Pingback: The Rooftop: An Urban Refugium between Function and Lifestyle | Places.

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