Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Where are your solutions?

Authors Rosalyn Deutsche and Cara Gendel Ryan offer such fierce and extreme views on the subject of gentrification that I must step back and examine their logic. They make their opposition to the process apparent, and encourage the reader to avoid personal involvement. To do this one must first understand what gentrification is, which is only possible if we “isolate the economic forces that are destroying … the traditional labor classes.” Who are these classes in particular? The blue collar, pre-Reagonomics, industrial workers. Following the automization of labor power in the 1950s, these work forces became obsolete. With the need for manpower dwindling and capitalism on a limitless rise, they could no longer contribute to society. This, combined with the Reagan administration’s cuts on welfare and human resource programs, developed a new “underclass”. The rising Post-industrialist society was exceptionally market-driven instead of people-driven. Cities developed housing specifically geared toward white-collar workers, using tactics such as urban neglect and the 421-a tax abatement program. Instead of providing funds for low-income housing, cities preferred to fund middle-class artist housing that will contribute to urban “renewal”. According to Deutsche and Ryan, where profit is favored over the urban poor, Gentrification is present. This is not just exemplified in city policy, but within private companies and individuals as well. Specifically, galleries and artists who locate themselves in low-income areas are complicit in the displacement of poor residents. To quote Deutsche and Ryan directly, “Artists have placed their housing needs above those of residents who cannot choose where to live.”
This being said, I am curious as to what the authors are imploring the readers to do- what solutions they are posing. Their critiques of gentrification are obvious: the displacement, the lack of low-income housing, the limited supply blue-collar jobs. I fail to see how these problems can be solved without first addressing the system of capitalism. At the heart of our economy lies the desire to make profit. This is true for blue-collar and white-collar workers, big businesses and small businesses, and even our city governments. Of course, gentrification is not caused by a capitalistic society, but by a capitalistic society that sees to it’s own needs before those of others. The solution lies in valuing people over profits, even people who can make little to no contribution to post-industrial society. At the same time, it is impossible to value “people”, in this case traditional labor forces, without reverting to pre-WWII employment opportunities. Even if human resource and welfare programs were increased and low-income housing developed, that still would change the fact that the “underclass” are blue-collar workers in a white-collar world. To reverse this would be to flip our American society on its head, an action I do not foresee in the near future. Perhaps the call to action now is to simply know one’s context, to deem gentrification a “proper cultural concern” in and out of the art world. I do not know the solution to the problems posed by our authors, nor do I know if there is one, but awareness is the first step to any process of improvement.

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