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Villainous Gentrification

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"Real estate was an obvious move for us. Present your plan to dominate an entire city as an 'investment opportunity' and no one bats an eye."

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, and some villains might even try to cause or exacerbate the hellscape in order to engineer this justification. 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. Also compare Predatory Business, Railroad Plot.

The heroic counterpart to this is the Man of the City, a person (not necessarily male) who does their best to uphold and defend existing communities and provide residents with opportunities. These individuals at times perform heroic gentrification which entails providing better homes and living standards for the non-criminal inhabitants and at other times stand against the villainous kind that treat people as a liability no matter their alignment to be disposed of in order to make way for their projects that are what matters. Since villains like to see themselves as heroes in their story, speeches in favor of gentrification schemes often have them affect themselves as Man of the City types, blurring the lines between the tropes.


Compare and contrast Heel–Face Town, when a city goes from a Wretched Hive to something more positive, without necessarily being an opportunistic takeover.


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    Anime & 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 the Asterix story The Mansion of the Gods (and its 2014 animated film adaptation), Julius Caesar weaponizes the trope when he plans to build a vacation complex for wealthy Romans near the indomitable little Gaulish village in order to have it absorbed into Roman society over time via a tourist invasion.
  • Batman: No Man's Land had a subplot where 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.
  • In Black Panther and The Crew, T'challa uncovers a gentrification scheme by HYDRA 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.
  • In Volume 5 of Ms. Marvel (2014), Kamala and the residents of Jersey City 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 Jersey City and making them all move out of town.
  • ORPHANIMO!!: At the start of the series, Hari Vallalkozo has already turned pretty much the entire city center from a Victorian style neighborhood into a concrete jungle filled with skyscrapers. Now he has his eyes set on the last remaining house; the Orphanage, thus kicking off the plot.
  • Daredevil: The Inferno arc of Chip Zdarsky’s run focuses on this. A villainous brother-sister duo plans to gentrify the low income neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen by bribing or threatening emergency services to not aid the residents. And they also send a group of villains led by Bullseye to level it entirely.
  • The Kane Corporation in Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass plan to bring much of Gotham under their control by bribing building inspectors to wrongfully condemn buildings, then evict the residents and build expensive housing, shops, and schools. They’re not exactly subtle about it, either.
  • Most of Morbius's 2nd solo series deals with the gentrification of Brownsville, New York. In his 3rd solo series it's revealed he eventually took to causing the developers over a billion of dollars in damages, halting the construction and allowing the original residents to move back.
  • Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed: The overarching villain is trying to gentrify the New York community where Diana lives, and is kidnapping and selling young women and girls from the community he considers undesirable for his plans.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Banlieue 13: Ultimatum: The Evil Chancellor's whole plot entails creating enough civil violence in District 13 so he has an excuse to unleash the full power of the police on the area, move out the residents by force, and replace the low income housing with luxury apartments constructed by various companies he has invested in.
  • *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 built around the building.
  • 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.
  • 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. The Narrator Ace is no fan of the changes, making it clear that it's no different from the old management, the only difference being that the corporations put a more credible veneer of legitimacy on their crimes than the mob did.
    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. The kicker: the film is based on the real-life California water wars, which ended the same way.
  • In The Cobbler, the regular people of New York's Lower East Side are forced out of their houses by real estate developers so they can turn the area into luxury housing and retail spaces. Of course, the hero brings these plans to a stop.
  • 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.
  • This plays into the Red Herring in Hot Fuzz. Sergeant Angel suspects that supermarket manager Skinner is murdering people in order to secure control of land that will become prime value after a planned bypass is built. In fact, Skinner and his compatriots are killing anyone who stands out, in order to maintain their ideal community.
  • In The Goonies, a gang of kids must seek treasure in order to prevent ruthless developers from knocking down their neighborhood - the eponymous Goon Docks - to build a country club.
  • 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 Token Black 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.
    Hallie: Look at it. It was once a wilderness, now it's a garden. Aren't you proud?
  • The basic plot of the 1990 TV movie Return to Green Acres involves a greedy corporate land developer wanting to tear down Hooterville and turn the area into a thriving metropolis. Mr. Haney takes a level in badass by being in on the plot, and talks the residents into moving out, however, when the plot is revealed, the residents of Hooterville try to band together to stop this from happening.
  • Detroit in RoboCop films 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.
  • Tremors: By the time of Tremors 3: Back to Perfection and the following TV series, teenage jerk and former resident Melvin Puig has grown up to become a real estate developer that wants the entire valley of Perfection turned into a suburb full of mini-malls, which is something that the current residents loathe, and the fact that in order for him to be able to build he would need to violate Federal endangered species laws and kill the Graboid that lives on the valley (and in order to get someone else to break them would require getting people endangered or even killed by said Graboid) doesn't stops him one bit.
  • Vampires vs. the Bronx is centered around a gentrification metaphor, with the titular vampires both literally and figuratively sucking the life out of the neighborhood. Their modus operandi is to buy up cheap places for big, eat the former owners once the deal's done, then put in new ritzy establishments that are all just fronts for their nefarious nests. They targeted the Bronx specifically because none of the authorities bat an eye at its poor residents going missing.
  • West Side Story (2021): Unlike the stage version or 1961 film, this version explicitly mentions the post-war urban gentrification that took place in New York City in the late 1950s. The fact that the city is tearing down the Upper West Side to build Lincoln Center is a driving force in the conflict between the Jets and the Sharks, as both are being driven off their territory but are powerless to stop it.

  • 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.
  • The Pride and Prejudice update Pride by Ibi Zoboi tackles this as a theme where it's part of the Lizzie Bennet character's dislike of the Mr. Darcy character's family moving into Bushwick where it's already being gentrified with a lot of her neighbors moving because they can no longer afford to live there and the culture of the neighborhood is being altered by the ways of the newcomers (no spraying water from the fire hydrant on a hot summer day and it's less noisier).

  • Olga Dies Dreaming: As councilman, Prieto tries to preserve his neighborhood. Instead, he finds himself casting votes that favor economic developers after the Selby brothers remind him that his constituents would not want to be represented by a gay man.
  • In the second volume of the Village Tales series, Evensong, the Duke of Taunton (late major, the Intelligence Corps) has to get naïve, Liberal Democrat local councillor Teddy Gates out of just such a crisis. It's a subverted one: the threat is in Teddy's having agreed a pledge to put up social housing in the district ... despite every square foot's being scheduled at least Grade II*. (Needless to say, a crafty solution ensues. Involving retired Gurkhas.)
  • Watership Down is about a group of rabbits who leave a warren to found their own. Their old home warren is subsequently destroyed with poison gas to make room for a housing development. Might be a crossover with Green Aesop.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 (2015): Wilson Fisk is seeking to gentrify Hell's Kitchen as it rebuilds from the Incident. In one particular case, Fisk comes into conflict with Nelson & Murdock due to trying to evict people from a tenement he is condemning so he can sell it to the Hand and they can construct Midland Circle Financial. He sends enforcers posing as handymen to trash their places, and later has a junkie murder Elena Cardenas when Foggy persists that she take a bigger buyout. He's also seen as a hero by much of the city because of bringing "prosperity" and "business opportunities" to the area.
  • In The Monkees episode "Monkee for Mayor", all of the boys' elderly neighbors are being forced out of their houses so the city can build a giant parking lot.
  • 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.
  • A Christmas Episode of Quantum Leap had Sam trying to convince a property developer to not tear down a much-needed community center to build a luxury building in its place. After Sam and Al take inspiration from A Christmas Carol to show the developer the error of his ways, Al tells Sam that they'd succeeded in reaching a happy middle ground: the developer falls in love with the leader of the Salvation Army group running the community center, he goes through with his plan of tearing down the block but dedicates the lower floors of the new building to community spaces.
  • A major plot point in Shameless (US) is rich people buying up the houses in the Gallagher's neighborhood, and long time businesses being bought out and replaced with overpriced hipster businesses the locals could never afford to shop at.
  • Subverted in Star Trek: Voyager, where a lone hold-out "valiantly" refuses to sell his bookstore and allow its bulldozing for a massive new development... even though the offer is very fair, literally everyone else in town wants the development, and (with the benefit of hindsight) we know that its experimental features will lead to technological advances that will allow the colonization of Mars.
  • 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.
  • 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 buy 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.
  • In Vida, the subplot involves the characters resisting the attempts to gentrify Boyle Heights, mainly because it could raise property prices to the point that most residents couldn't afford to live there, and can potentially erase the neighborhood's beloved Latin culture.

  • This is the primary conflict in Gentefied (note the Pun-Based Title). Gentrification is raising the rent in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, so the Morales family has to find the money to keep their long-standing taco shop afloat. Gentrifying developers are portrayed as out-of-touch and insensitive to the needs of the community. When the Moraleses cater to the gentrifiers, local activists view it as a betrayal of the community.

  • 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"
  • Space's song "Neighbourhood" is all about celebrating the working class diversity of their neighbourhood as it faces a mass eviction and being bulldozed for redevelopment.
    "Oh they want to knock us down
    Cos they think we're scum
    But we will all be waiting
    When the bulldozers come."
  • The Living Colour song "Open Letter (To A Landlord)" is a direct protest against gentrification.
    "We lived here for so many years
    Now this house is full of fear
    For a profit you will take control
    Where will all the older people go?"
  • Billy Joel "No Mans Land".
    "I've seen those big machines come rolling through the quiet pines
    Blue suits and bankers with their Volvos and their valentines"

  • In Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues, Oldport has been greatly gentrified, with the people in charge eager to get rid of the last of the rundown areas. This is clearly presented as a bad thing: Devin, the person relaying this information, says that even he doesn't agree with their policies; also, one of the main characters lives in the non-gentrified area, and his struggles with poverty and ostracisation are shown in a sympathetic light.

  • 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.
  • RENT has this as one of its driving conflicts: Benny wants to build a Cyber Cafe and kick out the poor tenants of his apartment building (including his friends), which he sees as improving the city. The protagonists see him as a sell-out yuppie and, even when offered free rent, actively oppose his vision for a more upscale, less bohemian neighborhood.

    Video Games 
  • Grand Theft Auto features this as one of its themes. Corrupt builders and corporations commit or incite fake terrorist 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.
  • Similarly, Saints Row 2 sees Ultor Corporation's executive Dane Vogul fomenting a massive city-spanning gang war from behind the scenes until only one side is left standing, after which he sends in Ultor's own paramilitary Masako troops to wipe them out, buy up the war-torn properties at a fraction of their cost and turn it all into "glass towers, clean streets and nobody below the poverty line". By the time The Boss wakes up from their coma at the start of the game, he's already finished with Third Street, including the very church the Third Street Saints once called home in the first game, and rendered it all but unrecognizable.
  • In Borderlands 2, Handsome Jack's goal is to basically gentrify Pandora by murdering anyone he considers a bandit (IE; everyone) and establishing shiny new cities devoted to worshiping himself. Being a vicious psychopath, he doesn't care about how implausible or pointless this plan is and casually has the families of any employee who points this out murdered.
  • Implied in Clam Man. The Big Bad's plan is mostly just to demolish Clam Man's neighborhood because it's The Wrong Side Of The Tracks. He makes no mention of building anything in its place, but considering all the construction equipment he and his minions have, it's possible that he could be planning to build something new over it.
  • Yakuza: Like a Dragon: Bleach Japan is a group dedicated to "bleaching" the "grey zones", i.e. gentrifying the areas where quasi-illegal and illegal but traditionally ignored activity happens. Naturally, they are pawns for the Big Bad, who uses them both to squeeze small ethnic gangs for his allies in the Yakuza, and to rile up support from the Moral Guardians and the "I'm not racist, but..."-crowd for himself and his political allies.
  • In Watch_Dogs 2, the fact that developers are purposefully making their properties' rent sky high in order to squeeze out blue collar workers out the more desirable regions of the Bay Area and into the crime ridden slums becomes a plot point in the middle of the game's main storyline.

    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 
  • The DC Animated Universe:
    • 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 (the site of Crime Alley) and Bruce steps in to defend it as a vital part of the city's history.
    • 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.
  • The King of the Hill episode "Lady and Gentrification" 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.