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Aestheticizing Ruins: on Gentrifying the Rust Belt

Authors: Phillip Campanile*, University of California - Berkeley
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography, Anthropocene
Keywords: aesthetics, gentrification, rust belt, creative class, deindustrialization, ruins, Anthropocene landscape
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper proposes that the aestheticization of the postindustrial landscape of Buffalo, NY, is anchoring the real estate speculation and attendant gentrification of the city’s Waterfront. Specifically, I examine the aestheticization of the grain elevators at “Silo City,” where once-melancholic markers of regional economic collapse now stand to be the backdrop for a for 250-unit, artist-oriented, residential colony explicitly modeled on Richard Florida’s ideological “creative class" development. Florida argues that regional economic development today emerges in places where so-called creatives desire to live—in this case, an epicenter of post-industry. My paper pursues the particular ways in which this postindustrial “creative class” development indicates yet another iteration of neoliberal gentrification: while there is no immediate displacement, this project aims to whiten the landscape, designing a site exclusive to quasi-bohemian bourgeois placemaking. Additionally, this form of development re-narrates the history of the site away from the complexities of black and immigrant labor built atop Native American removal and toward a progressive discourse of regional “resurgence” that celebrates the formerly great speculators who manufactured the landscape and the real estate developers who work in their wake. I demonstrate that the speculative neoliberal urbanism driving waterfront development in Buffalo is inseparable from the turning rust and concrete into bourgeois aesthetic desire. This research is based on dissertation fieldwork, including much of it at work in the Silo City bar and de facto cultural center, in close contact with the owners of the site and the clientele they ultimately hope to make its base.

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