required reading: gentrification, preservation and King Canute

whose neighborhood is it anyway?
Fascinating (short!) piece in next month’s Atlantic Monthly, available on-line, Gentrification And Its Discontents, in which Benjamin Schwartz not so much reviews but exposes two recent books on Manhattan, Sharon Zukin’s Naked City and Michael Sorkin’s Twenty Minutes in Manhattan. Like any good discussion of gentrification, the original Manhattan loft neighborhoods of Soho and Tribeca are considered, though the principal lens for the discussion is the West Village.

Of course he, and they, have to deal with that colossus of Modern Urban Studies, Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which he rightly describes as

the ur-text for contemporary writing about urban life and the most influential American book ever written about cities

Read the whole piece. I happen to agree with him, but there’s a lot to chew on here whether you agree with him or with Zukin or Sorkin. Not to spoil anything, but here is Schwartz’s coup-de-grace:

Mostly, though, such political solutions seem quaint: all this bellyaching about authenticity and lost soul. Sorkin and Zukin, sentimental progressives, need a bracing dose of Marx. Manhattan is the primary locus of global capitalism, the most voracious force for change in history. Best to pick a different place to try to render fixed and solid that which inexorably melts into air.

 h/t Matt Yglesias (himself a great chronicler of all things urban)

© Sandy Mattingly 2010

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