Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Racism and gentrification in New York

“Oh, New York…”

In his essay, “New Globalism, New Urbanism: Gentrification as Global Urban Strategy,” Neil Smith uses several examples of the rise and evolution of gentrification in New York that I found to be poignant.

Smith’s first example of Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s $900 million “geobribe” to keep the New York Stock Exchange in lower Manhattan was completely shocking. Of all the people to benefit from $900 million, it should not be the investment bankers and traders on Wall Street. This example reminded me of Governor Patterson’s current campaign to give filmmakers huge tax credits to film in New York City; while these tax credits increase exponentially each year, it is true that only the biggest names in the show business get access to all of the benefits.

New York has such a diverse population, that at times it seems that international diplomacy must take place within each borough. Smith discusses how Giuliani threatened to tow illegally parked cars with diplomatic plates because they were parking without thought all over the city - to the dismay of citizens and police alike. This example resonated with me because I can remember thinking about how United Nations diplomats run all over the city doing whatever they want sometimes, they really do park anywhere they want to, even though they have access to some of the best parking in Manhattan. Patterson was even threatening that he would kick them out of their Upper East Side and Midtown parking spaces and deny them foreign aid if they didn’t pay their $18 million bill in parking tickets.

The effect gentrification has had on the formation of cities and how it affects commuting was astonishing in Smith’s example of the commuting time in Sao Paulo. I was reminded of how Manhattan as an island is not sustainable or self-sufficient, and of all the commuters, who without the subway would be putting so much more stress on our environment. The effect commuting has on our environment is already too much, and because people who can no longer afford to inhabit the city that they work in – they must commute and pollute our earth further.

Gentrification is taking over New York, from Harlem to Brooklyn, realtors are advertising urban housing as the trendy new hip scene. The problem? Now, like Soho and Tribeca, Washington Heights and just past High Street on the border of Brooklyn and Manhattan is the newest place long-time residences are slowly getting kicked out because they can no longer afford to live in their community.

I often thought about gentrification in New York when I passed by Bill Clinton’s office in Harlem, or saw the population of who is heading where in the subway trains change over the years. Smith wrote on p. 444 of how the rebuilding of European cities of World War II was impacted by gentrification on a much larger scale, this is true in New York.

The formation of Levittown, NY took place after WWII in efforts to help the G.I.’s who were returning to their civilian lives, one of the biggest problems is that the government legally redlined areas and discriminated against African-American G.I.’s so that they couldn’t move to Levittown, while White American soldiers got loans, cars and the housing they wanted.

Smith discusses what has happened after the period of “White flight,” which is when White families left the city, moving farther and farther out into the suburbs in efforts to not mix with the newly “urban” community. Now, there is “the appeal to bring people back into the city,” which is a “self interested appeal that the white middle and upper-middle classes retake control of the political and cultural economies as well as the geography of the largest cities (p. 445).” Now that the privileged are returning to the City – where will everyone else go? Where can they go? And, with all the new trendy Fair Trade coffee shops and organic Whole Foods Market’s popping up all over New York, where will the residents who cannot afford to life in their newly repossessed communities go? If everywhere in New York is rapidly being gentrified, where are all the “poor” people living?

1 comment:

  1. I wish there was more discussion on this "trend" and more opinion on what is occurring and how it happened under this Bloomberg administration. It is something of a shame to see the perpetrators of the "ghettos" of this city, come back to colonize the same redlined zones of land they worked so hard to underfund and discriminate against.