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Hampton Think - November 9, 2021

Gentrification is a ubiquitous phenomenon of political economy across the United States. Residential displacement, socioeconomic exclusion, political instability, homelessness, spatial transformation, and racial segregation coincide with the marked rapidity of the gentrification (Filion 1991, Atkinson 2002, Lees, Slater and Wyly 2008, Brown-Saracino 2010, Thörn 2012, Novy and Colomb 2013, Kohn 2013, Marcuse 2015, Domaradzka 2018). Local governments have appeared too impotent to mitigate the worsening effects that gentrification has on marginalized communities as urban landscapes continue their dramatic shifts and political struggles intensify within urban centers. In the era of increased fiscal austerity and decreased fiscal activism, local governments are better equipped to expand gentrification processes than contract them. This presents a puzzle for residents, organizers, and urban decision-makers alike about how to approach gentrification, especially when there are competing socioeconomic objectives.

This paper addresses the following questions: how do we contextualize gentrification as a political phenomenon? What are some of the political challenges that gentrification could present to cities? How have urban decision-makers responded to gentrification? How does gentrification contribute to what is happening on the ground from an urban resistance standpoint? This paper argues from a Marxist framework that gentrification (a) presents racialized challenges of density, diversity, and inequality; (b) urban decision-makers have largely responded by expanding gentrification efforts; and (c) gentrification itself may antagonize urban resistance movements. This argument follows from conducting case studies of Detroit and Brooklyn, where gentrification efforts and anti-gentrification movements have been observed and documented.

Three key findings emerge from the analysis. First, the process of gentrification starts with the racialization of a city’s inhabitants (read: the justification of their displacement) through patently white supremacist framing (Zukin, 2010; Quizar, 2019). Second, gentrification produces patently racialized outcomes for non-white people (Fullilove, 2001). Third, the dilemma of gentrification as a political process and the lack of meaningful urban policy responses to gentrification from local governments has given rise to urban anti-gentrification resistance movements. This paper has four sections. This first section discusses gentrification as a political process. The second section discusses urban resistance to gentrification. The third section analyzes the cases of Detroit and New York as sites of gentrification and anti-gentrification resistance. The fourth section concludes. ...
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