Villainous Gentrification

Look at it. It was once a wilderness, now it's a garden. Aren't you proud?

Gentrification, a type of urban renovation in which older buildings are replaced with newer apartments and businesses, has become controversial over the years, viewed as a form of community displacement in which the prior residents are made to leave or be run out of business by the new tenants. As a result, fiction depicting gentrification often does so negatively, from merely an annoying attempt to market to liberal newcomers, to an evil conspiracy or ethnic cleansing scheme.

The Urban Hellscape trope is often a precursor to this trope, as the lawless and ruined city is used to justify why the Gentrification is happening in the first place. It may also be a motivation for Saving the Orphanage or otherwise raising money in order to protect a particular house or landmark. Community-Threatening Construction is a related trope focusing on one specific construction project.


Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Princess Jellyfish features a land developer company buying out homes in an old neighborhood for a gentrification project, and the main character's goal is to save their retro boardinghouse from being bought out. The characters look down on the development, and the main representative of the company is an evil vamp.

Comic Books

  • In Volume 5 of Ms. Marvel (2014), Kamala and the residents of New Jersey discover that a local avenue has been massively renovated by a new corporation. She is aghast to find her superhero image being used without permission for the company's billboards, and that her favorite Serbian-Vietnamese grocery store has been replaced by luxury condos. Investigating the operation, Kamala discovers that the rebuilding is planned for the entire city and run by Hope Yards Development and Relocation Association, aka none other than HYDRA. Their next plan? Hypnotizing all the current residents of New Jersey and making them all move out of town.
  • In Black Panther and The Crew, T'challa also uncovers a gentrification scheme by Hydra, this time targeting Harlem. Not only do they intend to move the old residents out, but are working alongside a business manufacturing robot cops and have laced the new buildings with devices meant to increase anger in the residents and encourage racial riots. But they couldn't resist building all their new complexes in the shape of the Hydra logo when seen from above.
  • DC Comics four-issue crossover series has the Justice League meet the Looney Tunes. Mister Mxyzptlk is seen planting seeds in vacant lots in downtown Metropolis. Within seconds, whole buildings rise from the ground, every one a Brand X clone of a franchise chain, such as Czarbucks coffee, Klunko's printing, et cetera. Clark Kent realizes that such oversaturation of the market will monkeywrench Metropolis's economy.
  • No Man's Land had a subplot where Batman and Bruce Wayne tries to stop Lex Luthor from using the earthquake and the shutdown of Gotham City to buy up property on the cheap and crush the communities.
  • ORPHANIMO!!: The series resolves around an old Victorian style orphanage which is the last original building standing in a city that has been turned into a concrete jungle of skyscrapers by Big Bad Hari Vallalkozo, who has his eyes set on the orphanage so he can use the land for his latest project.

Animated Film
  • In Up, the elderly Carl is pressured by the city skyscraper building company to sell his old Victorian home that he and his late wife have used ever since they were children. Carl refuses, but ends up losing ownership when he injures a construction worker and the case is used to declare him unfit to live alone and his house to be torn down.
  • Hey Arnold!: The Movie centers around Arnold's neighborhood being targeted for replacement as a shopping mall. The kids set out to save their houses by acquiring a document certifying their neighborhood as a historic district, currently owned by none other than the CEO planning to mow down their homes.

Live-Action Film
  • Burlesque has the LA burlesque theater risking being shut down and replaced with a skyscaper and condos. However, the conflict is easily resolved by Ali and Tess of the theater by convincing the condo owner to spare their theater since the skyscraper would obstruct the view from his condos.
  • *batteries not included: The residents of an old apartment building are fighting to keep it from being demolished by a company that wants the property for their new high-rise complex. It gets burned down in the end, but the Fix-Its return and rebuild the place, good as new. The high-rises are then build around the building.
  • Casino by Martin Scorsese mostly deals with the bad-old days of Las Vegas when it was run by The Mafia. The finale shows the end of the mob-run casinoes, who are now bought by corporations, and The Narrator Ace is no fan of the changes, and he makes it clear that it's Not So Different from the old management:
    Ace: The town will never be the same. After the Tangiers, the big corporations took it all over. Today it looks like Disneyland. And while the kids play cardboard pirates, Mommy and Daddy drop the house payments and Junior's college money on the poker slots. In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, it's like checkin' into an airport. And if you order room service, you're lucky if you get it by Thursday. Today, it's all gone. You get a whale show up with four million in a suitcase, and some twenty-five-year-old hotel school kid is gonna want his Social Security Number. After the Teamsters got knocked out of the box, the corporations tore down practically every one of the old casinos. And where did the money come from to rebuild the pyramids? Junk bonds.
  • Chinatown and its elaborate layered plot concerns an artificial drought as a result of water being dammed out, to chase farmers from their land, so that the terrain can be bought on the cheap, developed, and suburbanized. It succeeds.
  • Escape 2000 is about a Mega Corp. trying to turn a crime-filled Bronx into a new planned community ("Leave the Bronx!"), murdering its current inhabitants while claiming to move them to New Mexico.
  • Hands over the City, an Italian film by Francesco Rosi concerns an investigation into a corrupt municipal building authority of Naples as they sell contracts illegally to builders who build property on the cheap, take away land, built dilapidated poor housing that collapses easily, and crushes most of its residents.
  • It's a Wonderful Life by Frank Capra has the finale showing its protagonist a vision of an alternate world where Bedford Falls becomes transformed into the nightmarish Pottersville, an exploitative run-down Vice City and Urban Hellscape where the independent small-businesses and home-owners of Bedford Falls become impoverished slum dwellers.
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance by John Ford doesn't show gentrification as something done by villains, but he is nonetheless critical of it and sees its benefits as coming with a tragic price. It's clear that Shinbone, the lawless town that in the present-day Framing Device has largely not benefited the poor and the oppressed and possibly made their lives worse (the poor white Tom Doniphon, and his Black Best Friend are living in ramshackle circumstances, and Ransom Stoddard condescends to the latter. His own wife, Hailie, laments the loss of the wilderness in favour of an artificial garden, and the death of Tom Doniphon.
  • Robocop: Detroit has become a dangerous Urban Hellscape that even the police are powerless to control. The Mega Corp., OCP, thus plans to demolish the city and rebuild it as Delta City, which would be controlled and operated almost exclusively by OCP and patrolled by robot police under the employ of OCP. While this is merely a looming threat that drives the plot in the first two movies, stopping OCP from destroying their city and homes is the main conflict of Robocop 3.

Literature
  • Discussed in Patriot Games. Jack Ryan sees a bunch of charming old homes in England, noting to himself that in the US they'd be torn down and replaced by a bunch of soulless glass boxes.

Live-Action TV
  • In Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the elderly Cloud Cuckoo Lander Lilian Kaustupper worships her decaying, crime-ridden neighborhood as a sort of vague benevolent force/natural order, and tries to make it appear worse than it is to avoid the intrusion of outsiders and its eventual gentrification. What starts as a comedic subplot becomes arguably the most important plotline of the show, and gets increasingly serious as episodes pass. Her situation is made all the more poignant in that, after accidentally killing her husband, the lost souls she takes under her wing are the only family she has. Those people (for instance a Camp Gay black singer who can't get a role in the Lion King musical because he can't pass as a straight giraffe and the Child Bride of the leader of an apocalypse cult whose naivete and tragic backstory keep being exploited) are constantly rejected by society, and it's shown that their little Dysfunction Junction is the only place in which they can be safe and happy. Eventually she becomes a heroic champion of her people and has to enter politics to defend everyone's interest.
  • This trope constantly hangs over The Wire. Gentrification is presented as, at best, attempting to paper over the problems of the city, and at worst as almost an equal force with the city's prodigious crime rate in making the city unlivable and unable to pull itself out of its downward spiral. Also, every real estate developer encountered for more than a few seconds is greedy, corrupt, and willing to screw over anyone to make a few dollars. Specific examples include:
    • Real estate developer Andy Krawczyk is a major behind the scenes power in Baltimore. He's also the very model of a corrupt developer, pushing to do things like building luxury condos after doing a land grab, skirting the law to bribe officials, bending city hall to do his bidding in everything from zoning laws to who gets promoted within the police force.
    • Drug kingpins often buy up cheap real estate in bad neighborhoods, then profit massively from corrupt deals made with developers or the city when the land has to be bought for urban renewal.
    • The second season features a protracted fight between the union dockworkers and the aforementioned Andy Krawczyk over a pier that has fallen into disuse. The dockworkers want to repair and reopen the space for commercial use, which could mean adding hundreds of badly needed jobs and giving that area of the city a chance at genuine renewal. Krawczyk wants to simply take the land and build luxury apartments near the water.
      • The second season also has a short incident where Nick Sobotka, the nephew of the head of the dockworkers union, attempts to by a house that used to belong to an aunt of his, only to find that due to gentrification the prices of real estate have soared so much that he could never hope to buy property in that neighborhood, showing how blue collar locals get squeezed out by gentrification.
    • There's a darkly humorous case in the third season. Stringer Bell, the Dragon-in-Chief of what was the biggest drug empire in the city when the story began, is trying to move into legitimate business and become a real estate mogul/developer. The business partners who are supposed to be helping him do this, Andy Krawczyk and State Senator Clay Davis, are actually conning him out of money while his projects go nowhere. They are literally bigger crooks than one of the biggest drug dealers in town and can cheat him with impunity. Stringer's attempt to get into the real estate business is discussed by a group of detectives who investigated him in Season 1 and are now doing so again.
      Detective Freamon: You know, a couple of years ago when they were buying all that downtown real estate, I thought they were buying it to flip it. Get the cash when the federal payout lands and the properties are condemned.
      Detective Pryzbylewski: Bell and Barksdale haven't sold any of it. They're buying more, in fact, and applying for building permits.
      Detective Freamon: Seems that Stringer Bell is worse than a drug dealer.
      Detective Pryzbylewski: with distate] He's a developer.
  • One of the earliest episodes of Burn Notice concerns a greedy extortionist demanding outrageous sums of protection money from a Hispanic neighborhood and busting up the homes and businesses of anyone unable or unwilling to pay. (Or worse.) As she explains to Michael when he goes undercover as a crook and joins her gang, she wants the rates to be too high to afford and to drive out the people who are unable to go to the police. That way, the real estate companies she owns can swoop in and buy up the property cheap, making far more money on it when the city later goes to gentrify the area than she ever could from simple protection rackets.
  • Daredevil: Season 1 is based on Wilson Fisk's plan to gentrify Hell's Kitchennote , using intimidation to force the poorer residents to leave the area for his benefit. When tenets of an apartment he wants to tear down to build condos refuse to leave, he has "handymen" trash their rooms, and later has a junkie murder a woman who still persists. He's also seen as a hero by much of the city because of bringing "prosperity" and "business opportunities" to the area.
  • Gentrification is a major theme in Superior Donuts. Arthur, the owner of the titular donut shop, is fighting to stay in business in a gentrified neighborhood as one of the only remaining original tenants. His neighbor Faz keeps trying to buy him out so he can expand his own business and cater to a more upscale clientele, while Arthur's new employee Franco tries to get his business model up to date and cater to the hipsters.
  • A rare positive depiction of gentrification is seen in Parks and Recreation. Leslie, now head of the National Parks Department, wants to buy a parcel of land to make it into a national park, but has to compete with a large tech company that wants to build its new headquarters there. The solution is to convince the company to relocate to Pawnee's largely abandoned warehouse district, thus sparing the parcel.

Music
  • The Kinks kept dealing with gentrification in their songs, and always in a negative and mocking way:
    • Their song "Shangri-La" from their album, Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
    "And all the houses in the street have got a name
    Cause all the houses in the street; they look the same:
    Same chimney puff; same little car; same window pane!
    [...]
    The gas bills and the water rates, the payments on the car!
    Too scared to think about how insecure you are!
    Life ain't so happy in your little Shangri-La!"
    • Muswell Hillbillies dealt with this trope multiple times in many songs. The songs deal not only with physical and actual gentrification but also psychological and social gentrification (i.e. change in lifestyles, attitudes to body weight, consumerist fantasies) and so on. The title songs keep tackling it:
    "They're putting us identical little boxes
    No character just uniformity
    They're trying to build a computerised community
    But they'll never make a zombie out of me

    They'll try and make me study elocution
    Because they say my accent isn't right
    They can clear the slums as part of their solution
    But they're never gonna kill my cockney pride"

Theatre
  • Gentrification haunts In the Heights due to the ever-increasing cost of rent. The Hispanic inhabitants of the Heights put gentrification alongside racism and failing education in "96,000" and in "Finale," the protagonist laments that no one will remember the Heights he knew once the entire neighborhood is filled with rich hipsters.

Video Games
  • Grand Theft Auto features this as one of its themes. Corrupt builders, corporations, terrorist stage attacks, acts of violence, and sabotage to drive down prices of property so they can buy it cheap and then make a profit.
    "Nothing brings down real-estate prices like a good old-fashioned gang war."

Web Original
  • Gente-fied examines the process occurring in a Boyle Heights neighborhood, with characters from a white property owner who thinks the Hispanic residents should be grateful his trendier stores raised the local property values, to Latino and Latina residents who either reject the encroaching rebuilding or attempt to assimilate but with mixed success.

Western Animation
  • DCAU featured this in the Batman series.
    • Batman: The Animated Series had Roland Daggett try and chase away residents of Crime Alley, so that he could buy their property cheap and sell it to make a killing. He does it by sending arsonists to set a series of fires and crimes to astroturf a crime wave and disorder.
    • Batman Beyond set in the future is set in the gentrified Neo-Gotham and a plot early in the series has Derek Powers wanting to tear down the dilapidated ruins of Old Gotham (which has crime alley) and Bruce steps in to defend it as a vital part of the city's history.
  • An episode of King of the Hill has Peggy try her hand at selling real estate. She sells a house in Enrique's neighborhood to a hipster who later gets his friends to move into the other houses. At first, the changes are benign ("They put salmon in the fish taco!"), but Enrique later reveals that the gentrification has caused his rent to skyrocket.
  • In South Park's Season 19 episode "The City Part of Town", the town, in response to Jimmy Fallon's demeaning commentary, gentrifies the area around Kenny's house in a bid to get their own Whole Foods, which would validate them for being socially conscious. However, the resulting urban development does nothing to help Kenny and his family. Soon, the local Asian Store-Owner, forgotten by the rest of South Park, gets the idea to revitalize his own rundown part of town as well, and it ends up becoming the home for South Park's Whole Foods (and subsequently rendering the original gentrified district abandoned). The consequences of this scheme was explored for the rest of the season, especially in the final three episodes.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/VillainousGentrification