JRabie on Mon, 19 May 2014 16:10:05 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Gentrification - or a focus on income and wealth?

Contemporary urban strategies and development doctrine are built upon the
notions of competitiveness and attractiveness. Competitiveness places the
city in an inexorable, permanent state of vying against other cities in
order to attract wealth and resources to ensure its own development. And
of course this means means brute economic development, whatever the cost
to the environment, the bottom line being financial aggrandizement for the
rich (super)minority. The result is that the city has itself become a
business-entity of sorts, and its local government balances ambiguously
between the roles of democratic representation of the citizenry and that
of board of directors.

In order to succeed, the city must be attractive - this might seem self
evident, living in decent surroundings is (or should be) a right - but it
is much more pernicious. Attractiveness implies creating the conditions
that will woo the creative classes, those well educated people who have
the necessary skills for the service industries that have high added value
and constitute the grail for most cities : people who are good at
communication, media, finances, marketing, commerce, business
administration, technology, design, etc. Manufacturing is done in China
(but is moving on as China becomes more expensive). To be attractive, a
city offers museums, good schools, lovely parks, great places to shop and
star architecture by the likes of Jean Nouvel, Renzo Piano or Frank Gehry,
Daniel Libeskind and of course green tech, just to make it seem to be
environment friendly (image is everything).

What this means of course is that gentrification is not in any way
uniquely a question of real estate prices and "natural" market forces, but
is intimately tied to dividing the city up into "value" zones according to
the function and "usefulness" (for capital generation) of the populations
being spatially allotted through the urban area.

Thus the charming inner city areas (which thirty years ago were blighted
and being fled from, not everywhere of course, a more North American than
European process) are now being done over to receive dynamic young urban
professionals with the buying power that goes with marketable training and
creative talent. Those ancillary populations necessary to keep all this
working but who generate little added value, in teaching, trades, office
jobs, logistics, etc. are pushed into the urban periphery. And while
enormous resources are given to the development and embellishment of the
inner city, to attract that workforce which might be tempted by a condo on
the riverfront in a competing city, strictly limited resources are
allotted to those outlying areas. Here, one resorts to strictly rational,
cost-efficient and repetitive urban forms: housing estates, malls, highway
grid and industrial zones.

The capitalistic city has always accompanied the division of labour with a
division of space. What we are seeing now is being exacerbated by a
concentration of wealth in the hands of a plutocracy and the pauperization
of the rest, that is reminiscent of the end of the 19th and beginning of
the 20th century.

>  A bit hard to believe that one needs to spell this out, but thanks for
> doing so.

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