Gentrification as Infrastructural Terrorism

After reading Graham’s chapter on Urban Infrastructure and Political Violence and applying those concepts in our discussion Monday, I could not help but see parallels between the global use of infrastructure to commit violence and infrastructure being used to commit violence on a smaller, more local scale. Gentrification can be understood as violence against lower and middle-class groups who are often people of colour or immigrants.

This violence is made possible by the infrastructure of certain neighbourhoods and the nature of networks in flux. Areas of cities which were once occupied by factories and the homes of the workers nearby become ideal spaces for artists who need large space and affordable rent. These factors result in the neighbourhood becoming “trendy,” and the opening of cafes, restaurants, and shops ensues. Accessible public transit which had once been necessary for the low-income residents becomes convenient for the businesses which open and the tourists interested in visiting the area. The original residents who required the low rent and location are eventually forced out due to increased housing prices. As Graham mentions when referring to urban terrorism, these processes are made possible by “the infrastructures of today’s ‘fast capitalism'” (113).

Another parallel can be drawn in the perception of “progress” which is associated with “advanced” systems of infrastructure. While new and technological infrastructure creates the illusion of cities which function better and are easier to traverse, gentrified neighbourhoods with developing infrastructure are frequently regarded as improvements to the city’s culture.

It is also worth acknowledging that these kinds of violence are usually not seen as a result of the infrastructure systems involved. While there are clearly larger systems of politics and ideology at work, the infrastructure systems of cities certainly mediates the ways different kinds of violence can (and do) occur.

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3 Comments

  1. Your post brings up a very interesting connection between the power of infrastructures and the violence these networks can inflicted on individuals. While reading about the unequal power distributions infrastructures can distribute on minority groups, I immediately thought of the city of Chicago. While most people probably associate Chicago with the exciting tourist sites such as, Cloud Gate (The bean), Millilumen Park, Jazz bands, the Loop Bridge, and Maxwell Market Street, Chicago is made up of 77 unique neighborhoods (or nodes); many of which are never experienced by tourists. Certain neighborhoods within Chicago are extremely underdeveloped, populated almost entirely by minority groups and do not receive the same kind of attention these “trendy” areas get. For example, North Lawndale (a neighborhood primarily populated by African Americans) which has some of the lowest household incomes in Chicago and the highest percentage of individual’s dependent on food stamps, does not have the same type of services available to them that some of the more affluent neighborhoods do. North Lawndale is stated to have “the least amount of support with respect to facilities and resources and the lowest household median income” (Chicago Tribune). While North Lawndale may not have much in terms of ‘trendy’ new shops or restaurants to offer the ‘tourist’, I do believe it is important to recognize the structural violence infrastructures, or lack thereof can bring to a community.

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  2. I think it is also important to consider the way in which gentrification can often ignore the middle class. The discussion itself pits lower class individuals against upper class individuals, but criticism often overlook the reality that the middle class is also slowly dispersed. As per our discussion in Visual Communications, the attractive areas of Toronto that have fallen victim to gentrification are often still home to individuals who qualify for subsidized housing (much to upper class dismay), but do not have much middle class occupation. Although it is easy to assert gentrification as a type of violence, I have to somewhat disagree. Gentrification is very subversive, and deceptive. Unlike other large scale acts of network terrorism that Graham mentions, gentrification is successful because it often goes unnoticed. \

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    1. I think Emma makes a good point. I do understand where Alannah is coming from though. this all just highlights the networked-ness of all of these aspects of reality. By changing or adding infrastructure to a certain area, certain people will have certain reactions, leading to certain outcomes. All very interesting!

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