Tuesday, 25 October 2011

MY BOOK REVIEW - THE NEW URBAN FRONTIER: GENTRIFICATION AND THE REVANCHIST CITY


Author : Neil Smith
Title : The New Urban Frontier : Gentrification and the Revanchist City
Year of Publication : 1996
Place of Publication : London
Publisher: Routledge, London
Pages : 262
ISBN : 041513255X

This book brings together a body of research on gentrification conducted by Neil Smith over a period of nearly 20 years. The book thus reflects developments within Marxian-oriented urban theory from the late 1970s to the late 1990sto the inclusion of aspect of ethnicity and gender and the practice of discourse analysis to reveal, and the practice of discourse analysis to reveal ways of creating frontiers. Two of the ten chapters are new, while eight are updated versions of articles and chapters previously published and often cited in the gentrification literature. The two new chapters (2 and 8) address the issues: “Is gentrification a dirty words?” and “And gentrification experiences in European cities so distinct as to merit development of theories fundamentally different from those used to explain gentrification in North American cities?”This book challenges conventional wisdom, which holds gentrification to be the simple outcome of new middle-class tastes and a demand for urban living.
It reveals gentrification as part of a much larger shift in the political economy and culture of the late twentieth century. Documenting in gritty detail the conflicts that gentrification brings to the new urban 'frontiers', the author explores the interconnections of urban policy, patterns of investment, eviction, and homelessness. The failure of liberal urban policy and the end of the 1980s financial boom have made the end-of-the-century city a darker and more dangerous place. Public policy and the private market are conspiring against minorities, working people, the poor, and the homeless as never before. In the emerging revanchist city, gentrification has become part of this policy of revenge. The reader is able to follow as the reduction and centralisation of social services makes the city both a haven and a scourge. The streets offer a means of support and network, even as local councils and retail traders lobby to `keep the city clean and safe', a semantic shift on the threadbare attempts to rationalise slum clearance.
Nevertheless, there remains much to recommend in this book. Smith writes persuasively. He has a tempo and grip of the argument which allows diverse and demanding subject material to be dealt with in a conversational manner, from the history of `socialist gentrification' in post-Communist Budapest, to scientific appraisals of urban demographics. The conclusion of The New Urban Frontier could easily accommodate a `City of Quartz'-like conclusion to configure a foreseen post-apocalyptic scenario for the West's many physically expanding, but economically declining cities. It is something of a relief that this is not the case. However, Smith draws some concerning parallels between international cases of the revanchist city in its extreme--citing the murder of homeless children in Rio de Janeiro through to the bombing in Oklahoma City--as part of a continuum.
Despite rhetoric of `degentrification', the boundaries demarcated by social inequality show no sign of dissolving. Smith's frequently used frontier motif is turned on its head, as the line between `savagery' and `civilisation' is no longer seen as a one-way, expansionist trajectory, but a contested battleline.  Smith admits a `two-class analysis' to be problematic, yet this is where he returns in the end. So while the issues of revenge politics and urban decline certainly construct an environment of dualistic adversary at work, in the city of decline it is left to the reader to decide whether this is the same city that they have come to know. He is convincing theories about the gentrification of the inner city as an economic process propelled by urban land prices and city land speculation — not a cultural preference for living in the city.

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