August 18, 2008 § 2 Comments
Being suddenly conscious of how little summer is left, I’ve taken to reading on the balcony in the afternoons. There is just enough room on the small plastic table for a hardcover book, my cigarette case, an ashtray, and a cup of coffee; in other words, all the accoutrements of a good, long read.
Lately, I have been devouring books on the early stages of gentrification, which began in earnest in the 1960s and which, remarkably, is still transforming neighbourhoods and cities the world over. While the gentrification of Chelsea is old news, the process is only just beginning in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where the addicted and homeless are being given one-way tickets out of the city to make way for the coming Olympics.
Worse, a recent communiqué by the British military describes the revival of the southern Iraqi city of Basra in the same terms that real estate agents use to promote up-and-coming neighbourhoods: “House prices have doubled in a matter of months. Restaurants are opening alongside the waterside corniche. Oil-rich Kuwaitis are beginning to move in, and trade at the port is booming.” Seemingly, victory will be declared when the Shia militias that still roam the streets are able to plan their attacks at Starbucks.
Meanwhile, last week’s riot in Montreal North reveals that the urban poor have not simply vanished, but that, as in France, they have been relegated to the periphery of our revitalized cities, far from the lofts and yoga boutiques that displaced them. In the nine years that I have now lived in Montreal, I have never once set foot in Montreal North. I imagine that most of you haven’t either.
Of course, reading about such things can be an exercise in frustration, since books have little effect on the political and economic forces that determine how cities evolve. Even so, it is good to be reminded of the fact that the process is neither natural nor innocent, and that the stakes are as every bit as high as I believe them to be.