Friday 6th March 2020: Workshop Understanding Revitalization, Diversity and Gentrification in New England Cities and Beyond


The panel discussion, Session 1: Defining the Terms, brought together the ideas of Myers, Marcuss, Davidson and Lukens.

Setting the tone for the precedent of the workshop, the importance of having clarity on significant concepts that were fundamental to the discussions were realised both during this panel, and those that would follow throughout the duration of the workshop.

After an introduction from Myers, Marcuss began the panel presenting his working definition of the three fundamental terms. Marcuss determined diversity as a state of being where people of difference mix with one another; he presented gentrification as a circumstance or a process by which a neighbourhood or city is changed by the disadvantaged being forced to move out by as the consequence of a number of forces and as a result, the wealthier move in. Finally, Marcuss described revitalisation as economic activity, notions of vibrance, the increasing of property values and wellbeing.

Marcuss demonstrated that these definitions obscure more than they reveal once the debate about urban renewal is posed. This is because they are concerned with geographic diversity, as it relates to the physical space. Delving further into each of the three definitions, Marcuss probed which variables are the most significant to the diversity equation when you’re a policy maker, which elements of diversity are relevant? For Marcuss, class, education and race were paramount, but he questioned how much of each variable constitutes diversity? Which kind of diversity? And whether diversity always produces a social good? Grounding his argument, Marcuss presented that real diversity has to do with schools, the workplace and social institutions; that geographic diversity does little. Whilst Marcuss presented that it’s too easy to define gentrification as a movement upward in the overall character of a city, Marcuss problematised value labeled definitions arguing that we tend to think of diversity as a positive and gentrification as a negative. Marcuss demonstrated revitalisation as something that was once good, had declined, and was now being brought back or restored, however, he highlighted the problem of adjacency.

Davidson, probing the moral issue, presented an interesting approach to the discussion. Citing the well known piece, Is Gentrification a Dirty Word by the New York Times, Davidson argued that there are four crucial points of emphasis needed to define gentrification: reinvestment of capital, social upgrading (the increase of middle class people in an area), landscape change and displacement. Asserting the difference between placed-based and people-based renewal, Davidson however demonstrated that differentiating between displacements is a difficult task. Davidson posed the question: is displacement okay? An incredibly challenging debate, Davidson concluded that the answer is dependent upon which position one adopts, that of the utilitarian or that of the rights-based.

Lukens presented a standpoint following from Davidson’s grounding. Arguing in opposition to the point made by Marcuss, Lukens stated that the reason why people do not like gentrification is due to the consequence of displacement, not homogeneity. Furthemore, Lukens highlighted that access to public goods is a factor that must be recognised as significant to gentrification. Importantly, Lukens raised an original argument: demonstrating that on its own, gentrification means nothing, Lukens delineated the gravity of context-based definitions.

According to Lukens, the ways in which gentrification is thought about and explained become entangled and thus, make gentrification harder to solve. Lukens therefore distinguished between the three main applications for clarity:

  1. Processional: This application is fundamentally about a long term process and argues that what happened after redlining became gentrification. Processional application asks how did this long term government sanction process result in divestment, reinvestment and the displacement that follows? Processional theory can offer a point of intervention.
  2. Consequential: This application argues that the key aspect is displacement and whenever there is displacement, there exists gentrification. Whilst consequential application focuses the problem on displacement, it is dangerous because it asserts that every time someone has to move due to economic reasons, this is gentrification.
  3. Essentialist: The final application most clearly connects the economy with rapid urban change.

Lukens concluded that the problem is the process, and that this can only matter based on context.

Myers finalised the first session drawing the attention of the audience on three essential pillars for understanding the workshop: inequality, (in)justice and Inclusion. The importance of recognising these terms synthesised the discussion and demonstrated an entry point into the second session.