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Gentrification (Thesis Prep Excerpt)

January 11, 2011
Tompkins Square Riot, New York City, 1988, Ángel Franco/The New York Times

There is not a clear solution to the predicament of gentrification. However, there may be ways to spatialize an existing behavior with a certain set of constituents while allowing for the unstoppable force of commercialization and subsequent privatization to take its course. This can be termed as spatial diplomacy. There are various dialectical trajectories for this negotiation. One could approach the site through discourse (heterogeneity), singularity (homogeneity), or debate (hypergeneity).

This thesis chooses a spatial diplomacy of hypergeneity and confrontation. Deliberate tension between various users and programs promotes a subversive negotiation. In this case, the artist squatters at Tacheles exist with the commercial users to illustrate that they are needed for commercial gentrification. Without them, the Mitte area of Berlin would not be nearly as desirable a destination. This type of situation is common in urban environments around the world. In Neil Smith’s “New City, New Frontier” (in Michael Sorkin’s “Variations On A Theme Park” compilation about the proliferation of privatized and commodified urban spaces), he discusses the Manifest Destiny phenomenon of the Americanized commercial obliteration effect:

“…the processes and forces reshaping the new city are global as much as local. Gentrification and homelessness in the new city are a microcosm of a new global order etched by the rapacity of capital. Not only are broadly similar processes remaking cities around the world, but the world itself impinges dramatically on these localities. The gentrification frontier is also an ‘imperial frontier’” (Sorkin 91-92).

Theories developed saying that the Lower East Side landlords lowered the rent in the early 1980s to attract artists to make the area vibrant, only to inflate the rent once the area was “gentrified” just enough for developers to make a profit.  The medieval economic theory of Gresham’s Law -“Bad money drives out good”- sums up this process. Similar to New York City’s Lower East Side, the squatter artists at Tacheles gentrified the Mitte area to the point where developers want to further “gentrify” or obliterate what exists. The Marxist dialectic of class struggle as central to social and economic life is clearly at play in this particular process. In Walter Benjamin’s Arcade Project, the flâneur, prostitute, and sandwichman’s existence is threatened when their physical space is threatened (Hanssen 35). In order to move forward in a non-utopian world and lessen the social divide, the two forces -being the status quo and commercialization must coexist in order to the challenge the momentum of the new urban Manifest Destiny.

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