15

How to Kill a City

I’m a 31 year old university educated professional woman who cannot afford to buy a house in the city I live in.

Tear down houses in my city cost upwards of $1 million.

Peter Moskowitz’s How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality and the Fight for the Neighbourhood felt really personal to me.

Moskowitz grew up in the West Village of NYC. When he went home after college he noticed that the neighbourhood as he’d known it didn’t exist anymore. His favourite pizza place was a fancy grocery store; the queer scene on Christopher Street had been “policed into blandness”; and housing had been converted into pricey condos.

He quickly realizes that he exists on both sides of the gentrification phenomenon: those residents who no longer recognize the neighbourhood they call home and, as he looks for more affordable accommodations with amenities nearby, he becomes a colonizer of someone else’s original neighbourhood.

city

Moskowitz’s experience inspire him to start looking at how gentrification shapes where we live. He examines the policies and events that have caused gentrification to take place on a scale never seen before. He travels to New Orleans where 15+ years after Katrina, 100,000 African-Americans who called the city home still haven’t been able to return; Detroit where the city’s bankruptcy created a blank slate for the city to encourage investors to look at the city as a way to make money, not community; San Francisco where vestiges of the old neighbourhood have all but disappeared to make room for Silicon Valley bajillionaires forcing everyone else to look for home along the BART commuter system; and back to New York, where gentrification is in hyper-drive, making it basically impossible for regular people to call it home.

Along the way, he looks at suburbs and how they were created in the first place, how suburban living has created a desire in young people to get away and live in cities; how racist policies helped shape the communities we now live in; how cities are run as businesses now, instead of a hub that makes community services possible.

This little book, just 218 pages, packs a huge punch. It made me angry and nostalgic and sad and embarrassed and angry again. Moskowitz doesn’t just look at what’s already happened and shrug his shoulders either. Having talked to however many people affected by gentrification in all these places, he’s mad as hell. He closes with a list of things that we can all be doing to stop gentrification before it destroys all our neighbourhoods.

I’d love it if all city officials had to read this book, anyone in government really.

But it’d be a great start if we all did. Look out for it in March.