'There Goes the 'Hood': Gentrification in New York City

Is gentrification a bad word or a good influence? Lance Freeman, an assistant professor at Columbia University, talks with Farai Chideya about his new book exploring the gentrification of two predominately black neighborhoods in New York City — Manhattan's Harlem and Brooklyn's Clinton Hill.

Excerpt: 'There Goes the 'Hood'

Temple University Press

The ghetto, the inner city, the 'hood — these terms have been applied as monikers for black neighborhoods and conjure up images of places that are off-limits to outsiders, places to be avoided after sundown, and paragons of pathology. Portrayed as isolated pockets of deviance and despair, these neighborhoods have captured the imagination of journalists and social scientists who have chronicled the challenges and risks of living in such neighborhoods. But what happens when commerce, the middle class — globalization, if you will — comes to these forlorn neighborhoods? When whites who were a rare sighting are suddenly neighbors? We are accustomed to focusing on the social pathologies, government neglect, and the causes of the inner city's inexorable decline. We thus know how people feel about the crime, the lack of opportunity, and feelings of being left behind or looked over. But we know less about how people feel when the fortunes of their neighborhoods brighten. How do people feel when gentrification comes to the 'hood?

This book addresses these questions by examining the experience of gentrification from the perspective of residents of two black inner-city neighborhoods. Despite the voluminous literature that has developed on gentrification in the past few decades, this is a vantage point that has been overlooked so far. To the extent that others have analyzed gentrification from the perspective of indigenous residents, displacement, and to a lesser extent concerns about political influence have drawn nearly all the attention. But as this book will show, these are hardly the only forces coloring indigenous residents' perceptions of gentrification.

This book argues that indigenous residents do not necessarily react to gentrification according to some of the preconceived notions generally attributed to residents of these neighborhoods. Their reactions are both more receptive and optimistic, yet at the same time more pessimistic and distrustful than the literature on gentrification might lead us to believe. Residents of the 'hood are sometimes more receptive because gentrification brings their neighborhoods into the mainstream of American commerciallife with concomitant amenities and services that others might take for granted. It also represents the possibility of achieving upward mobility without having to escape to the suburbs or predominantly white neighborhoods. These are benefits of gentrification typically not recognized in the scholarly literature.

Yet the long history of disenfranchisement, red lining, and discrimination also inspires a cynicism toward gentrification that might not be evidenced elsewhere. Though appreciative of neighborhood improvements associated with gentrification, many see this as evidence that such amenities and services are only provided when whites move into their neighborhoods. Moreover, many see these improvements as the result of active collaboration between public officials, commercial interests, and white residents. Though much has been written about displacement and somewhat less about the political consequences of gentrification for indigenous residents, this dimension of cynicism toward gentrification has not been explored.

Excerpted from There Goes the 'Hood by Lance Freeman. Copyright © 2006, Lance Freeman. Reprinted by permission of Temple University Press. All rights reserved.

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There Goes the 'Hood
There Goes the 'Hood

Views of Gentrification from the Ground Up

by Lance Freeman

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