This week, we’re going to begin our consideration of Sylvie Tissot’s Good Neighbors: Gentrifying Diversity in Boston’s South End. The issue of gentrification is a complicated one, and one that is more than occasionally messy. And it is an issue that affects nearly all urban areas in the Western world, and certainly in the United States. Even cities such as Detroit, which nearly collapsed in the 80s and 90s, are experiencing a renaissance due to gentrification.
At its core, gentrification is essentially the process by which urban areas (neighbourhoods, districts, even blocks) are restored and rehabilitated to make them palpable, and safe, for a middle class consumer class. Gentrification sees old buildings renovated, turned into condominiums or single-family homes. It sees new amenities move into the neighbourhood, such as restaurants, cafés, grocery stores, etc. And it always comes at a cost. In the United States, much more so than my country, gentrification is tied up with questions of race, in that middle class consumer class moving in are almost entirely white, and the already extant population is almost always African American or Latinx. Think, for example, about what has happened to the Bronx and Harlem in NYC in the past decade or so.
Generally, in pop culture, gentrification is presented as a universal good. It is usually only we academics or journalists who ponder the downside. Hence, we are reading Tissot.
Boston’s South End (not to be confused with South Boston, or Southie) is just one of many urban neighbourhoods in the United States to experience gentrification. We could just as easily look at the North End of Boston, which is gentrifying right now, or even Southie, which is also gentrifying. We could look at Harlem or the Bronx. And so on.
In some settings, gentrification is the ultimate outcome of deindustrialization and depopulation. Most North American cities saw a population decline in the mid-to-late 20th century, as, especially, white people moved out to the suburbs. And when the factory jobs disappeared, a lot of inner city former working class neighbourhoods either became depopulated or became slums.
So this week, in addition to beginning to make our way through Tissot’s book, we will consider gentrification in the larger sense, by exploring different kinds of gentrification and different locales, both in the US and Canada.
And of course, we will read the last chapter of Allison’s book and the first two chapters of Tissot’s this week