On ‘How to Kill a City’ – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

On ‘How to Kill a City’

The novel “How to Kill a City” by P.E. Moskowitz tells the story of various cities’ gentrification. The book prefaces a lot of this with the economic model for gentrification that allows the process to take off. A lot of factors come into play and there’s a lot of variance between the different cases of the cities. The book highlights how the migration of outsiders into an urban city leads to various ripple effects that raise rent prices and subsequently lead to evictions. However, it emphasizes the systemic root and how politics, the media, and government negligence facilitate this process and essentially make it inevitable. In the case of Detroit, the novel emphasizes the role of the 2013 city bankruptcy and how it piggybacks off of the historical redlining and housing discrimination in Detroit. The novel also delves into details regarding the influence of Quickenloans and how the Detroit government’s preference for building capital over directly serving the well being of its residents allowed for gentrification to take its impact.

Going into the book I had some vague ideas regarding how gentrification worked but I never thought about how systemic a process it is and how much capitalist ideals enable the process. Colloquially, I’d always hear gentrification discussed in a way that makes it seem as though just the individuals moving to a new city or opening a trendy, “hipster” restaurant lead to the process; they’re more markers and symptoms of the issue than the actual cause. Detroit’s bankruptcy also happened when I was 13, living only a few minutes outside of Detroit; the information I learned about the situation and how gentrification picked up pace was really informative and really allowed me to piece together a lot of the incidences and changes of Detroit that I was hearing about over the years. The way the book also parallels and contrasts Detroit’s situation to that of other cities also adds a lot of perspective I the sense that this highlights how although each city is different, the same system allows for gentrification to take place. One thing I think the book did really well was incorporating the perspective of these cities’ inhabitants. At its core, this novel tries to capture how systemic causes impact individual people and families.

1 thought on “On ‘How to Kill a City’”

  1. Rakira Urquhart

    Hi Diana,
    As you recognized gentrification as a systemic process it made me realize how much detail and planning goes into “revitalizing” a city (or part of a city in Detroit’s case). As you mentioned the restructuring is strategic in that it in encourages a certain demographic to move to the city, that being young, middle class men and woman looking to jumpstart their adult lives. All of the new business and housing being built also has a major impact in attracting these individuals.

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