Reflecting on How to Kill a City – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

Reflecting on How to Kill a City

Though it’s not perfectly fresh in my mind, my reading of How to Kill a City challenged, changed, and strengthened my understanding of gentrification.

I appreciated the author’s detailed explanation of the “steps” of the gentrification process—this was something new to me, especially to understand that it normally begins in an innocuous way with the incoming of an often-creative class who are generally replaced by young and wealthy professionals when corporate developers come in.

It was interesting to see the parallels and contrasts in the path of gentrification in the four cities and to understand that gentrification doesn’t always present itself in the same way. For example New Orleans’ gentrification was directly shaped by the initial displacement of people due to Hurricane Katrina, whereas in San Francisco the tech industry has created a cost-prohibitive housing environment, whereas in Detroit the exodus of the auto industry and white flight and the city’s bankruptcy created the perfect environment for descending developers like Dan Gilbert.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book was the personal accounts. Previously my understanding of gentrification was rather abstract; I didn’t quite understand how Star Bucks and Whole Foods led to displacement of locals. Moskowitz told the stories of the real human suffering that exists behind gentrification. I now better understand the problem that it is.

I left the book with some questions. Moskowitz seemed to argue that anyone freely and voluntarily entering a city will inevitably contribute to gentrification. I wonder if this is necessarily true, and if so, what ways there are to make amends for one’s gentrifying. Perhaps selfishly as I might like to live in a city myself for at least a stint, I can’t imagine Moskowitz suggests no one should move to the city just because they like the city. But how can we do so without contributing to displacement? My first thoughts are to support politicians and policies that support public housing and more generally redistribution of wealth. But I’m interested to hear what you all think!

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