Last week, I walked to the Village neighborhood in downtown Jersey City for the first time since the pandemic began in March. Although this slice of the city is only a twenty- or thirty-minute stroll from my home, I felt as if I was embarking upon a great quest or journey. During the past five plus months, I have left my immediate neighborhood no more than a half-dozen times. Since I don’t own a car, my few trips have been on foot.
While sitting outside a tiny coffee shop in the Upper West Side in Manhattan on a recent afternoon, I looked across the street and noticed the architectural details of a seemingly nondescript building (ground floor business with several stories of apartments). The building’s artistic flourishes surprised and delighted me.
A trio of academics attempt an engaging and instructive experiment with their recently published book, Gentrifier (University of Toronto Press, 2017). Through their own lives, John Joe Schlichtman, Jason Patch, and Marc Lamont Hill explore and challenge the ideas and parameters of gentrification.
Although the suburbs are anything but dead, an increasing number of Americans are choosing an urban life. Many cities (and historic streetcar suburbs) provide residents with walkable neighborhoods. More Americans want to step out their front doors and walk to a grocer, a cafe, or maybe even a movie theater. Meanwhile, Americans are rediscovering the needs and joys of community. These are encouraging, positive trends.
However, a renewed desire for urban living places pressure on cities’ housing markets. This leads to changes in the urban fabric and built environment. Boosters call this progress. Critics call it gentrification. A great debate concerning gentrification rages among activists, politicians, journalists, intellectuals, and everyday citizens in many improving cities and those poised for a rebound.
In a few weeks on October 3, 2017, my first book, Left Bank of the Hudson: Jersey City and the Artists of 111 1st Street, will be published by Fordham University Press. To prepare for that and my accompanying book tour, I’ve been focusing on gentrification: reading about it, thinking about it, and talking about it.
Recently, I was chatting with a friend, who is a purveyor of handcrafted candles and body products. She shared her own observations about the effects of gentrification upon small businesses.