Design library: Gentrification edition

Doggerel is always on the lookout for good books. Here, contributor Peter Moskowitz and editor Sarah Wesseler offer titles on one particular pattern of urban change.


From Peter Moskowitz:

First for a self-plug: My book on gentrification and urban inequality was released earlier this year. It’s called How to Kill a CityIt takes readers on a journey through four cities — New York, New Orleans, Detroit, and San Francisco — exploring how real estate development and communities have butted heads. It also presents ideas for what people can do to prevent cities from becoming enclaves for the monied.

Two books that were really influential in my thinking about gentrification are Times Square Red, Times Square Blue and A Plague on Your Houses: How New York Was Burned Down and National Public Health Crumbled.

Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, a nonfiction book by novelist Samuel R. Delany, shows what’s at stake when we lose diverse cities. It’s not just about diversity, it’s about thought and politics. The chance for the random connections between class, race, sexuality, and other identities disappear, and we’re left with a city that’s not only homogeneous in identity, but homogeneous in thought and culture.

And A Plague on Your Houses, by Deborah Wallace and Rodrick Wallace, is one of the most inventive and surprising books I’ve ever read. The authors trace the epidemic of fires in poor neighborhoods in New York in the 1970s and ’80s (“the Bronx is burning!”) to a deliberate set of policies at the local, state, and national level to disinvest in poor neighborhoods and redevelop New York City. It would sound like a conspiracy theory if it wasn’t so well documented and argued. It shows that a lot of things we think of as bottom-up cultural factors — e.g., the flight from cities to suburbs — can be attributed to specific policies.


From Sarah Wesseler:

I remember reading Suleiman Osman’s The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York on the subway in Brooklyn a few years ago, then looking at the people around me and thinking, “this basically explains how we all got here.” Can’t recommend highly enough.

Cities for People, Not for Profit: Critical Urban Theory and the Right to the City provides an engaging overview of critical urban theory in the US and Europe. As editors Neil Brenner, Peter Marcuse, and Margit Mayer write in the introduction, “One of our goals in this collection is to contribute intellectual resources that may be useful for those institutions, movements, and actors that aim to roll back the contemporary hypercommodification of urban life, and on this basis to promote alternative, radically democratic, socially just, and sustainable forms of urbanism.”

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