Gavin Mueller's piece in Jacobin's today on Liberalism and Gentrification is wonderful and very plainly puts the power dynamics of "urban renewal" into sharp focus:
Gentrification has always been a top-down affair, not a spontaneous hipster influx, orchestrated by the real estate developers and investors who pull the strings of city policy, with individual home-buyers deployed in mopping up operations.
But then he lets urban sociologist Sharon Zukin bash Jane Jacobs for being the "patron saint" of a "softer side" of gentrification:
“What Jacobs valued — small blocks, cobblestone streets, mixed-uses, local character — have become the gentrifiers’ ideal. This is not the struggling city of working class and ethnic groups, but an idealised image that plays to middle-class tastes.” In the absence of true diversity in income and ownership, a simulacrum can be easily substituted. In my “up-and-coming” neighborhood in Washington, the superficially eclectic mix of bars and restaurants are owned by the same developer.
I think that Mueller's neighborhood would have disgusted Jacobs. And I don't understand how small blocks, cobblestone streets, mixed-uses and local character are harmful to workers and ethnic groups.
Yes, douchey developers are creating Jacobs-like Potemkin Villages while destroying the lives of their inhabitants. It's not the mixed-use small block's fault. If the wealthy real estate developer were to be replaced by a working class ethnic bodega owner, the mixed-use small block would be better for his business and for the elderly working class ethnic senior citizen who needed to buy a sandwich.
Which really gets back to Mueller's original point -- just cuz hipsters like something isn't really relevant. The focus should be on the "cabal of property-owning hacks" who are killing our diverse small business ecosystems and pushing property values higher and higher.