Last week I wrote about how US cities were growing for the most part and how that was a good thing. There is a downside to this growth, however, because in many places it is leading to what is known as gentrification, the displacement of poorer or non-White people by the more affluent. In part this is happening because many if not most cities have a finite amount of space and any growth of one group can only take place at the expense of other groups. Cities such as New York, Boston, San Francisco, among others, are essentially built out and thus the expansion of middle class and wealthy people inevitably results in putting pressure on the poor and those without resources.  Cities represent contested space.

I just finished reading the book gentrification by Loretta Lees, Tom Slater, an Elvin Wyly. In general it is a great book and I highly recommend it for those who are interested in the topic of gentrification. Among the book’s strength is its social justice framework for analyzing the issue and the way it connects the rights of those who are disadvantaged to what is happening in many cities around the globe. It has extensive discussions on the causes of gentrification and includes detailed analysis of both demand-side and supply-side theories of why gentrification takes place. Its global approach is also helpful because gentrification is clearly an international phenomenon.

The book does have some failings however. For one thing it takes anyone’s claim that gentrification is happening in their community as true. And it takes any single article or a single real estate agent’s claim that gentrification is happening in a neighborhood is changing at face value. Despite what the book may say I have a hard time believing that the South Bronx, for example, is truly gentrifying. Also it seems to make any movement of the upper income people into a community is gentrification or any kind of displacement of lower income people is gentrification. So the book goes back repeatedly to the HOPE VI program, the program that began in the 1990s to rebuilt public housing developments (often reducing the total number of units, the number of units for low income people, and reconfiguring buildings along New Urbanist principles) as an example of gentrification. I dislike the HOPE VI program because it reduces densities in cities and because it does result in fewer units for low-income people. But somehow I don’t think it’s a good example gentrification. Just because something is bad and just because poor people are disproportionately harmed does not mean that gentrification itself. There was also the problem the book lacks a historic perspective and frequently says that suddenly in a neighborhood in the 1980s in the United States that loans were available for real estate. The implication is that the loans became available because of or to promote gentrification. The authors apparently never heard of the community reinvestment act. Race also strangely disappears from the book promote the middle chapters and the issue of racial segregation is not discussed.

But in any case what the book doesn’t really get into is what to do about gentrification and the problem of how to manage conflicting demand for space and a finite container that are cities. It does mention the work of several community groups to stop gentrification in their communities but it doesn’t really get into the whole issue of how to manage growth and how to keep cities open to all. But then again this is such a complex and difficult issue to manage it may need a book all to itself.


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