by Latoya Peterson
I came across an interesting piece on Boing Boing where the author is trying to reconcile his gentrified reality.
In “Your Money or Your Life: A Lesson on the Front Stoop,” Douglas Rushkoff recounts being mugged in his neighborhood. The experience jarred him for a variety of reasons:
In the meantime, I posted a note about my strange and frightening experience to the Park Slope Parents list–a rather crunchy Internet community of moms, food co-op members, and other leftie types dedicated to the health and well- being of their families and their decidedly progressive, gentrifying neighborhood. It seemed the responsible thing to do, and I suppose I also expected some expression of sympathy and support.
Amazingly, the very ﬁrst two emails I received were from people angry that I had posted the name of the street on which the crime had occurred. Didn’t I realize that this publicity could adversely affect all of our property values? The “sellers’ market” was already difﬁcult enough! With a famous actor reportedly leaving the area for Manhattan, does Brooklyn’s real estate market need more bad press? And this was before the real estate crash.
I was stunned. Had it really come to this? Did people care more about the market value of their neighborhood than what was actually taking place within it? Besides, it didn’t even make good business sense to bury the issue. In the long run, an open and honest conversation about crime and how to prevent it should make the neighborhood safer. Property values would go up in the end, not down. So these homeowners were more concerned about the immediate liquidity of their town houses than their long-term asset value — not to mention the actual experience of living in them. And these were among the wealthiest people in New York, who shouldn’t have to be worrying about such things. What had happened to make them behave this way?
Eventually, Rushkoff’s pondering leads him to start questioning the nature of displacement in neighborhoods:
Why, I wondered aloud on my blog, was I struggling to make $4,500-per-month rent on a two- bedroom, fourth- ﬂoor walk-up in this supposedly “hip” section of Brooklyn, when I could just as easily get mugged somewhere else for a lot less per month? Was my willingness to participate in this runaway market part of the problem?
The detectives who took my report drove the point home. One of them drew a circle on a map of Brooklyn. “Inside this circle is where the rich white people from Manhattan are moving. That’s the target area. Hunting ground. Think about it from your mugger’s point of view: quiet, tree-lined streets of row houses, each worth a million or two, and inhabited by the rich people who displaced your family. Now, you live in or around the projects just outside the circle. Where would you go to mug someone?”
Back on the World Wide Web, a friend of mine–another Park Slope writer–made an open appeal for my family to stay in Brooklyn. He saw “the Slope” as a mixed-use neighborhood now reaching the “peak of livability” that the legendary urban anthropologist Jane Jacobs idealized. He explained how all great neighborhoods go through the same basic process: Some artists move into the only area they can afford–a poor area with nothing to speak of. Eventually, there are enough of them to open a gallery. People start coming to the gallery in the evenings, creating demand for a coffeehouse nearby, and so on. Slowly but surely, an artsy store or two and a clique of hipsters “pioneer” the neighborhood until there’s signiﬁcant sidewalk activity late into the night, making it safer for successive waves of incoming businesses and residents.
Of course, after the city’s newspaper “discovers” the new trendy neighborhood, the artists are joined and eventually replaced by increasingly wealthy but decidedly less hip young professionals, lawyers, and businesspeople–but hopefully not so many that the district completely loses its “ﬂavor.” Investment increases, the district grows bigger, and everyone is happier and wealthier.
Still, what happens to the people who lived there from the beginning–the ones whom the police detective was talking about? The “natives”? This process of gentriﬁcation does not occur ex nihilo.
While I liked his reasoning on his own choices and culpability later on in the piece, I kept getting stuck where he describes the process. Is gentrification really that simple?
Then I realized what was bothering me: the presentation of gentrification as an organic process, starting with young starving artists (who then must be compelled to open a gallery, what else do artists do?) and ending with a more moneyed populace coming to chase the newly cool neighborhood. Then, the cycle is supposed to repeat.
But where is the role of the state in this discussion? Continue reading