Flights of fancy: gentrification

I have an immoderate passion for flights of fancy and searching connections between seemingly different themes. And this is nothing new. Let’s say that I consider them a few basic exercises for the survival of my brain and, above all, I think it may be the only way to differentiate mere information from true knowledge (remember the image of the dots of @Gapingvoid? Well, this is exactly). A few days ago I read, one after the other, two articles that had actually nothing to do one with the other, but that, suddenly, generated in my head the sense of the neon with the written “gentrification”.

I’ll go in order and try to explain myself better. The news was as follows:

News No. 1 (it’s from last year, yes, a bit old): Meryl Streep has bought a villa in Salento, the area of the world where I was born, the last strip of land of Apulia, Southeast region, an area which – as I always clarify – “is directly opposite Albania and Greece”. For years now, Salento (and more in general the Apulia region) is getting filled of actors, actresses, entrepreneurs of the international jet-set (the jet-set of magazines, basically). All in love with this land, all wanting to buy farms or houses to renew them (probably in the Shabby-Chic style / ethno – non-Global / Italian – 50’s), all of them wanting to immerse themselves in the uncontaminated nature of this place, also exalted by the New York Times. And, as a result, the area has become fashionable: thousands of tourists each year overwhelm this secular land (although, to tell the truth, I don’t know if it was first the chicken or the egg, that is, whether it was mass tourism or elite tourism the first one to arrive. But this is not the point).

London, Chance Street, graffiti by ROA

News No. 2 (recent) News: Street Art and love for writing/graffiti spread rapidly, are irrepressible.

[Quotes: is incredibly overwhelming also the fact that the term Street Art has phagocytosed the term writing/graffiti. It’s two different movements, it must be repeated].

In summary, Rome was invaded by graffiti artists from around the world who have filled with their pieces the walls of more peripheral areas (and not). Therefore, to facilitate the guided visit to the new “Art trend”, they have created an application ad hoc (StreetArt Rome) which allows to easily identify the “pieces”; the vice mayor Luigi Nieri has also announced that, for the Jubilee, “special routes” will be created to publicize to tourists and to the Romans the art of the entire city, inside and outside the museums, with double decker touristic buses that we will also see by Tor Bella Monaca or Ostia. A colossal work: more than 300 pieces created by 120 artists from around the world (Hitnes, Maupal, Mr. Kleva, Eduardo Kobra, Blu, Luqen, Sten Lex, Lucamaleonte, etc., etc., etc.).

What is what binds these two news, apparently disconnected between them? A modern concept, a phenomenon that has emerged from the confines of New York and London (at a distance of thirty – forty years), an instrument of exquisitely neoliberal policy with a name that says it all: gentrification. The etymology of the word (not exactly graceful) redirects to the Anglophone term gentry indicating, at the beginning, the English nobility and, later, the bourgeoisie or the middle class.

What is, therefore, the phenomenon of gentrification?

Brick Lane - London

In the section “Lexicon of the 21st century” of the Enciclopedia italiana Treccani there is a definition that seems to me fairly simple, easy to understand and devoided of classical “intellectual” accouterments that confused (and bore) so much:

Specified coined in 1964 by R. glass and indicating the phenomenon of regeneration and renewal of urban areas, which manifests itself, from the social and spatial point of view, in the transition from the industrial to the post-industrial economy. Gentrification is typical of “global cities”, associated with neoliberal policies, with a strong permeability of local public arenas to the interests of private capital. The effects of gentrification consist of a radical change of the most disadvantaged areas (inner city) of industrial cities, in terms of built environment – through demolition, reconstruction or rehabilitation of the most decadent historic districts – and social composition.

In a nutshell, this phenomenon, which spread in the early 70’s in the Big Apple, and then, in the suburbs of London, is what underlies the majority of State/municipal policies governed by key words such as “urban regeneration”, “urban requalification”, “urban renaissance” and similar. Private equity (and those who possess it) considered of great interest, and a delicious opportunity to benefit, the collaboration with institutions and local governments to begin the process of regeneration of the areas identified as the most attractive.

Do you want an example? The Raval in Barcelona, Alameda de Hércules in Seville, Brick Lane in London, Torpignattara and Tor Bella Monaca in Rome and many more, all of them areas that used to be considered marginal, dangerous, inhabited by a varied and colorful fauna (mostly by immigrants, prostitutes, laborers and “people of bad reputation”) and that are now the cool and fashionable points of the city.

Identified, therefore, the area to “regenerate”, a total “cleansing” of the place is acted, which becomes appealing for proprietary classes; the result is that he an exponential increase of housing prices is caused as well as the elimination, for purely economic reasons, of the indigenous people. The gentrification process tends, therefore, to create true “exclusive enclaves”, contributing to a spatial materialization of social polarisation, a result, from the urban perspective, of the globalization process.

Is it sure that “urban regeneration” is a totally positive phenomenon?


Photo: Elisabetta

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