Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Naked City

I heard a great interview on WNYC today with a sociologist named Sharon Zurkin. She's the author of a new book on gentrification on NYC called Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places.

The reasons for gentrification are not new. It follows a basic pattern: poor and working class areas (like Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan or Willamsburg in Brooklyn) became more expensive when upper-middle class and rich people started moving in. The people who lived there before are pushed out and the character of the neighborhood changes.

What's interesting about Zurkin's view of gentrification is that she belives it's driven by the desire of the gentrifiers for "authenticity", the "real" urban experience. As the book's online description indicates "the emphasis on neighborhood distinctiveness has become a tool of economic elites to drive up real estate values and effectively force out the neighborhood 'characters
'" that make these neighborhoods so desirable in the first place. Her counter intuitive argument is that the more people try to preserve the "character" of neighborhoods, trying to preserve their "uniqueness", this turns into a racket by developers and "elites" to drive up real estate prices and open up expensive stores and restaurants that make these neighborhoods more and more unaffordable to anyone but the very wealthy. It's an interesting hypothesis -- and certainly to be a very controversial one amongst the NYC intelligentsia.

To get a better idea of Zurkin's theory, you can listen to her interview here.

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