This 204-page book, published in 2022 and available in Victoria from the public library (check it out at GVPL) is a quick, thought provoking and informative read. Author Leslie Kern is a Canadian academic, currently an Associate Professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick (which interestingly “has been ranked Canada’s #1 undergraduate university by Maclean’s magazine more times than any other university” according to the school’s LinkedIn profile).
This summary of the contents from the GVPL listing lays out the book neatly – “Gentrification is … — Gentrification is natural — Gentrification is about taste — Gentrification is about money — Gentrification is about class — Gentrification is about physical displacement — Gentrification is a metaphor — Gentrification is inevitable — Change the story, change the ending”
Chapter 1 lays out what ‘Gentrification is …’, or more accurately explains what gentrification was versus what it has become as the phenomenon changed from its original unfolding – that was much smaller in scale and moved more slowly – to the global juggernaut that it is today. Throughout the book Kern cites a diverse group of authors as sources and often gives concrete examples pulled from her own experiences.
Kern challenges the notion that gentrification is some kind of natural, biological pathway that all cities move along as they ‘evolve’ – another term that she takes issue with. Not only does Kern believe that evolution is not a useful or helpful concept when thinking about cities and how they change over time but she critiques the idea of using biology as a metaphor for cities and how it allows society to clothe harmful initiatives, for example destruction of informal settlements and replacement with new development, with positive phrases like ‘removing weeds, planting seeds’.
Kern also encourages us to think about gentrification beyond just physical displacement. From the so-called ‘poor doors’ (see Global News Vancouver) to the replacement of long-existing businesses with newer, trendier more expensive shops and restaurants changes to a neighbourhood may make residents, particularly those with lower incomes and/or people of colour, feel as if they no longer belong or are welcome in a part of a city that has long been their home. Even characteristics as seemingly ephemeral as the sounds and smells of a neighbourhood can be impactful. Kern talks about how in gentrifying/gentrified neighbourhoods some types of music are considered acceptable and allowable while others are likely to result in a noise complaint to landlords or, in extreme situations, to law enforcement.
Kern masterfully guides us to investigate gentrification through the lens of colonization, gender and class and to see it as a multifaceted phenomenon, not one that is attributable to a single particular cause. The book closes with some ideas for how to confront and resist gentrification and examples of where that has been done throughout the world – albeit with varying degrees of success.
If you want to understand gentrification and gain a more nuanced perspective on it this is a great read full of thought provoking ideas and with lots of links to other material.
Guest Author Bio
Susan Martin. Longtime resident of #YYJ who delights in exploring every corner and cul de sac of our beautiful city. Thinks that walking is one of the best medicines in existence and tries to get a dose of it each day. Keenly interested in how our built environment affects the health of individuals, neighbourhoods and societies.
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