Frontier Myth and Gentrification
Neil Smith’s article, “New City, New Frontier: The Lower East Side as Wild, Wild West” discusses the core of what may be characterized as the revitalization of the urban frontier in New York City, with a detailed and intricate exposition and emphasis on the very concepts of the frontier myth and the process of gentrification.
Smith’s take off point is the case of the Tompkins Square Park, New York City, the place noted for a police-incited riot which occurred on the 6th and 7th of August, 1988 which involves protesters particularly the homeless, the poor, the youth living wayward and deviant lifestyles who occupy the park as a sort of sanctuary. Local entrepreneurs and business owners opposed the aforementioned people’s settlement in the park and petitioned for their eviction resulting to violence. What is the significance of the Tompkins Square Park riot to the concepts of frontier myth and gentrification?
What is the relation between these two concepts? Smith explores the very idea and experience of homelessness, being evicted from one’s immediate social environment and his or her social and political milieu. In a real sense, this experience is degrading for the evicted families and individuals. This usually generates feelings of powerlessness, anxiety and oppression. In American history for instance, gentrification is considered as a mechanism for the revitalization or rehabilitation of the casualties brought about by wars and conflicts both from the external and the internal threats.
Examples of such destructive courses in history are World War I and II. Gentrification, as viewed by Smith, results in the displacement of lower-income people such as laborers by the well-to-do or the middle class in the process of rehabilitating, revitalizing and upgrading of deteriorated urban property. Hackworth (2002) defines it as “the production of urban space for progressively more affluent users” (p. 815). This is in accordance with Smith’s claim regarding the process as he states that it leads to the creation of the frontier myth.
He states The frontier myth makes the new city explicable in terms of old ideologies. Insofar as gentrification obliterates working-class communities, displaces poor households and converts whole neighborhoods into bourgeois enclaves, the frontier ideology rationalizes social differentiation and exclusion as natural and inevitable. (1992, p. 273) Smith therefore, views both concepts [the frontier myth and gentrification] as closely related concepts.
As may be inferred from the aforementioned quotation, Smith contends that the issues of the frontier myth and gentrification have certain ideological commitments attached at their very core. The problem with the frontier myth and the process of gentrification therefore, poses serious threats on the very notion of a “shared history”. As the materially-driven real-estate industries and markets continue to flourish, the easier it displaces low-income people from their immediate social environment and social and political milieu, thus, endangering the very notion of a shared history.
The same point is raised by Hackworth (2002) as he argues that although the term gentrification has been used in various ways to the extent that there is a need to differentiate between the classical and post recession meaning of the term, “linking that change to the wider economic restructuring” will enable researchers to fully identify the effects of the process on the explanation of political, economic, and cultural change (p. 839). One may thereby consider whether the process of gentrification enables the growth of a community as opposed to its demise.
Cameron (2003) notes that although the process merely involves the “physical renovation or rehabilitation of what is considered as highly deteriorated stock” thereby enabling a positive form of gentrification, the process does not ensure that the successful transformation of the area will also improve the life of the original population (p. 2371). In addition to this Bloomey (2003) notes that “recognizing the progressive potential of property must not blind us from an acknowledgement of the often oppressive effects of its actual workings and social distributions” (p. 134).
He supports his claim regarding the oppressive effects of gentrification by citing the case in Vancouver’s Dowtown Eastside. He states, “the lived reality for many here seems to be predicated less on the ‘quiet enjoyment’ of settled entitlements than on the everyday threat of enforced displacement and dispossession” (2003, p. 134). Within the aforementioned area the violences of property are not confined to displacement. New modalities of policing, whether public or private, mobilize the language of ‘‘broken windows’’ ideology, which relies in turn upon certain particular understandings of property.
He further notes, “Over sixty women, many of them sex-trade workers, are currently designated as ‘missing’ from the Downtown Eastside…This sexual and racial violence is perhaps also predicated upon…gendered codings of property and public and private space” (2003, p. 134). In a sense, it can be said that a sensitive issue such as gentrification requires critical evaluation before it may be made operational. This is due to the fact that it would involve the political, economic and social considerations of an entire community in question and their sense of what it means to be a community in the strict sense of the word.
To belong to a community is to invoke a pool of shared understanding, shared experiences and a shared sense of identity. When Smith says that the very process of gentrification cancels out social history, that aspect which may be said to be essentially constitutive of our own humanity, I can but agree. References Blomey, N. (2003). “Law, Property, and the Geography of Violence: The Frontier, the Survey, and the Grid. ” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 93, 121-141.
Cameron, S. (2003). “Gentrification, Housing Redifferentiation and Urban Regeneration: ‘Going for Growth’ in Newcastle upon Tyne. ” Urban Studies 40, 2367-2382. Hackworth, J. (2002). “Postrecession Gentrification in New York City. ” Urban Affairs Review, 37, 815-853. Smith, N. (1992). “New City, New Frontier: The Lower East Side as Wild, Wild, West. ” Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space. Ed. Michael Sorkin. New York: Noonday Press.Sample Essay of EduBirdie.com