#156: Like a Rolling Stone

One broad narrative about Western urbanism over the past several centuries is that cities have continuously grown cleaner, quieter, and more appealing due to deindustrialization and related developments like containerized shipping, which allowed less palatable activities to move toward the metropolitan periphery. Instead of the smokestacks, docks, and overcrowded tenements that once symbolized the urban landscape, the equivalent images today are glimmering office towers, redeveloped waterfronts, and entertainment districts whose names reference their grimier past. If contemporary cities have become more appealing in general, however, we should ask how evenly that appeal is distributed, and you can probably guess that the answer is “unevenly.” In fact, the very same phenomena that lured the affluent back from the suburbs put new kinds of pressure on other groups: Deindustrialization eliminated broad categories of urban employment opportunities, neoliberal policies from the 1970s onward weakened the social safety net, and gentrification caused urban space itself to be reallocated away from various constituencies in favor of others, sometimes violently. Mike Davis presciently describes a facet of the latter trend in his 1990 book about Los Angeles,

Read →