Some thinking points on gentrification, place and the self
After listening to Spike Lee speaking (/ranting) about gentrification, I’ve started thinking about how and why gentrification means so much to so many of us - even when it’s not a race question. At the same time I’ve been writing a paper on place, and the combination has brought about an interesting way of thinking.
In ‘The right to the city’, David Harvey argues that ‘The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire. The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city' (my emphasis).* Harvey is operating from a Lefebvrian understanding of space as constructed and is arguing here that in constructing spaces, we are effectively constructing our collective practices and values, and thereby our selves.
There is another way to approach this. If we take on Edward Casey’s assertions of the primacy of place in the human condition, we begin to see why we are so invested in places, particularly those in which we’ve lived for any stretch of time. If, as Casey insists, we ‘live in and through places’ in a phenomenological sense, then change in and to these places strikes at the very core of our being and our perception of the world.
Resistance to processes of gentrification involves more than abstract questions of equity and social justice. It is, in a Bourdieurian sense, a fundamental struggle for the right for our lives to take place in ways that are meaningful to us.
*David Harvey (2008) ‘The right to the city’ New Left review, 53, September-October 2008, p. 23