Before reading this book, I knew very little about gentrification. It made me think of Grand Rapids and Detroit. I had the intuition that it was bad for people of color–turns out my intuition was right—but I didn’t know exactly how it happened, who was pulling the gears and making the policies and building the apartments. It’s much more than white hipsters moving in, opening coffee shops, inflating rent prices, and displacing black people – although that’s part of it. After all, who doesn’t like a fancy coffee shop, right?
That’s not the point and misses the bigger picture.
Gentrification is a multi-decade urban planning tool used to increase city revenue by cutting services to the poor and giving money to the rich (in the form of business subsidies and real estate development). In that sense, it’s capitalism. After Ronald Reagan changed the way cities get funded (less federal spending on social services), gentrification was sort of a predicable result. The end game of gentrification, whether intentional or not, is the massive displacement of poor and middle class people from their apartments (disproportionately people of color), making way for whiter and wealthier people and business. The final stage of gentrification, ironically, is a city that no longer has people living in it, a completely unaffordable city, a city that houses the wealth of billionaires from around the world in the form of real estate capital—much like New York City.
This book is part research, part social commentary, and part memoir. The author essentially does walking tours of four major cities, remembering the good old days and making fun of the new coffee shops and high-rise apartments and art studios. This gets a little repetitive after a while, I must say. Other than that, I enjoyed the book.
To get to the most important part of the book – the alternatives to gentrification – you have to read the last chapter. The author suggests rent control laws, using “land banked” property for affordable housing, constructing public housing, building infrastructure to accommodate more people living in cities, and raising taxes to spend on the poor.