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How Gentrifiers Gentrify

October 7, 2015

By Max Holleran : publicbooks – excerpt

October 1, 2015 — This past spring a new French restaurant opened in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Located on Malcolm X Boulevard, directly across the street from a Crown Fried Chicken, the restaurant—with a menu that includes frog legs and a bottle of Bordeaux that sells for $2,000—is an incongruous new addition to an area of Brooklyn where the median household income is below $35,000. It is named L’Antagoniste, ostensibly for its celebration of the contrarian French personalities pictured on its walls, but neighbors might interpret the name differently.

In Brooklyn the opening of a Francophile farm-to-table restaurant in a neighborhood where many bodegas still have bulletproof glass now follows a well-worn path. Yet if, or more likely when, the restaurant’s patrons move into the neighborhood, they will face off against long-term residents for control. How do gentrifiers take over a place culturally, racially, and socioeconomically different from themselves? In Good Neighbors: Gentrifying Diversity in Boston’s South End, Sylvie Tissot examines how new neighborhood antagonists come to wield local power.

Writing on gentrification has generally taken two very different approaches: the bird’s-eye view (popular in critical geography), in which gentrifiers are cogs in an unequal economy that manifests itself in disputes over city space; and the ground-level focus on the cultural trappings of newcomers: flat white coffee, vintage T-shirts, artisanal beer, and vegan cupcakes. Good Neighbors brings together culture and politics to show how such tastes can lead to political power for gentrifiers, creating a wedge with which they penetrate neighborhood organizations and assume authority over others. The process of forming a neighborhood elite in Boston’s South End happened, according to Tissot, not always through the often-colorful world of the city’s democratic politics but through voluntary associations that, despite being private, wielded considerable power—interior design or park conservation is not just a hobby. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of how groups use cultural capital for social advancement, Parisian sociologist Tissot shows how wealthier newcomers used city boards and nonprofits to mold Boston’s South End in their own image and to actively exclude those who lived there before them from decision-making and positions of power… (more)

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