Gentrification: The changing scenery of an ‘unsullied’ landscape
Pause and look. Strolling through the street of Accra, one can easily be distracted by the cacophony of honking cars whizzing through traffic, corporate folks agitating in their seat, anxiously checking the time as if staring at it long enough will give them ‘a nick in time’ appearance behind their office desk to avert the chide of their bosses. The monotonic chants of traders with feet-tapping chants of their wares to rope in passersby and make some quick money, smacks of diligence and smartness. Soul food? It has a different connotation on this side of the turf as the odds of one catching the whiff of the redolent meals being prepared by local eateries are high and mouthwatering.
The atmosphere? Beyond the likely nauseating stench emanating from choked drains, painfully reminding us of the nonchalance ingrained in habits and behaviors, it is one of aesthetic change, conscionable appeal and high stakes. Accra isn’t quite like the Big Apple of New York or the celebrity riddled city of Los Angeles, but being in the heart of the city where the action is purported to be and where life happens has over the years gone through some evidently shocking transformation that it evades the ‘busy bees’ who are drowned with making money and a decent life- rubbing two pesewas to make one cedi.
Housing in Ghana
Undoubtedly, the city has matured beautifully like the supple bosom of a woman. The shooting of high rise buildings, magnificent office complexes, monumental architectural buildings dotting bare grounds at various turn and curves of our landscape, screams of pulchritude. But, it comes at a price so steep that the most basic survivor makes pillow with his baggage and duvets himself on the cold hard floor. Housing is considered affordable when a household spends up to thirty percent of its gross annual income on rent or house purchase including applicable taxes, insurance and utilities.
By virtue of this definition, the spending on housing should not repudiate the capability of a household to meet other pertinent needs and requirement such as health, food, education and basically living a comfortable life. Housing in Ghana has been plagued by countless challenges with many stakeholder and opinion leaders attributing it to a system riddled with its intricate problems it barely has full grasp on- that being said, affordable housing is a whole new can of worms which plasters the cracks on the walls of housing in Ghana. According Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) between 2008 and 2014, household incomes have been increasing over the years from GH¢2,502.6 in 2006 (adjusted for inflation to 2013) to GH¢7,321.0 in 2013 - over 290% in the 7-year period. Also, average annual household cash expenditure on housing according to the Ghana Living Standards Surveys indicate that households' expenditure on housing is less than the national affordability threshold- 3.8% in 1998/1999, 9.5% in 2005/2006, 11.3%, in 2012/2013. This data also indicates that expenditure on housing and utilities as a share of household expenditure has consistently increased over the years.
It further posits that, “a significant share of Ghanaian households in both urban and rural areas are living in crowded spaces. Nearly half of all households occupy single rooms. Another 26.7% occupy two rooms. With an average household size of 4 persons, the levels of overcrowding are immediately conspicuous. As much as 19.7% of households with household sizes of 5 or more persons occupy single rooms”.
Oasis beyond the parches of poverty
Shelter, more than protecting us from the vagaries of the weather provides a sense of settlement and dignity. Sadly, it has seemingly become a pipe dream for some, and for others aesthetics, interior décor and a beautiful façade jaw dropping enough to elicit some ambition in the ordinary man is just the least of their problems. Does it shield them from the sun and stormy? Are their families safe during stormy nights? Can they go to a place they can call home? Then when it comes in the form of clustered makeshift shaft with no proper ventilation or water system that pretty much cheers the giggle out of them. The family system in Ghana is more extended than nuclear with over three generations living together in a household, albeit that’s gradually changing. As a result, there are some aspersions cast on the notion of “affordable housing”. Homelessness are not exclusive in areas such as James Town and Accra New Town enclave, where several individuals can be seen at night on pavements and verandas of shops after close of business. The Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) in 2014 estimated that there were over 90,000 youth who took shelter on the streets within the metropolis.
In urban areas, a significant share of the populace in the country's major cities live in slums. Residents in such areas including Nima, Old Fadama, New Takoradi, Ashiaman, live in particularly deplorable housing conditions with limited access to basic services. UN-Habitat in 2017 suggested about 38% of Ghanaian households live in such conditions.
The housing circumstances of Ghanaian households’ point in the direction that not only is housing expensive but the housing delivery systems are not adequately addressing the demands of the low-income market.
Gentrification and the ‘Nouveau-Riche’
Lifestyle isn’t only synonymous to the glam and glitz on the runway or the latest fashion fad. Right here on the landscape of Accra, magnificent buildings with manicured gardens and creatively painted colors, serene ambience and a character echoing sophistication is articulated rather fashionably in gated communities- where you have to be dialed in. How about that for a community in the city? With the huge splurge of such buildings by the rich who can afford this luxury, one could say that the city is looking up rather stunningly. Although there are still some who believe the poor living in such neighboring communities are being driven further into the lurch, there is one definite aspect of life which is CHANGE.
Change always crushes the sweet succulent juice out of the bruised exterior of a battered society. Most often than not, it takes the strides of gentrification to aptly rectify the planning, demarcation and aesthetic anomaly inherent in a society, even if it comes at the cost of driving other people to the point of change themselves. A major transformation is occurring in the major cities of the country and its impact far outweighs just the classic buildings of individual homes. The sprouting of high-rise buildings and office complexes taking over once slum-harbored homes in its own right, alerts the perceptive mind to the ensuing transformation of how our city has embraced growth, shedding off its dull personality. Gentrification in its most basic definition highlights the transition or process of neighborhood change that includes economic change in a historically disinvested neighborhood– by means of real estate investment and new higher income residents moving in as well as demographic change. Neighborhoods experience gentrification when an influx of investment and changes to build environments lead somewhat to rising home value, family incomes and educational level of residences. Gentrification by all standards is a sign of economic growth. As money begins to flow into a neighborhood, many aspects of everyday life are changed for the better. Buildings and parks are renovated and beautified. Cheerily, jobs arrive with the increased construction activity and new retail and service businesses and crime rates decline.
Gentrification generates mostly positive effects for the existing, generally lower-income residents of up scaling neighborhoods, some recent studies show. But that doesn’t mean that there are no losers. Neighborhood change is as complex as it always has been, which means there are near-infinite ways to decipher and judge its effects on individuals.
But the questions posed by critics of gentrification are, "Are the benefits of economic growth shared equally by new and old residents alike?" and "What is the social cost of economic growth?" These two queries raise a host of others, such as: Do wealthier new arrivals reap the majority of the benefits of increased economic activity? How does the arrival of new tastes, expectations and demographics damage the social and cultural fabric of a neighborhood?”
The picturesque view of gentrification is that the new arrivals benefit greatly from it mostly at the expense of lower-income residents. The new arrivals get affordable, chic housing and all of the expensive accoutrements of life in a trendy urban neighborhood. Interestingly, the ripple effect of these are high-end restaurants, recreation centers, salons. While long-time residents may benefit initially from cleaner, safer streets and better schools, they are eventually priced out of renting or buying. As the new arrivals impose their culture on the neighborhood, lower-income residents become economically and socially marginalized.
In 2008, researchers from University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Pittsburgh and Duke University used census data to measure the total income gain in gentrified neighborhoods over a select period of time. Interestingly, the demographic group that contributed the largest percentage to that income gain was black residents with high-school diplomas. That group contributed 33 percent of the total income gain, while college-educated whites only brought in 20 percent.
Finding the soul of a changing landscape
No doubt, Accra like most cities around the world is expanding to accommodate an expanse of economic and individual forwardness. For some, it’s a vista of not just pleasure, but the delight that things can be way better than it currently is, while others inwardly mope over the disparity the ‘gentrifiers’ are causing in their development expeditions. Even if the economic disparities aren't as blunt as they may seem, a lingering complaint about gentrification is that it destroys the soul of a neighborhood. It can be such a pleasant sight to witness people in a typical slum environment happily indulge in conversation in front of their homes, children playing football on the streets, vendors clouding the atmosphere with their aroma with ready buyers. The resolute identity, ethnic multiplicity and warm spirit that attracted the initial urban pioneers is overtaken by chain stores, overpriced food menus, dizzying rise in living condition and stripped communal belongingness. Now, albeit, these visible social effects can't be quantified by statistics, there is always that sublime need for growth and change in the life of man.