Preserved Stories Blog


In standard usage, gentrification is a limited concept; the underlying process is of a wider import

A previous post refers to The Long 1968: Revisions and New Perspectives (2013).

Judit Bodnár

I was interested to read the latter book’s Chapter 3 by Judit Bodnár, “What’s Left of the Right to the City?” The photo on the right is from the link in the previous sentence. The book highlights academic research related to the historical and social significance of 1968.

Chapter 3, which focuses on gentrification, has prompted me to think of underlying processes associated with the concept.

I conceptualize gentrification as a process whereby groups of people arrive and take over whichever place appeals to them, using whatever means – political, economic, military, and so on – available to them.

Social theory of waste

The above-noted chapter led me to a number of studies including From the Cult of Waste to the Trash Heap of History: The Politics of Waste in Socialist and Postsocialist Hungary (2007).

A blurb for the book reads:

“Zsuzsa Gille combines social history, cultural analysis, and environmental sociology to advance a long overdue social theory of waste in this study of waste management, Hungarian state socialism, and post-Cold War capitalism. From 1948 to the end of the Soviet period, Hungary developed a cult of waste that valued reuse and recycling. With privatization the old environmentally beneficial, though not flawless, waste regime was eliminated, and dumping and waste incineration were again promoted. Gille’s analysis focuses on the struggle between a Budapest-based chemical company and the small rural village that became its toxic dump site.”

Underlying processes related to gentrification

Studies addressing underlying processes associated with gentrification, as conceptualized in this post include, among others:

The Meaning of Human Existence (2014)

The Social Conquest of Earth (2012)

A May 11, 2012 New York Times book review offers a critical perspective, and an interesting back story, regarding The Social Conquest of Earth.

Germany, Hitler, and World War II: Essays in Modern German and World History (1995),

Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (2010)

Genocide and the Geographical Imagination: Life and Death in Germany, China, and Cambodia (2012)

Also of relevance is a Granta report by James Fenton entitled “The Fall of Saigon.” The full account is available in The Granta Book of Reportage (2006). The book features well-written, in many cases first-hand, accounts of a selection of postwar events.

The Meaning of Human Existence (2014)

A passage from The Meaning of Human Existence (2014) did a great job of taking hold of my attention.

In a passage (p. 175) from Chapter 11, which is entitled “Instinct,” Edward O. Wilson notes that: “The human and chimpanzee lineages split from a common stock in Africa about six million years ago.”

The event, I would argue, was the beginning of gentrification.

Preferred choice: On a rise looking down, with a vista of parkland, and close to a body of water

I share this quotation from Edward O. Wilson:

“However, on a smaller scale within these panoramas, and for children not yet fully acculturated, laboratory experiments have yielded a different story. Volunteers from several countries with very different cultures were asked to evaluate photographs of a wide range of habi­tats where in fantasy they might live. The choices var­ied from dense forests to deserts, and other ecosystems in between. The preferred choice had three factors: the ideal vantage point is on a rise looking down, a vista of parkland comprising grassland sprinkled with trees and copses, and proximity to a body of water, whether stream, pond, lake, or ocean.

“This archetype happens to be close to the actual savannas of Africa where our prehuman and early ancestors evolved over millions of years. Is it possible that the preference for the environment of the species remains as a residue of prepared learning? The ‘Afri­can savanna hypothesis,’ as it is called, is not at all a conjecture out of the blue. All mobile animal species, from the tiniest insects to elephants and lions, instinc­tively choose the habitats to which all the rest of their biology is best adapted. If they did not, they would be less likely to find a mate, the food on which they are dependent, or the means to avoid unfamiliar parasites and predators.

“At the present time rural human populations around the world are imploding into cities. With any luck, their lives are improved by the better access to markets, schools, and medical centers. They also have a greater opportunity to support themselves and their families. But given a free choice, all else being equal, do they really prefer cities and suburbs as habitats? Because of the intense dynamism of urban ecology and the artifactual environment forced on them, it is impossible to say. So, to learn what people actually prefer and acquire when given a completely free choice, it is better to turn to those with a great deal of money. As landscape architects and high-end real estate agents will tell you, the rich prefer habitations set on a rise that looks out over parkland next to a body of water. None of these qualities have practical value, but people with sufficient means will pay any price to have them.”

[End of excerpt]

This is a valuable book as is The Granta Book of Reportage (2006) among others that I have mentioned.

Updates

Two Feb. 11, 2015 Brookings Institution articles address gentrification:

The Anti-Poverty Case for “Smart” Gentrification, Part 1

The Anti-Poverty Case for “Smart” Gentrification, Part 2

With regard to the topic of locations where humans prefer to live, if they have the choice, a Feb. 9, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “The Draw of a Spit of Land Surrounded by Blue.”

Also of interest: Extremely Violent Societies: Mass Violence in the Twentieth Century (2010).

A March 6, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “René Girard’s theories still explain the violence all around us: French-born scholar spent his career trying to understand what what makes violence a chronic problem.”

 

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