donderdag 8 september 2011

Authenticity as a social right

Sharon Zukin's view on authenticity is a real eye-opener.

Origins” refers not to which group settled in a neighborhood earliest. Instead, it suggests a moral right to inhabit a space, not just to consume it as an experience. Authenticity in this sense in not a stage set of historical buildings as in SoHo or a performance of bright lights as at Times Square; it’s a continuous process of living and working, a gradual buildup of everyday experience, the expectation that neighbors and buildings that are here today will be here tomorrow.
A city loses its soul when this continuity is broken.

The major difference between Moses’ time and ours lies in a shift from the ideal of the modern city to that of the authentic city. To the extent that the city planning commissioners honor Jane Jacobs’s vision, they say, “if you allow the character of a neighborhood to be eroded, the people who live in a neighborhood will leave the city.” Whose character, though, is most authentic? If authenticity is a state of mind, it’s historic, local, and cool. But if authenticity is a social right, it’s also poor, ethnic, and democratic. Authenticity speaks for the right of the city, and a neighborhood, to offer residents, workers, store owners, and street vendors the opportunity to put down roots – to represent, paradoxically, both origins and new beginnings.

 source: Naked City, the death and life of authentic urban places - S. Zukin 

beautiful collection of vintage photos of Brooklyn taken in the summer of 1974


first notes on gentrification

The desire for an authentic urban experience began as a reaction to the urban crisis of the 1960s, when American cities were described as hopeless victims of a fatal disease. … In truth, cities were losing their competitive advantage (efflux to the suburbs). … Cities would target investors and visitors by rebuilding the center and making themselves look as attractive as suburbs. Beginning in the 1970’s, developers of downtown shopping centers turned derelict industrial and waterfront land in profitable attractions to compete with suburban malls. In the 1980s cultural districts, ethnic tourists zones, and artists’ lofts presented a clean image of diversity for mass consumption. … But city officials forgot about the cities origins.

As a result Brooklyn Heights was the birthplace of a new romantic urban ideal. Sitting on the edge of the modern Civic Center, the Heights was an imagined “neighborhood” located in the aging Victorian industrial districts surrounding the central business district. As they restored townhouses, the so-called brownstoners recast Brooklyn’s townhouses, waterfront piers, and industrial lofts as sources of anti-bureaucratic authenticity. In doing so, Heights residents formed a template for Brownstone Brooklyn’s future neighborhoods. They also forged an alternative to the dominant modernist ideology of the 1950s and developed a distinctly urban identity for a new middle class.
We can describe 1960s Brooklyn as the place of the via media, the middle course. Many residents of Brooklyn view themselves as a kind of Third Force between the city and the suburbs. Theirs is the vitality of the city without the penalties of big-city life, the grace of suburban living without its invasion of privacy. They dismiss the Great City as ‘phony’ and the suburbs as ‘conformist’. Brooklyn, they insist, has the best of both worlds. Lodged between the modernist landscape of the Civic Center and the slum periphery, the Heights represented a middle cityscape.

blighted Brooklyn

impersonal Manhattan

artificial suburbia

This middle landscape sat surrounded by three non-places: impersonal and modern high-rise Manhattan, artificial and conformist suburbia, and bleak and blighted working-class Brooklyn. In critiquing these three spaces – Manhattan, suburbia, and the ghetto – Brooklyn Heights residents invented Brownstone Brooklyn’s first “neighborhood” and developed a cohesive identity as a new urban middle class.

Bed-Stuy do or Buy?

An interesting view on gentrification. What does it mean to be gentrified?

zondag 4 september 2011


On april 1, Concord Village officially opened its doors to the public. Steps away from the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, the new apartment complex presented a striking contrast to Brownstone Brooklyn’s aging landscape. Most residents saw in the complex only the frightening specter of Manhattanization. But manhattanization as both a fact and symbol is crucial to the history of gentrification. Concord Village represented what Brownstone Brooklyn was not. The neo-romantic impulse that inspired new middle-class gentrifiers formed as a reaction to a imagined modern city of towers, highways, and public housing emerging after World War II. Concord Village and Brownstone Brooklyn were twin products of the same economic restructuring. Rather than threatening to destroy Brownstone Brooklyn’s authenticity, Manhattanization gave birth to it.

Concord Village - Manhattanizations' first but not last 'clash' with Brooklyn
Incoming residents of brownstones enclaves such as Brooklyn Heights and Cobble hill would describe a modern city that was “impersonal,” “abstract,” “alienating” or “inauthentic.” In contrast, they would describe Brownstone Brooklyn as “local”, “decentralized”, “grassroots” and “historical diverse”. If Brownstone Brooklyn offered a sense of place, Concord Village, the Civic Centre, and urban renewal superblocks represented a landscape of sameness, or simply a non-place.

present-day aerial view on Concord Village

source:  S. Osman, The invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, 2011, Harvard University press