By Andrew M. Busch on Southernspaces.org
Photograph by Flickr user mirsasha.
In his heavily cited article "Crossing Over: Sustainability, New Urbanism, and Gentrification in Austin Texas" Professor Busch (Miami University, Ohio, PhD UT Austin) presents a social and political history that places East Austin at the center of a series of injustices, beginning with deliberate although unofficial segregation in the 1920s, through the effects of far more benign though no less significant "new urbanism" policies felt as gentrification today.
This last point is worth emphasizing. Gentrification is complex, Dr. Busch points out, particularly because the effect (the displacement of historic communities) is not the result of malevolence or even ignorance of the value of these communities (although this is sometimes the case), but rather the consequence of structural physical and economic realities. It is hard, for example, to understate the complexity of urban density, which is both the primary vehicle of gentrifying displacement as well as arguably the only ecologically viable solution to sustain civilization on this planet. Similarly, the market incentives which drive gentrifying development, both in the case of rent gaps that developers seek to exploit as well as the significant increase in tax revenue that the municipality stands to enjoy, are impossible to ignore.
There are times, to me, when it seems that gentrification seems but one more instance in which the dispossessed and disadvantaged are fated to suffer further injustice. But I also want to believe that the political apparatus is not so callous; I want to believe that there is value to every station in life and that the difficulty turns primarily on representing this value. How do we put it in economic terms? How can we insert the value of preserving historical continuity of minority populations and socio-economic diversity in urban cores into the equation? Since market capital and wealth generation drive the American machine, it will, unfortunately, not suffice simply to leverage an aesthetic or moral argument no matter how much we wish it to be the case.
This is not impossible. I am not an economist and only an amateur urban theorist, but I am willing to venture that intrinsically, any society which assumes a hierarchy of wealth distribution (as opposed to a communist scheme) will function most efficiently when certain needs are met (including and specifically socio-psychological needs satisfied by a sense of community) in all quartiles of the distribution—and moreover, that the system functions most efficiently when a spatial mixture of demographics is maintained to provide services and security. Jane Jacobs discusses this in her work.
What remains clear is the issue will be the exigent crisis facing our generation of young architects. Whether we can resolve the simple fact that dense urban living, ecologically and culturally imperative, is inherently expensive will determine much of the fate of the planet, I fear. Will we find economic solutions where incentives are not perversely aligned? Or must we rely on benevolent policy to subsidize the market in support of moral positions that are continuously threatened by the bottom line?
Here you will find a collection of material, ranging from technical data to white papers to theory, which has influenced my thinking.