The racial­ized poli­cies be­hind gen­tri­fied neigh­bor­hoods.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - RE­VIEW BY PAMELA NEWKIRK Pamela Newkirk is a pro­fes­sor of jour­nal­ism at New York Univer­sity and the au­thor of “Spec­ta­cle: The As­ton­ish­ing Life of Ota Benga.”

For more than a decade, the trans­for­ma­tion of blighted ur­ban ar­eas into glis­ten­ing global bea­cons for trendy cof­fee shops and well-heeled whites has com­manded na­tional head­lines. Rarely do the ar­ti­cles re­veal the be­hind-thescenes machi­na­tions that re­sult in the sys­tem­atic dis­place­ment of tens of thou­sands of of­ten black and brown poor, work­ing- and mid­dle­class peo­ple who van­ish, seem­ingly overnight, fol­lowed by their churches, cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions, beauty sa­lons and other haunts.

But two new books fix a bright light on the un­der­side of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and the racial­ized poli­cies and prac­tices be­hind the dra­matic re­vi­tal­iza­tion of un­der-re­sourced com­mu­ni­ties that some­how be­come up­scale bas­tions of white mil­len­ni­als and priv­i­leged elites.

“The New Ur­ban Cri­sis” by Richard Flor­ida and “How to Kill a City” by Peter Moskowitz vividly ex­pose how gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, fol­lowed by ris­ing hous­ing costs, con­cen­trated af­flu­ence and glar­ing in­equal­ity, has pushed the dis­placed into de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sub­urbs far from mass tran­sit, em­ploy­ment, ser­vices and de­cent schools.

Flor­ida, an ur­ban-the­ory pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Toronto, be­came the global guru of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion with his 2002 book, the “The Rise of the Cre­ative Class.” The cel­e­brated book se­cured him a TED Talk and in­ter­na­tional ac­claim by out­lin­ing how cities could re­vi­tal­ize un­der-re­sourced com­mu­ni­ties by of­fer­ing gen­er­ous tax breaks and other in­cen­tives to lure de­vel­op­ers, high-tech busi­nesses and the cre­ative class — an amor­phous mix of artists, in­tel­lec­tu­als and col­lege-ed­u­cated mil­len­ni­als. By high­light­ing the prof­itabil­ity of in­vest­ments in de­pressed ar­eas that of­fer mass trans­porta­tion, in­no­va­tion and op­por­tu­ni­ties, Flor­ida helped spark a re­verse white flight, draw­ing res­i­dents from the sub­urbs into cities.

In ret­ro­spect, Flor­ida now says the trans­for­ma­tion he long championed ben­e­fited a rel­a­tively small, priv­i­leged elite in a hand­ful of what he calls su­per­star cities such as New York, Lon­don, Paris and San Francisco. “I re­al­ized I had been overly op­ti­mistic to be­lieve that cities and the cre­ative class could, by them­selves, bring forth a bet­ter and more in­clu­sive kind of ur­ban­ism,” he writes. In­stead, the cities with the high­est lev­els of wage in­equal­ity hap­pened to be those with the most de­vel­oped cre­ative economies. “But even as I was doc­u­ment­ing these new di­vides,” Flor­ida writes, “I had no idea how fast they would metas­ta­size, or how deeply po­lar­ized these cities would be­come.” He says there are now 3.5 mil­lion more poor peo­ple in sub­urbs than in cities. “And the ranks of the sub­ur­ban poor are grow­ing much faster than they are in cities, by a stag­ger­ing 66 per­cent be­tween 2000 and 2013,” he says.

While both new books high­light the poli­cies and prac­tices that kicked gen­tri­fi­ca­tion into over­drive, they dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer in tone, per­spec­tive and ap­proach. Flor­ida’s data-driven book clin­i­cally dis­sects global gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and high­lights its im­pact on Amer­ica’s de­clin­ing white mid­dle-class. Moskowitz, a jour­nal­ist, mov­ingly con­veys the phe­nom­e­non’s emo­tional and some­times tragic toll as he high­lights its stark racial re­al­i­ties in Detroit, San Francisco, New York and New Or­leans.

In Detroit, he dis­cov­ered a tale of two cities: an en­clave of af­flu­ent whites oc­cu­py­ing 7.2 square miles of the bustling down­town core, while many African Amer­i­cans strug­gle for sur­vival in the re­main­ing and crum­bling 135 square miles. African Amer­i­cans make up 83 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, and many en­dure crip­pling poverty, fore­clo­sures, wa­ter shut-offs, de­pres­sion and ill­ness.

Moskowitz says 68 per­cent of the city’s mort­gages were sub­prime, com­pared with 24 per­cent na­tion­ally, and half of res­i­dents who tried to par­tic­i­pate in a tax re­lief pro­gram were de­nied, re­sult­ing in more than half their homes be­ing gut­ted or left va­cant.

Mean­while, Dan Gil­bert, the owner of Quicken Loans, one of the na­tion’s largest mort­gage com­pa­nies, as well as the NBA’s Cleve­land Cava­liers, owns at least 80 build­ings in Detroit’s flour­ish­ing core, where hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in new pub­lic trans­porta­tion, parks, bike lanes and hous­ing have sprung up. The de­vel­op­ment, fu­eled by gov­ern­ment tax breaks and other in­cen­tives, is over­seen by pow­er­ful non­prof­its that are not ac­count­able to the cit­i­zenry.

“Detroit is 83 per­cent black, but the new Detroit — the one that gets all the at­ten­tion and press — is over­whelm­ingly white,” Moskowitz says. More­over, nearly 70 per­cent of the grantees of non­prof­its com­mit­ted to re­vi­tal­iza­tion are white.

The new, gen­tri­fied city comes at the cost of mass dis­place­ment of tens of thou­sands of lowand mid­dle-class res­i­dents, many of them black and brown. Moskowitz says some 5,500 San Francisco res­i­dents are evicted each year; the city’s Mis­sion area, which was largely Latino, lost 1,400 Lati­nos and gained 2,900 whites be­tween 1990 and 2011. In neigh­bor­ing Oak­land, the African Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion dropped from 43 per­cent to 26 per­cent dur­ing that same pe­riod. New Or­leans lost nearly 100,000 African Amer­i­cans who were un­able to re­turn af­ter Hur­ri­cane Katrina.

Mean­while, dur­ing Michael Bloomberg’s ten­ure as New York’s mayor, thou­sands of rent-con­trolled apart­ments were dereg­u­lated, re­sult­ing in tens of thou­sands of evic­tions, with 29,000 dur­ing his last year in of­fice alone. Un­der Bloomberg, 40 per­cent of the city — and most of Brook­lyn — was re­zoned to cre­ate high-end de­vel­op­ments. In neigh­bor­hoods like Wil­liams­burg and Green­point, 170 blocks were re­zoned in 2005; rent has in­creased 78 HOW TO KILL A CITY By Peter Moskowitz Na­tion. 258 pp. $26.99 per­cent in those two neigh­bor­hoods over the past two decades, help­ing to make Brook­lyn the least-af­ford­able mar­ket in the coun­try.

Moskowitz, who was him­self priced out of the Green­wich Vil­lage neigh­bor­hood he grew up in, re­lo­cated to Brook­lyn and is mind­ful of his own com­plic­ity in the cy­cle he be­moans. “I rep­re­sent the domino ef­fect,” he writes. “I know my ex­is­tence in this bor­ough comes at the cost of the era­sure of oth­ers’ cul­tures and senses of home.” He adds: “If peo­ple saw them­selves as part of a sys­tem per­pet­u­at­ing white supremacy, brunch would be less fun.”

“How to Kill a City” of­ten casts the prob­lem of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in stark terms, pit­ting rich against poor, black against white, while deem­pha­siz­ing the fate of the dis­ap­pear­ing mid­dle of all races. At times, the bla­tantly dis­crim­i­na­tory poli­cies Moskowitz cites cry out for com­ment from city and state of­fi­cials. How­ever, he poignantly con­veys how gen­tri­fi­ca­tion grows out of a legacy of racial discrimination as he un­masks the wrench­ing and of­ten over­looked era­sure of peo­ple of color from the city’s land­scape and mem­ory. In the process Moskowitz valiantly cap­tures the hu­man di­men­sion of a cri­sis for which many are com­plicit but few claim re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“The New Ur­ban Cri­sis” is more nu­anced and pro­poses so­lu­tions, in­clud­ing more clus­ter­ing in sub­urbs to spark in­no­va­tion, the cre­ation of “refugee cities” for the dis­placed and in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment poli­cies that pri­or­i­tize strate­gic in­vest­ments in ur­ban schools and neigh­bor­hoods. How­ever, some may view Flor­ida’s fresh round of pre­scrip­tions with skep­ti­cism, given his prom­i­nent role in pro­mot­ing many of the poli­cies that cre­ated the very cri­sis cities now face.


An aban­doned apart­ment build­ing stands in con­trast with af­flu­ent down­town Detroit.

THE UR­BAN CRI­SIS By Richard Flor­ida Ba­sic. 310 pp. $28

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