A Broken World

Gentrification isn’t what you think it is. Not exactly.

(Courtesy flickr user Simon Bowie/CC BY 2.0)

Amanda Burden, the New York City planning director under Michael Bloomberg, once likened gentrification to cholesterol, which is to say, a necessary, organic substance capable of manifesting in good and bad ways. The same administration, reacting to the sensitivity around the “G-word,” substituted a euphemistic metric in its place: livability. Cynical, sure, but “gentrification”—deriving from an archaic, Old World class signifier—is hardly descriptive. One inevitably reaches for metaphors when trying to explain it.

In her new book, Gentrification Is Inevitable and Other Lies (Verso), Leslie Kern analyzes the discursive dimension of the term and the tradition of urban prescriptivism more generally. Among other things, she clarifies how our metaphors can help us better understand processes of gentrification and its primary movers. But is there a danger in arresting the matter at the level of language, as Samuel Stein implicitly argues in his 2019 book Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State (Jacobin)? In the following dialogue, Kern and Stein discuss vit…

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