In this issue, DW Gibson writes about Brooklyn’s corrupt building boom. Here, he recommends five books about how gentrification works. “When I moved to NYC in 1995, Times Square was under scaffolding and the city was undergoing major changes,” he says. “I’ve always felt like I arrived at a crucial moment, by chance.” His recommendations break down the forces behind our cities’ relentless churn.
THE NEW URBAN FRONTIER
Gentrification and the Revanchist City
by Neil Smith
Smith is a revered guru when it comes to understanding the dynamics of gentrification. He breaks the phenomenon into stages, explaining it as a logical process rather than a mystical transformation. The book features well-selected case studies, and while his tales are steeped in data, Smith manages to keep Urban Frontier readable. His work provides insight into how gentrification has changed over the decades since Ruth Glass brought the phrase into use in 1964.
by Jane Jacobs
An obvious author when it comes to gentrification—but this is not the obvious book. While her more famous, and still essential, The Death and Life of Great American Cities is more inspiring than Economy, the latter may be more illuminating. Jacobs tracks the history of cities—all the way back to the Middle Ages—as centers for economy and work. The structure of her thinking about the health of a city—its economic, cultural, environmental, and social health—is instructive. If we could frame more of our conversations about gentrification along these lines, they would be more productive.
THE INVENTION OF BROWNSTONE BROOKLYN
Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York
by Suleiman Osman
This is a fantastically comprehensive history of gentrification waves throughout Brooklyn in the second half of the 20th century, and chronicles other sorts of real-estate boosterism and neighborhood activism. Osman also provides a counterpoint to Jane Jacobs, staying away from the romanticism of the “street symphony” and looking at the lasting effects—and unintended consequences—of preservation.
BIRD ON FIRE
Lessons From the World’s Least Sustainable City
by Andrew Ross
Until the housing crash of 2007, Phoenix was one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States and, as Ross aptly illustrates, one of the least sustainable. This is one of the best books about the role of the natural environment in our built environments. Instead of dismissing Phoenix altogether, Ross presents solutions that could lead to sustainability for this desert city—and others like it facing serious environmental challenges.
HOW EAST NEW YORK BECAME A GHETTO
by Walter Thabit
At the center of gentrification is systemic racism enforced by the public and private sectors over generations. No one captures this reality better than Thabit with his case study of East New York—the Brooklyn neighborhood that is now the front line of gentrification in New York City. Thabit entrenched himself in this community in the wake of the urban riots of the 1960s, and any reader who picks up this book will gain a comprehensive understanding of the circumstances that led to that fervor.