Why Is “Authenticity” Coveted?

The idea of “authenticity” reflected in both overall modern terms, and in the context of the city neighborhoods being gentrified, is one that is coveted by the people. People want to be seen as “authentic” and people want to be a part of a neighborhood known for its “authentic” culture. However, the reasoning behind the allure of this quality varies, and trying to understand this reason properly could help illuminate the reason why gentrifiers become enamored with certain areas in the city on the basis of “authenticity.” Richard Greenwald, a professor of history and sociology and the dean of St. Joseph’s College, wrote an article called “Why Is ‘Authenticity’ So Central to Urban Culture?” in which he spoke about the current process of hyper-gentrification and how it led to a new, more uniform city “renewed” by the corporate world. Zukin further supported this idea: “…the city as we knew it was gone. It became a corporate city of transnational headquarters, big-box stores, and Business Improvement Districts…” (222). With this new establishment of big business changing the outlook of the city, the issue of “authenticity” becomes more and more important as places championed for their rich culture began to lose it as many gentrifiers guided their choices of where they want to live in the city based on that idea.

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Fight Gentrification With Local Mobilization

Gentrification has become a force to be reckoned with, as it spreads unhindered across not only New York, but also many other cities, nationally and globally. The process causes the displacement of low income residents in favor of higher income residents who can afford large increases in rent pricing. This residential displacement, along with “increasing demolition, affordable housing problems, and market failure,” all work as strategies to further “renewal” and gentrification, especially the residential displacement, which has become one of the “primary dangers” for those concerned by how the market has become structured to exclude lower income residents (Newman and Wily 27). The increasing prices of living in gentrified neighborhoods exposes the population benefitting most from the process at the expense of those who cannot afford them, creating a very efficient mask that looks like progress and improvement on the outside, but hides, underneath, the utilization of income inequality to choose who has access to these improvements.

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The Impact of the Need for “Authenticity”

The idea of “authenticity” has its stake in many different conversations and debates, including a push towards the truth in a time when facts are scarce, a quest for originality, and an emphasis on going back to the fundamentals behind embellishments created in our society. “Authenticity” becomes an important topic of discussion when focusing on culture, whether that be for cities of America or of a group of people in a lesser known country on the other side of the world. Sharon Zukin, in Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, identifies this idea of authenticity as a type of culture used as a cause for waves of migrations of certain people in particular areas like Williamsburg (49-50), as an appropriate description of the hip hop cultures formed by African American communities of “black Brooklyn” (56), and the semblance of the history of Harlem used to create a specific image of the “dark ghetto” and the “Harlem Renaissance” (68-71). In trying to define the “authenticity” that attracted people to these areas, Zukin focused on the people and history of each of the areas as the basis for why they were considered authentic and why people fought to protect it or to follow it.

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At Whose Expense?

With the publication of her novel, Jane Jacobs became the hero that fought against Robert Moses and his “destructive” urban renewal policies, emphasizing the importance of street life culture, close-knit communities, and decreased intervention of the state to allow for neighborhoods to be cared for solely by its residents. However, her ideas inadvertently inspired a different kind of extreme than Moses’s plan of eradicating the “slums”: neoliberalism (Tochterman 65). With its emphasis on free-market capitalism, neoliberalism was not built to help the people that were exploited by Robert Moses, but instead continued to cater to the upper and middle classes that could afford the means to becoming successful and producing wealth through opportunities that are unavailable to the lower and working classes. Overall, inequality is continuously reproduced at the expense of these classes in the ideal societies of both Robert Moses and neoliberal activists. Continue reading “At Whose Expense?”

Robert Moses as a Controversial Figure

Robert Moses represents a significant and controversial figure in New York City’s history. He represents a man who was pivotal in creating the layout and outlook of the city as it is today, as well as a man who worked to bring his vision to reality without care for those who served as collateral damage. In Hilary Ballon and Kenneth Jackson’s Robert Moses and the Transformation of New York, Moses and his plans for the city were discussed and debated, outlining the goals he wanted to achieve and how he achieved them. Moses advocated for complete urban redevelopment, leading the largest slum clearance program in the 1950s (Ballon 94). In doing so, he aimed to bring back the middle class with affordable housing to reduce the polarization between the two extremes of the social class spectrum, to establish New York as a center of higher education by making land available for university expansion, and to elevate the status of the city in the nation and the world through installations of different “world-class cultural institutions” (Ballon 106). Finally, he wanted to create expressways throughout the city as a more efficient way of traveling through automobile rather than the “ancient relic” of the public transport system (Jackson 68-69). He argued that the city was built “by and for traffic” (Fishman 125). From his perspective, the city needed to be redeveloped in order to make it more efficient and uniform, as well as to create a center of success and culture known across the globe.

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