A study of gentrification through the stories of a few specific neighborhoods in three major American cities.
In his debut book, WNYC senior editor Schuerman unpacks the loaded word “gentrification,” allowing readers to understand it as a complex phenomenon in urban neighborhoods—never entirely negative or entirely positive and usually a mixture that improves the lots of some residents while hurting others. Drawing on case studies from neighborhoods in New York City (northwest Brooklyn), San Francisco (the Mission District), and Chicago (the former site of the notorious Cabrini-Green housing project), the author humanizes the community transformations so that readers who have never set foot in those locales—and even those who know them personally—fully comprehend the dynamics involved when wealthy newcomers move in and less financially well-off residents are displaced. Despite the many negative elements associated with gentrification, Schuerman maintains an optimistic tone, pointing out plenty of evidence in his research that the nonwealthy need not automatically suffer via displacement. Often, the author shows, the incoming residents and the departing residents do not entirely affect the outcome. Rather, public policymakers enhance or harm changing neighborhoods by the rules they adopt and enforce. Schuerman makes the case in all three of the cities he studied that the professional planners lacked vision, and as a result, they lost control of the gentrification early and could never adequately smooth over the glitches. In addition to teaching through illuminating case studies, the author occasionally departs from that narrative to address issues that cut across income levels. For example, can rent control instituted and enforced by city governments solve the conundrum of affordable housing shortages? Or does it actually reduce affordable housing stock in the long run? These and many other pertinent issues run throughout the author’s informed text. Schuerman seems taken with the character of specific neighborhoods before they gentrified, but he never allows nostalgia to compromise his educated opinions.
Solid sociology in pursuit of an issue that continues to confound.