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Book Review of P.E. Moskowitz’s How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and The Fight for The Neighborhood

When building up a community actually tears it down.

P.E. Moskowitz’s book How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for The Neighborhood is a comprehensive study on the systemic problem of gentrification (the changes in urban neighborhoods across the country), how it’s affecting African Americans and other minorities, and who really is in power in our cities.

Title:                            How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and The Fight for The Neighborhood

Author:                       P.E. Moskowitz

Publisher:                 Bold Type Books, 2018

Reviewer:                  Omar Miranda

What are the main concerns being addressed?

The main concern being addressed in Moskowitz’s book is that there is a systemic program to shift the economic and political power in urban cities from the majority of the “regular” people who comprise the lower socioeconomic classes, who have lived there, to large, faceless organizations, with enormous bank accounts, and the political power that follows it.

Were those concerns clearly stated?

Yes. The author has comprehensive and authoritative knowledge about the topic.

What are the book’s strengths and contributions?

The book’s strengths are two-fold:

  1. The author clearly and powerfully paints a comprehensive picture of all the social, cultural, economic, and political factors that cause gentrification in urban cities and how it affects those who live in those cities—and are slowly being pushed and “priced” out of their own cities.
  2. The author effectively gives the reader first-hand accounts of how gentrification is affecting regular city dwellers through thorough and poignantly written stories, biographies, and vignettes.

What do you wish the author would have added?

In retrospect, I wish Moskowitz would have added discussion questions at the end of each chapter. This is an expansive expose of a book, and consequently, each chapter is dense with a lot of facts and figures! Discussion questions would be helpful in allowing the reader to further and more effectively learn and apply the powerful truths brought out in each chapter.

What do you wish the author would have left out?

Admittedly, Moskowitz writes with a chip on his shoulder and comes across as very angry—not as an unbiased journalist. Additionally, there are many expletives in this book, and I didn’t feel that the these needed to be included. Many times the author includes the expletives in actual quotes from people he has interviewed. I understand why the author left them in; for the simple reason of adding “teeth” to the interviewee’s statements, however, in my opinion, the expletives didn’t need to be included. I believe the interviewees points would have been just as strong and compelling without them.

What were some good conscience quickening quotes from the book?

“ . . . since I [the author] began reporting How to Kill a City in 2013 we haven’t come any closer to solving the central cause of gentrification. High rents. Displacement, small businesses being replaced by large chains—these are all signs of gentrification. The central cause is that we’ve turned cities into capital-producing machines, and city governments have become addicted to this capital to function (xii).”

“Today, many development deals are initiated by foreign investors, and many neighborhoods are affordable only to the global elite. Buildings spring up that are meant less to house people and more to house the wealth of millionaires and billionaires (34).”

“How do you solve a problem as old as the United States? Gentrification may be a relatively recent phenomenon, but as geographer Neil Smith notes, it’s really just the continuation of the ‘locational seesaw”—capital moves to one place seeking high profits, then. When that place becomes less profitable, it moves to another place. The real estate industry is always looking for new markets in which it can revitalize it’s profit rate. Fifty years ago that place was suburbs. Today it’s cities. But that’s only half the explanation for gentrification. In order to understand why cities are so attractive to invest in, it’s important to understand what made them bargains for real estate speculators in the first place. It may sound obvious, but gentrification could not happen without something to gentrify. Truly equitable geographies would be largely un-gentrifiable ones. So first, geographies have to be made unequal (105-106).”

“The suburbs were the prototype for gentrification, not aesthetically but economically. Suburbinazation was the original American experiment in using real estate to reinvigorate capitalism . . . . Gentrification does not mean that the suburbs are over. They will still exist. But because they are no longer as profitable as cities or as desirable for the wealthiest Americans, who now populate cities, suburbs have become the leftover spaces are being reused, reconfigured, and repopulated. They are becoming poorer, and that has wide-ranging implications for policy and the lives of lower-income people (147).”

What was so liberating about the book?

The most liberating thing about this book is that the author identifies not only what the chief problem is, but more importantly, that the reader, and other “regular people” can actually do something to get actively involved. Through educating ourselves about the issues, learning to advocate for your own cities, and the people in those cities, we can educate, inform, and energize others about this systemic, ever-increasing, and very real, problem.

 

Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5

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