Contesting Change in New York City

Authors: Samuel Stein*, CUNY Graduate Center
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Planning Geography
Keywords: New York; change; gentrification; planning; density
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: 8224, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


New York is a famously ever-changing city: its population moves at a rapid pace, its built environment is constantly reinvented, and its neighborhood boundaries are always disputed. This change, however, is itself a contested process. This paper builds on the author’s experiences as a New York City scholar, activist and resident to identify four paradoxes that capture some of the complexities of this contest. The first paradox is “The Changing Same,” a formation which applies Amiri Baraka’s analytic descriptor to the city’s most recent mayoral transition in order to highlight the ways the city’s planning regime has stubbornly resisted reform. The second paradox, “Change for Stasis,” relates to social movements’ demands for dramatic policy reforms in order to produce some semblance of stability in both the city's built form and its residents’ tenancy status. The third paradox, “The Newcomers,” relates to the contradictory character of the newness as a marker of both the most visible consumers of gentrification—newly arrived yuppies and free-floating hipsters—as well as working-class immigrants, who are understood to be both sources of anti-gentrification protest and objects of gentrification’s displacements. The fourth and final paradox is “The Density Debate,” in which competing definitions and imaginations of urban density are used to describe both the causes of and the solutions to the city’s most intractable problems. New York City daily enacts all of these contradictions, setting the stage for an ongoing fight over the content and characteristics of urban change.

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