Saturday, May 07, 2016

Gentrification tours

There go the realtors. Praying to St. Jane Jacobs again.
American cities that participate include Charlotte, Chapel Hill, and Durham, North Carolina; Provo and Salt Lake City, Utah; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Fargo, North Dakota; Phoenix, Arizona; and Princeton, New Jersey.

The walk in Manhattan earlier this week was part architecture and part pub crawl.

Walks are centered on themes devised by their volunteer hosts and are always free.

Their aim is to encourage encounters with the very details that can be easily missed while driving past in a car.

Although architecture plays a major role, it isn’t the only place-making factor discussed. Anything that contributes or detracts from walkers’ experience of the urban environment can be a topic of discussion.
Bullshit. Their aim is to sell real estate in "up and coming" neighborhoods
However, as urban sociologist Sharon Zukin has pointed out again and again, Jacobs’s aesthetic insights can’t make up for her avoiding of class realities. Lambasting “planners” while ignoring the far more powerful real estate developers, Jacobs’s polemic has been turned against even her prized Greenwich Village neighborhood, a site of rapacious gentrification stretching back to the 1980s.

As Zukin remarks, “What Jacobs valued — small blocks, cobblestone streets, mixed-uses, local character — have become the gentrifiers’ ideal. This is not the struggling city of working class and ethnic groups, but an idealised image that plays to middle-class tastes.” In the absence of true diversity in income and ownership, a simulacrum can be easily substituted. In my “up-and-coming” neighborhood in Washington, the superficially eclectic mix of bars and restaurants are owned by the same developer.

Zukin points out that Jacobs’ fondness for buildings ran roughshod over the actual people who made up the neighborhood. A line from the excellent gentrification documentary, Flag Wars, set in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, makes the point clearly: “I just feel bad for the houses,” intones a somber yuppie, as he gazes upon the dilapidated buildings in which his neighbors reside. Moved by this sympathy, he and his cohort of gentrifiers pressure their poorer neighbors by anonymously reporting housing code violations.
It's a shame that, with so many examples of other cities' negative experience with gentrification out there, New Orleans still has to learn the hard way.  But this is what your leaders have chosen for you.

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