Gentrification and colonization

You hear a lot about gentrification these days.

As with so many other phenomenon, gentrification is best defined by Urban Dictionary, which defines gentrification as:

When a bunch of white people move to the ghetto and open up a bunch of cup cake shops


Oppression of the professional victim class by Da Man.

It’s hard for people to understand old practices and institutions. Nevertheless, many modern phenomenon are just old ones re-hashed. Slavery, for all its faults, was a solution to certain problems that haven’t left us and that we don’t have better solutions for.

Another example of a problem that our ancestors were better at solving is the problem of how to civilize an uncivilized area. They called this process colonization. We can’t hope to perform this task on the same scale, so we have a mini-version of the same process called gentrification.

Not only were our ancestors better at giving rise to civilization, but they took on the process on a much grander scale. They tried to civilize areas that had no familiarity with modernity, had never been civilized and were far away from existing pockets of civilization.

An Egypt that’s as civilized as Lord Cromer’s or a “Zimbabwe” that’s as civilized as Ian Smith’s Rhodesia is incomprehensible to the modern mind. We can’t even get the citizens of Detroit some decent food.

What better exposes the absurd notion that we have progressed politically in the last few hundred years as a lie than the fact that we’ve given up expanding civilization across the world and are instead desperately trying to carve out patches of civilization in our largest cities?

If you read about gentrification regularly, you’ll notice that any discussion is always accompanied by stories about how it’s negatively affecting parts of “the community.” For example, here’s The New Republic on gentrification:

where only a decade or so ago gunshots provided the beat in the background noise: People leading pets to dog parks, picking up Italian kale at the corner farmers’ market, meeting friends at the local gastropub, admiring the latest yarn-bombed bike rack. The only housing towers going up in these rising neighborhoods have penthouses and lap pools.

Sounds like everyone is a winner, right?

Not so fast, you see the problem is that the uncivilized residents of these areas (the ones shooting each other) are not the ones doing the re-civilizing. This surprises the progressive mind:

When I recently asked a half-dozen urban planners to name places revived by indigenous residents alone, they were hard-pressed to come with examples.

The problem is that civilized neighborhoods lack diversity. And, when the choices are the absence of gunshots or diversity, are we really so sure gunshots are all that bad?


12 Responses to Gentrification and colonization

  1. Handle says:

    There may be a little DC-centric bias here. In certain “cognitive concentrator / creative class cities” (C5?) – gentrification is “working” because of larger historical and economic forces at play.

    Certainly, there are those with the temperaments and courage and/or wherewithal to be pioneers (or life circumstances, childless college kids or gays don’t have to worry about the schools), and others who will follow along later once they feel the coast is clearing. To pioneers, the struggle feels personal and real. But if the trends are working in your favor, the money will make re-civilization happen inevitably.

    Perhaps I’m being too economically materialist in my class-based Historicism. But gentrification is being tried and failing in many more American cities, no matter how many speeches Richard Florida makes to neo-urbanism booster clubs.

    In short – I think it is more sad that formerly civilized places were de-gentrified in the first place, and that barbarians are living barbarously amongst the abandoned ruins of what were once orderly, thriving, happy middle class urban communities, then that, in a few special places, some of that is being clawed back inch by inch. Because there’s enough cash to win all the bidding wars, enough traffic to make it worth it, and enough nearby PG county into which one can easily nudge the vibrantites.

    • Foseti says:

      “In short – I think it is more sad that formerly civilized places were de-gentrified in the first place, and that barbarians are living barbarously amongst the abandoned ruins of what were once orderly, thriving, happy middle class urban communities, then that, in a few special places, some of that is being clawed back inch by inch.”

      Indeed. Nevertheless, Richard Florida doesn’t think he’s advocating anything like colonization, and yet . . .

  2. B says:

    What do you mean, “we can’t even get the citizens of Detroit some decent food”? Raccoon is much more nutritious than PUMPKIN.

    Dr. Carlyle to the front desk, please!

    “we have a few black persons rendered extremely “free” indeed. Sitting yonder, with their beautiful muzzles up to the ears in raccoon, imbibing sweet pulps and juices; [p.529] the grinder and incisor teeth ready for every new work, and the raccoons cheap as grass in those rich climates; while the assembly lines rot round them, uncut, because labor cannot be hired, so cheap are the raccoons.”

  3. Gian says:

    Slavery is merely one solution to the problem of natural inequality.
    The natural solution to natural inequality is political inequality-just maintain that political rights are not natural rights.

    The contention that there is no better solution than slavery is simply false.

    The political inequality is good for the inferiors. But slavery is not good. If all you mean by slavery is denial of political equality, then why use this term that means something else? You must say what you mean by slavery. For a reactionary, you need to acquint yourself with various kinds of ruling–despotic, monarachic, democratic etc.

    • Foseti says:

      I never said it was the solution. However, broadly defined, I’m not sure EBTs for all is actually a different solution. Same thing, new name

      • Foseti says:

        I can do better than that.

        If a person is really free, a person must:
        1) provide for himself/work;
        2) die;
        3) obtain charity; or
        4) take a master.

        Modern society deals with “free” people who can’t provide for themselves (or obtain charity (for reasons we ought not get into)) by giving them compensation for not working.

        The question is, is this compensation charity or a master/slave relationship?

        Some of both, I suspect.

        If you prefer to think of it another way, if we could reincarnate someone from the 1830s and send them to a housing project, would they be awed with the splendor of modern freedom?

        If you think so, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

      • Gian says:

        Precisely which rights should the inferiors need to be deprived of?

        Do you distinguish between natural rights and political rights?
        Eg Africans and Indians under British Empire and subjects of Russian empire had natural rights but limited political rights.
        Would you call them slaves?

      • Foseti says:

        It would appear that we have a different conception of “rights.”

        I’m suspicious of both modifiers you put in front of rights (“natural” and “political”).

        Do Singaporeans not have political rights? If not, who cares about political rights?

        If a person has natural rights, why is the right to take master not among them?

  4. Gian says:

    Your questions are deep, But there is significance in the terms natural rights and political rights.
    It is the difference between a legal immigrant and a citizen.
    Do you think there is no difference here?

  5. […] It’s very Thomas Friedman-like; a little ordinary observation expanded into major policy implications.  In this case the policy implication is one of the various gentrification strategies to take back the ghettos so decent people can live in the cities again.  Here’s six of Foseti’s many posts on the subject in chronological order: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) […]

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