Friday, April 1, 2011

The Destruction of Authenticity since the 1980s

Brooklyn College sociology professor and wildly famous urban sociologist Sharon Zukin made these observations about NYC in her most recent book:
But the city's historic diversity of uses, local specializations, small stores, and cheek-by-jowl checkerboard of rich people, poor people, and people broadly in the middle has been submerged by a tidal wave of new luxury apartments and chain stores. Global investment firms have bought thousands of low-cost apartment houses and prepare to raise the rent or sell them as condos, driving out older and poorer tenants. The fertile urban terroir of cultural creation is being destroyed by the conspicuous displays of wealth and power typical of private developers and public officials who build for the rich and hope benefits will trickle down to the poor, by the promotions of the media who translate neighborhood identity into a brand, and by the tastes of new urban middle classes who are initially attracted to this identity but ultimately destroy it. These forces of redevelopment have smoothed the uneven layers of grit and glamour, swept away traces of contentious history, cast doubt on the idea that poor people have a right to live and work here too -- all that had made the city authentic.
Her view of authenticity is that it has two mechanisms -- the protection what is seen as "original" (think historic preservation) and continual cultural innovation -- that are in tension, but are also in tension with (and used by) the homogenizing forces of redevelopment that we see in all cities today. The 1980s are a particularly important starting point for these homogenizing forces.

1 comment:

  1. Zukin recognizes that authenticity is ridiculous in the urban context, which is always changing, but rather that authenticity is a continual concern of residents in cities. The idea of authenticity has real effects.

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