how to kill a city

how to kill a city.png

by Peter Moskowitz.. on gentrification





it became clear that for most poor new yorkers, gentrification wasn’t about some ethereal change in neighborhood character. it was about mass evictions, about violence, about the decimation of decades-old cultures..



it’s much easier to report on the new than on the displaced. but at the end of the day, that’s what gentrification is: a void in a neighborhood in a city, in a culture. in that way, gentrification is a trauma, one caused by the influx of massive amounts of capital into a city and the consequent destruction following it its wake

sounds like humanity..

there’s a losing side and a winning side in gentrification, but both sides are playing the same game, though they are not its designers..gentrification is not about individual acts; it’s about systemic violence..t

based on decades of racist housing policy in the us that has denied people of color, esp black people, access to the same kinds of housing and therefore the same levels of wealth, as white americans. gentrification cannot happen w/o this deeply root inequality. ..gentrification is also the inevitable result of a political system focused more on the creation and expansion of business opportunity than on the well-being of its citizens (what i refer to as neoliberalism)


i hope to make clear that gentrification is not inevitable, that it is perhaps even stoppable..

part 1 – new orleans


1 – hanging on


as the city celebrated its new life, nearly no one in power – the mayor, the  governor, council people – seemed to care about the tens of thousands of black people who never returned.


new orleans lost more than half its entire population, an exodus of 254 000 people, thanks to the man-made failures that allowed a slow-moving but relatively weak hurricane with an eye that missed new orleans to decimate the city..

city’s priorities have been made obvious by fact that while officials have gone on media tours celebrating the economic growth of the city ten yrs after the storm, the local govt (along w fed and state counterparts) has stopped tracking or even talking about its still-exiled population

i’ve heard words colonization, occupation and genocide used to describe what happened here after katrina


governor – ‘took storm of a lifetime to create the opp of a lifetime..’


no one in new orleans or anywhere else is begrudging the improvements to neighborhoods in and of themselves.. but when improvements come w restaurants and tents many can’t afford, then tree-lined streetscapes, bike lanes, and even pothole repair become signposts for displacement and cultural loss.. they’re also signs that the people who lived there before the improvements are worth less to govts than new residents.


sure improvements are nice, but they dont’ feel like they’re meant or her..

gentrification at its deepest level is really about reorienting the purpose of cities away from being spaces that provide for the poor and middle classes and toward being spaces that generate capital for the rich


jason hackworth: ‘gentrification is much more than the physical renovation of residential/commercials space.. market the replacement of the publicly regulated keynesian inner city.. replete w physical and institutional remnants of a system designed to ameliorate (make something bad better) the inequality of capitalism – with the privately regulated neoliberalized spaces of exclusion’.. in other words..

gentrification is the urban form of a new kind of capitalism..t

can usually trace start of change .. to a combo of fed/local/state policies that favor creation of wealth over creation of community.. usually those polices come in form of the deregulation /privatization of urban services.. esp housing


lower ninth.. one of highest rates of african american homeownership in country.. during katrina.. concrete barriers holding water back.. broke.. flooding entire neighborhood.. destroying homes.. killing a thousand people.. after storm people reports  loud booms..rumores flew whether the levees.. had been deliberately blown in order to save richer areas of city..


this scenario happened in 1927 and in 1965


katrina became perfect opp for  what naomi klein calls ‘ shock doctrine capitalism

naomi ..  shock doctrine


richard campanella estimates about 5000 new nonprofit workers showed up directly after the storm, followed by more than 20 000 young mostly white, college educated people working in nonprofits and other high skilled specialized sectors..

while life long residents (new orleans has highest % of native-born residents of any city in us) .. ie: bigard.. become homeless..


used to be you’d see people sitting outside in st thomas maybe playing some music, somebody bbqing children playing.. bigard said… you won’t see that anymore.. that’s what connected us. now you’re not allowed to be a new orleanian here.. yeah.. this was high crime and high poverty. but the crime and poverty haven’t gone anywhere.. you’ve just spread it around and you’ve just taken away the beauty.


2 – how gentrification works


gentrification heighten worth of neighborhoods and cities until they become uninhabitable for average people..t

clay’s stages useful to understand how.. but don’t answer .. why.. there’s a critical prep phase missing from analysis.. a phase zero.. for phase 1-5 to happen, govts have to be willing to allow it.. ies of reasons.. consumerism.. colonization.. spaces to be different..


these cultural explanations don’t go far enough toward explaining why.. which is profit.. so how did city became profitable to gentrify


ie: places where buildings could be bought cheap and made more expensive in a short time

the rent gap was the disparity between how much a property was worth in its current state and how much it would be worth gentrified. the larger the gap in a neighborhood, the higher the chance it would gentrify..t

developers reap profit by charging the highest rents they can to poor people and skimping on repairs, milking buildings for all they’re worth, and then they benefit rom kicking out those residents, making repairs, and charging much more money to new residents



a rental market where the poor are adequately provided for ,where there is enough space in a neighborhood to accommodate everyone, costs building owners more and is less profitable..

does smith’s theory mean every gentrifier is seeking a high return on profit? of course not. and it doesn’t mean developers are even conscious of the dynamic they’re playing into.. but regardless of individual intent, the basic tenet holds true: gentrification works on a mass scale only because most inner cities have been purposely depressed and therefore are not profitable to reinvest in.. a back-to-the-city movement by capital rather than people..


plus govt incentives.. breaks.. et al


wooing rich people to the city.. thru tax credit programs..


3 – destroy to rebuild


this ignorance of the lives of others us what allows gentrification to happen..

if you ignore th destruction of the lives of the people who’ve always mattered the least, things are going great.. if you acknowledge that their lives exist and that they matter, then it becomes immediately obvious something is terribly wrong..


jane jacobs: ‘first comes the image of what we want, then the machinery is adapted to turn out that image’


so what image of our cities do we hold in our hearts..

let’s try this.. a nother way hlb via 2 convos that io the the day..[aka: not part\ial.. for (blank)’s sake…]

part 2 – detroit


4 – the new detroit


gilbert’s mission.. not only to make 100s of millions of dollars on detroit’s cheap real estate but to also transform detroit’s downtown into a world class destination for tourists,,businesses and esp young people.. he’s also criticized by activists for turning detroit t into somewhat of and oligarchy in which he and a few other powerful people control its redevelopment  esp downtown, which locals now often refer to as ‘gilbertville’



that’s richard florida’s business: convincing cities that gentrification is their only choice for an economic reboot


florida proposed that cities revitalize themselves by attracting the ‘creative class’ an amorphous category of workers florida created to describe essentially any profession in which someone relies on a modicum of creativity to do his/her job – dr’s, lawyers, artists, movie producers, accountants, hair salon owners..’high sales ‘ people..


the solution to the massive loss of manufacturing jobs across the us, according to florida, is to turn every worker into a ‘creative worker’ how exactly this would be done remains a mystery that florida doesn’t really elucidate in his book..

like hlb via 2 convos that io dance.. as the day..[aka: not part\ial.. for (blank)’s sake…]..  a nother way

but it’s not turning every worker into a creative worker.. it’s just setting everyone free

let’s do this firstfree art-ists..for (blank)’s sake

how do you turn an entire economy that’s built on low-wage labor into a creative economy..

by disengaging from man made money (any measuring of transactions)

how do you account for the fact that the rise in the creative class seems to be coupled w the decline in the middle class

because this partial/binary ness is killer.. has to be all of us.. for it/us to work

‘rise of creative class’ –  myth label .. locks a person in whether they are doing their art or just trying to help people.. sell to people..  ie: being creative.. making art.. isn’t sustainable if it’s not your art.. the thing you can’t not do.. which means.. it could change everyday..

mimimalist id law et al

while florida acknowledges the limitations of the creative class – it won’t solve econ ineq, it won’t magically revitalize entire cities – he nonetheless devotes most of his book to laying out a strategy of how to structure entire cities to cater to its preferences, with the idea explicit throughout that if they come, your city will become rich, or at least richer than it is now. florida’s book is essentially a blueprint for gentrification.. he tells cities to attract artists and other ‘bohemians’ by catering to the whims of millennials, who , according to florida, love things like running and living an active lifestyle (but not team sports), art galleries, buying antiques and other unique items, and fun dining experiences ..millennials, florida says, are on a never ending ‘quest for experience’ and it’s a city’s job to provide a road map for that quest if it expects to take in enough money to govern


urban planners and other florida followers seem to believe detroit proves that attracting the creative class works. all you have to do is ignore the rest of the city and its (mostly black) residents, who keep slipping further and further off the grid

because.. it has to be all of us.. creativity/curiosity .. of all of us.. that’s the juice


to his credit, florida essentially admits this problem in his book: ‘one problematic consequence )of the rise of the creative class- is he accelerated sorting of people and cities into an economic hierarchy..’

again.. why it has to be all of us.. no labeling.. sorting only via daily curiosity..

gentrification may provide a new tax base, but it also reshapes what cities are, turning them into explicit supporters of inequality….t

a real solution to the economics of american cities would require more work – more taxes, more laws, more intervention from the fed govt..

rather.. less.. ie: just 2 convos .. as the day


why is it that the country seems to pay attention only when the white people show up


mongo (owner of bar revitalized by gentrification): ‘the city doesn’t really see black life as life.. when the pollinators come, that’s when the civilization comes.. it makes me angry, but.. that’s the way it is.. ‘


5 – the 7.2


detroit has 53 000 vacant homes, but w/in the 7.2 square miles .. 90%of homes are occupied..


gilbert buying at least 80 bldgs.. the state gave him a $50 mn tax break.. also bought 500 security cameras.. average response time in midtown is 90 seconds.. rest of detroit.. can be up to an hour even for deadly crimes..


the gentrifiers.. don’t seem to realize that they are benefiting directly from the past oppression of those who they hope to lift with their rising tide..


6 – how the slate got blank


it may sound obvious, but gentrification could not happen w/o something to gentrify. truly equitable geographies would be largely un -gentrifiable ones. so first, geographies have to be made unequal


over and over agin, media orgs, hipsters, and artists refer to detroit as a ‘blank slate.’ that ignores not only the 700 000 other people  who still live there but also the historical reality that the ‘blank slate’ was created thru decades of brutal racism.





the 7.2 is turning into the hunger games – lauren said..

hunger games..

part 3 – san francisco


7 – the gentrified city


8 – growth machine

one could argue that a poor city such as detroit might need gentrification to fill its budget gaps. but what about san fran? the city doesn’t need to keep attracting rich people.. it was not in econ crisis before the tech wave crashed on its shores.. … city as growth machine.. ie: 10 bn budget surplus by 2017


it is only in the last few decades that econ growth has become the driving force in the governing of cities.. to the exclusion of every other metric of well-being. mayors are now often elected on the idea that they will run cities like businesses.. only interested in amount of money able to generate


this is capitalism’s constant urban conundrum: what makes cities profitable is inherently at odds with the needs of the poor and middle classes (who are needed for a city to function) , and centrally located land has inherent value if it can be made amenable to the rich.

frierich engles essentially predicted gentrification in 1872


the problem with gentrification is it’s a more complex, less obvious form of capital attraction, destruction and creation.

rebecca solnit: ‘redevelopment is like an oil spill, with a single cause and a responsible party; gentrification is like air pollution, a lot of unlinked individuals make contributions whose effect is only cumulatively disastrous’


with air pollution, that system is an oil-based econ; with gentrification.. it’s a real estate based econ


a coffee shop is not just a place to get a cup of coffee, anda new streetcar is not just transit. both are signs that your neighborhood will all of a sudden be valuable real estate, and therefore you might not be able to live in it

under our current land use system, upgrading a neighborhood almost always signals displacement..


if we are serious about moving toward a saner housing future, the options in terms of fed policy are relatively clear: we can prevent land from becoming subject to market forces, either thru govt ownership of land (housing projects) or thru heavy regulation (rent or land price control), or we can prevent the ever increasing value of land from displacing people (programs such as section 8 vouchers would fall in this category of solution)..


9 – the new geography of inequality

gentrification can be understood as a continuation of that experiment – suburbanization part two. the suburbs are also a good reminder that housing, planning and econ policy in the us is deliberate and that its main purpose is to produce money, not adequately house people

gentrification does not mean the suburbs are over.. the suburbs are bein reused, reconfigure, ane repopulated.. they are becoming poorer, and that has wide-ranging implications for policy and the lives of lower income people


on the bay bridge.. connects oakland and east bay to san fran, rush hour now starts at 5am.. this is what happens when you create an urban econ that people cannot afford to live in


the suburbs were not built for poor people. really, they were not built for anyone. they were built to reinvigorate capital. but they were esp not built for poor people, for people who rely on community, nonprofit service providers, and public transport. they were built for a life of  secluded individuality.

as jane jacobs wrote: ‘the well-off have many ways of assuaging needs for which poorer people may depend much on sidewalk life – from hearing of jobs to being recognized by the head waiter. ….’


poverty is still by and large considered an urban issue, and so the poor live relatively under the radar in their new geographies,.. suburb geo is not built for protest; it is not built for collective action..


for first time in us history, the majority of poor people in metropolitan regions live in the suburbs..


the ad implores women to buy war bonds as an investment so that when their husbands get home from the war, they’ll have enough money to buy a house and fill it with ge appliances.. the suburbs may have been inconvenient, expensive, and boring, but they were also americans’ patriotic duty

tv was the biggest tool for selling suburban culture..

film/tv not enough to convince.. so.. govt incentives.. roads.. mortgages..


even today, the suburbs remain such an illogical system of living that they require immense subsidy in order to function  (and they still function poorly). for the privilege of enduring traffic, air pollution, isolation, and monotony, americans subsidize the suburbs to the tune of 100 bn a year. these subsidies.. have give us the twin illusions that american city was in some sort of natural tailspin for decades and the suburbs are inherently more desirable, when in reality the suburbs are just better funded..


but .. cities in the us are not built for everyone, and so the suburbs are not going anywhere.. the suburbs will continue to be abandoned by the rich, who will continue to move into urban centers, and the poor, who are never stably housed in this country, will get pushed out, forced to take whatever housing’s left..

part 4 – new york


10 – an elegy

who has the right to space..?..t


i could have been a character in jacobs’s book


i’d been here long enough just to see the tail end of a world i’d heard so much about tin books and movies (like a real life sesame street.. very diverse)


the rich had taken over the neighborhood, and their obsession with security made it clear they had  no intention of giving it back..


as i walk east.. i pass thru the rest of the west village and greenwich village, thinking of jane jacobs.. and how she saw here an ie of what every city should be: a mix of residential and commercial, old and new, lower and upper class.. a line from her book pops into my head – ‘i am afraid people who do not know the neighborhood now will always have it a little wrong in their heads…’. the people who never knew wha tit was will never understand what it can be.. they see the current village a s a static place, no one that once meant something more to the poor and the working and middle classes…

another jacobs maxim: extraordinary amounts of money, forethought, and policy are required to make a place feel so monotonous, sterile, and vulgar..


it’s important to note that the displacement that accompanies gentrification and policing (de blaiso.. guilian.. bratton.. broken windows et al).. are intimately related: there are 120 000 black men who would live in nyc today were instead locked in prison..


brooklyn, like the west village is irrevocably changed, and i know i’m part of that.. the question is, how do i stop it when the process is so much large than me and has already progressed so far..

a nother way


and even though the prices keep rising, the commuting distances get longer and longer, and the little unique culture left gets pounced on by chains and upscale restaurants that serve more of the same, people keep moving here, even though no one seems to enjoy living here..


the people who mad eth borough what it si can no longer live here, and the people who made the borough boring no longer want to…if this is what we get with gentrification, what’s the point..


11 – new york is not meant for people


she looked at the ladder from the roof to see some men, real estate appraisers this time, climbing down. ‘that was scarier than the people with shotguns’ she said..


if new york has more tools than any other place.. why can’t it stop gentrification

one reason – deep roots.. ny was one of earliest cities to adopt gentrification as an econ strategy – so hundreds yrs of city politics..

but more than that.. .. means standing up to the entire philosophy of the growth machine.. to do that would require a truly radical politics.. .. a progressive growth machine is still a growth machine..


what ny did next would become a template for cities across the us – it was the original test case for the ‘shock doctrine’ strategy of redevelopment.. what happened after katrina and what’s happening now in detroit can largely be traced back to what ny did after its near bankruptcy.. (1975)


city began spending on different things.. the near bankruptcy made ny the first us city to employ gentrification as governance..


blocks burning in bronx in 70s-80s.. movies and books written about the landlords who lit those fires for insurance money and the gangs that flourished in the bombed out shell of a neighborhood. fewer people know that the phenom was  result not of acts by mischievous and desperate residents but of actions taken by the city itself: in late 60s early 70s, city targeted poor areas for intentional destruction thru was ny senator moynihan called in a letter to reagan – benign neglect.. essentially the city had decided it was better off w/o people in its poorest areas..


w city’s poor and middle class ravaged by fire and intentional neglect in lat 70s, and the city’s government on a mission to turn itself in to a business minded apparatus hostile to the needs of the poor the ground was set for a communicable health crisis. hiv arrived at a time when the govt of nyc was committed to not caring for its poor and vulnerable..

there was not a conspiracy to empty out the most gentrifiable areas thru the spread of hiv.. but that was nonetheless the effect….  death s of tens of thousands of men, most of whom were gay, resulted in apt vacancies in areas that were quickly becoming prime real estate.. city also began clearing out areas where lgbt people congregated..


at sa,e time fire industries started accounting for larger and larger chunk of city revenue, and gentrifiers began taking a larger and larger role in ny ‘s media narrative,  by time city hit another recession in late 80s early 90s with aids crisis raging and bronx burning, hardly anyone outside of those most affected noticed..  ny ‘s econ had become, first and foremost a real estate econ and if real estate was doing fine, then that’s all that seemed to matter.


12 – fight back


nyc cannot overturn capitalism (and its leaders do not want to).. ny has the most robust public housing system in the us.. yet it can hardly maintain them… doing that would require a new deal level appropriation of fed funds..

in the us housing is not considered a human right..  and the ability of people to live in a given place is subject to whims of market. challenging this may sound like a radical proposition, but it is radical only in the us.. in the same way universal health care is a controversial concept only here..

getting there requires challenging not only housing and econ policy but systemic racism as well.. it al means linking up w other movements..

so let’s try this….ie: hlb via 2 convos that io dance.. as the day..[aka: not part\ial.. for (blank)’s sake…]..

a means for 7 bn to leap to a nother way


jacobs recognized the need for a change in how we envision cities.. ‘first comes the image of what we want, then the machinery is adapted to turn out the image’

but jacobs’s philosophy lacked a significant racial and class analysis.. there are plenty of people who already know what we want and need -*better housing, better schools, better transportation, more money – but they are disenfranchised and there fore unable to achieve it..

imagining those aren’t what we need..  let’s focus on maté basic needs.. via 2 convos everyday.. as the day.. and trust us to redesign/redefine.. ongoingly.. as we go..


conclusion: toward an un-gentrified future


if we all conceptualize the reality and possiblity of the city uniquely, how can we be on the same page when it comes to building an equitable future..

like this: a nother way – deep/simple/open enough for 7 bn to resonate with .. and be able to access… today..


there seems to be a lack of consciousness about housing in this country, and that makes building an effective tenants movement hard…


this country was founded on displacement – on the idea that white men have a greater right to space and even to people’s bodies than anyone else..t

gentrification is obviously very diff from colonization, but they stem from the same mentality which tells people that one person’s space is more valuable than another’s  the origin story that we tell ourselves over and over again in this country – that good, brave men came and settled a foreign, dangerous, and wild land and made it civilized – is

essentially a gentrification narrative,..t

and american development has always hinged on the idea of a conquered frontier. to fight gentrification is to fight american thinking. gentrification is in our blood.

but it doesn’t have to be..

first we have to decide what we want. i for one believe that the most interesting parts of ny are the ones that dont’ make people money..

so this: short bp

the more we practice intentional and community-oriented living.. the less useful we will be as consumers..t

indeed.. let’s try this: short



city ness