Week 3: Gentrification and the Void of Culture – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

Week 3: Gentrification and the Void of Culture

Hi all,

I have found that How to Kill a City has really transformed my understanding of the processes of gentrification and all of the little things that happen ‘behind the scenes’ before a city is able to be gentrified. The blame often gets placed on the new people that are moving into the cities, but not enough attention is paid to the developers, politicians, and business people that allow for this to happen.

Something that stood out to me in the Detroit chapters was the role that Dan Gilbert has played in reshaping downtown. I was amazed by the power that he and his money had over the city, and the monopoly that he has created is quite worrisome. According to this Business Insider article (https://www.businessinsider.com/quicken-loans-dan-gilbert-detroit-2018-8) he has invested $5.6 billion into the city and accounts for 17,000 jobs. The issue that Moskowitz highlights is that cities are used in order to generate capital, ignoring the culture and community. These billions of dollars that were invested by Gilbert serve to generate returns/income for him, not the city. Although some news articles praise him for bringing in this money, it is important to remember who is really benefiting from this (and who isn’t).

  A quote that grabbed my attention from the book was, “It’s hard to report on a void, on something that’s now missing…but at the end of the day, that’s what gentrification is: a void in the neighborhood, in a city, and a culture.” This absence of culture and aesthetic is discussed in the book, and it’s also something that I have noticed in the many new buildings and businesses in gentrified cities. They are homogenized, devoid of character or individuality, and demonstrative of the void of culture. 

I have spent some time in all 4 cities (New Orleans, Detroit, San Francisco, and New York) and have many relatives who live in these cities or used to live in the cities. My grandpa lived and worked in San Francisco for most of his life, but was slowly pushed out and eventually had to move to Michigan to be able to afford to retire. He loved the city, but the price of his rent skyrocketed while his salary remained the same. His story closely parallels some of the other narratives from How to Kill a City.

2 thoughts on “Week 3: Gentrification and the Void of Culture”

  1. That’s a really interesting article that you linked to; I think it does a great job of describing the history of the city. As someone who doesn’t live in Detroit, I’ve definitely looked at some of the changes in the city as completely positive things without considering the negative impact that they have on the people that already live there. Reading and learning about gentrification has definitely opened my eyes to a perspective that I admittedly did not consider before.

    Hope your project is going well!!

  2. That’s a rich anecdote, the story of how your family moved to Michigan. Wow. My sympathies go out to your grandpa and your family. Although we’re reading about gentrification, I couldn’t know how that feels to be displaced by it – had to be a very difficult journey. I agree, we don’t hear too much about people behind gentrification besides new people we can see walking down the street. I feel like it is presented in packaging many people don’t know how to unpackage, for me, that’s politics. So it’s motivating to get to know more about politics, or at least search better for things like “current legislature for dummies” if something like this exists. Thanks for emphasizing these points and sharing your story.

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