The Milanese lifestyle of crossing thriving, café-filled streets and sipping on an Aperol Spritz often seems to be an epitome of perfection. Yet, the realisation of this way of life seems to be coming at a massive cost. With annually increasing rent prices and skyrocketing living costs, Milan seems to be facing increasing social segregation and displacement of locals.
The charming area of Porta Genova is probably one of the most popular after-class destinations for Bocconi students. Located in Milan’s party centre and filled with dozens of cosy cafes and bars, it seems the perfect place to be. Yet, the Porta Genova neighbourhood was not always the lively cultural district it is today. Two decades ago, this was an industrial area that fostered the community of blue-collar workers. The agent responsible for the transformation is gentrification, a process that entirely alters the character of a community by bringing in new businesses and residents. While it sounds great, it all comes at a cost. Together with brand new wineries and hipster bookshops, gentrification displaces the most vulnerable members of community and causes socioeconomic segregation.
Navigli is not the only victim of the aforementioned process. In the 1980s, Milan’s Chinatown was not the trendiest area either. Petty crimes and illegal hostels were just the tip of the iceberg compared to the stabbings, murders and underage labor that was prominent in the area. Miraculously, everything started to change in the 2010s as new roads were built, trendy restaurants established themselves in the area and companies started moving in. However, while gentrification allows locals to enjoy well-developed infrastructure, safer communities and a larger variety of goods, there are two sides to every coin. With new companies and residents coming into these renovated areas, the competition over housing and accommodation drives rent prices to sky-high levels. The more privileged individuals coming into the area are capable of affording apartment rent and high living costs, while the impoverished and lower-middle class are not. This causes a tremendous issue of displacement, since many residents who had spent their entire lives in these communities are forced out of their hometowns into poorer areas with below-par infrastructure. It is crucial to note that even if these individuals own the property they live on, they still have to endure constantly increasing living costs. The incredibly stressful paycheck to paycheck lifestyle and overwhelming rise in prices is what pushes people out of cities like Milan. But displacement does not solely force people to endure worse living conditions. Many of the displaced have been residents of the area for generations, meaning that by being forced out of their homes, they’re leaving their community, their memories, their cultural heritage behind.
Displacement and socioeconomic segregation are prominent in other Italian cities, too. In the past decades, popular tourist destinations like Florence, Siena or Pisa have seen a great increase in locals being pushed out of their own homes and getting displaced. The rise in tourism has incentivised new companies, hotels and cafes to move into rural areas, which in turn has resulted in the character of the entire community changing. One of Italy’s most infamous cases is that of a small village called Castelfalfi, located near Florence. The town has seen its population decrease from 600 to only 15 permanent residents in a couple of decades. But recently Milan has been regarded as Italy’s most nefarious displacement case due to having the highest rent prices in Europe. With rental prices increasing by 3.49% annually, the less wealthy are forced out of their own homes into the outskirts of the city, where infrastructure and public services do not live up to the standards of the city centre.
It must be mentioned that gentrification is not a new phenomenon – it is, in fact, a natural process brought upon by economic development and growth. While all of us resent the annual increase in rent prices, we cannot ignore the fact that gentrification has a good side to it, too. The quality of infrastructure in Navigli, Chinatown and even the Bocconi area is incomparable to what it was 20 years ago. The undeniable urban development is bringing in not only new cafes and modern buildings, but an increase in jobs together with greater diversity in workplace options. There are two sides to the coin of gentrification and regardless of how you look at it, it’s impossible to stop it. Yet there is a little something you can do. The next time you are grabbing a cappuccino on the way to the university or craving for a panini during the lunch break, consider stopping by an old, family-owned restaurant. Your input, no matter how small, will contribute to the welfare of the community that has been there for decades and deserves to stay.