Is PLACES going places?

    Tom Angotti defines planning as “ a conscious human activity that envisions and may ultimately determine the urban future” (7). And by planning, Angotti is referring to the multitudes of different approaches urban planners have with the way they approach solving the political and personal divide present in residential problems. He stresses that progressive planning, urban planning that addresses communal efforts as legitimate and resourceful, is the best and less hostile variation. Most planners have some agenda, and that of progressive planners is to advocate for equality in local residential environments and to approach planning in a holistic manner. Angotti stresses three elements of strategic progressive planning: community land, the processes of conflict, contradiction, and complexity, and eliminating environmental injustice and gentrification in a cohesive manner. Community land should be approached by progressive planners in a way that asks who controls it and how can that be changed. Unfortunately, many community planners approach land use in a rash method that disregards prioritizing longevity and effectivity over solving their immediate problems. As a community, planners must form a discussion around access to land and how to ensure that there is equality in its accessibility. Angotti’s second element, understanding conflict within the process is about the contradictory structures of community, real estate, and finance, and how they must be planned around. He stresses the goal of ultimate democracy in the current system; consensus systems are not effective in that they completely disregard the losing idea and give power to the people whose idea “won.” His third element discusses the fear of displacement that comes with wanting to improve your community’s environment, and solving this must be an objective of community planners (Angotti 31). 

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SBJSA: A Wasted Effort or the Creation of More Williamsburgs?

      As a factor that impacts a lot of people and their livelihood, gentrification is a multifaceted double-edged sword. Concluding that it may relate to the displacement of people out of their houses, this then expands to these people’s small businesses. Small businesses are an essential component of a diverse community; not only do they employ a large amount of this country’s workforce, they also provide the means of innovation and creativity, characteristics that have been implied to only exist in the presence of the “creative class” (Curran 1). In her research paper “In Defense of Old Industrial Spaces: Manufacturing, Creativity, and Innovation in Williamsburg, Brooklyn,” Winifred Curran explores Williamsburg, a central mecca of small manufacturers and businesses, and how its players have adapted and survived amidst the entry of new industrial spaces, amidst the gentrification. She argues that policy has greatly ignored these small industries’ flourishment and prosperity fueled by their social networks and flexibility (Curran 875). While in her other paper, “‘From the Frying Pan to the Oven”: Gentrification and the Experience of Industrial Displacement in Williamsburg, Brooklyn,” Curran concluded that gentrification suffocates the success of small business and leads to its shutting down, Williamsburg’s small businesses were able to adapt and co-exist with the effects of gentrification by allowing their “charm” to attract their entering audience. Curran considers that this could have to do with Williamsburg’s location, its close proximity to 4 out of 5 boroughs. However, she largely attributes this success to small manufacturers’ resilience through the initial hardships which led to the creation of the unique character of Williamsburg through “authenticity” of small businesses, and eventually, the goal of customers truly interested, gentrifiers. In fact, some business owners thank gentrification for its generation of dollar signs (880). Curran concludes that “resurgence” can have a positive effect on the businesses of small manufacturers, as long as policymakers do not disrupt its natural occurrence with rezoning laws (882).  

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Gentrification: Its Definition and Connection to Capitalism

      What is gentrification? Through the discussion of the many factors that result in and from “gentrification,” the term has become redundant and meaningless. Before any widespread discussion of the public policy needed to combat the negative effects (if there are any) of gentrification, there must be an understanding of what we are up against here. In her TED talk, Stacey Sutton ultimately defines gentrification as the processes by which people of higher socioeconomic class move into lower-income neighborhoods that have been historically disinvested by private and public sectors. Gentrification is NOT revitalization; it is unfair for pro-gentrification writers to substitute the two as neighborhood improvement may result from gentrification, but like displacement, is not the true meaning. Gentrification may lead to revitalization, but may also lead to devitalization. In his article, “Does Gentrification Harm the Poor?” Vigdor states that the term gentrification is loosely defined depending on the context (135). I have found that when brought up, the term “gentrification” always refers to a cluster of effects and symptoms, but never a cohesive universal phenomenon. While some authors might refer to the private investment in neighborhoods, others might define it as the influx of higher socioeconomic residents into a neighborhood of lower social class (Vigdor 125). And unfortunately, this lack of clarity has only fueled the multi-generational debate of the morality of gentrification: good or bad?

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The Death of Public Space and Human Rights

         The concept of public space is dying, and as it gradually dies, so do the rights of the people that choose to occupy these areas. In her book The Naked City, Sharon Zukin discusses a perfect example of this collapse: Union Square. Union Square, like many of its sister public spaces, has historically provided an area for protests and assemblies of countless causes to thrive (132). Unfortunately, for the last few decades, since the 1980s, Union Square has began to rely on private companies through Business Improvement Districts and Local Development Corporations for its maintenance and survival. BIDS and LDCs present an attractive offer that lifts the responsibility of city government to regulate, maintain, pamper, and essentially gentrify public areas (such as parks), thus saving the government copious amounts of dollars (143). The companies behind these BIDs and LDCs, after gaining control over a small percentage of what is “public,” begin to branch out and before long, rents begin to exponentially increase, providing a true profit for these corporations (144).

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“Sidewalk Life:” A Global Asset

   While Robert Moses was the mogul that valued the “big picture” over the needs of the people living in the streets he was destroying, Jane Jacobs approached city planning in a manner that placed larger emphasis on “city” over “planning.” In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs asserts that city planning should not be executed in a standardized manner, as standardization creates lackluster isolated cities and limits the growth of productive ones. Unfortunately, there is a bias that rudimentary city planning has against the true essence of a city. Jacobs stresses that current city planning considerably idealizes the “private” and “friendly” ambience of suburbs. Cities cannot function if planners continue to believe in the existence of a quintessential suburban “togetherness”. What needs to be realized is that suburbs lack diversity; differences are not celebrated but are diminished in monotony and repetitiveness. In fact, cities achieve a sense of harmony much more effectively than suburbs. Successful cities provide diversity and encourage interactions amongst strangers while maintaining comfortable boundaries. The resulting balance leads to a sense of public identity that further nurtures a city’s foundations. Continue reading ““Sidewalk Life:” A Global Asset”