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Power and rationalization in low-income gentrification

Authors: Thomas Howarth*, UNC Charlotte
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Urban Geography, Qualitative Research
Keywords: housing, gentrification, power, low-income homeownership
Session Type: Paper
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This dissertation sought to understand the gentrification processes and strategies used by dominant powerholders in the development of Charlotte, NC’s North End. This paper argues that these processes were carried out to accumulate capital and profit as part of a “rationality of capital.” I conceptualize a “rationality of capital” as a way of prioritizing opportunities for capital accumulation in urban landscapes. The concept of the “rationality of capital” draws from Harvey’s (1978; 1985) writings on Marxist geography and Flyvbjerg’s (1998) case study exploring the interplay of power and rationality in urban planning and development in Aalborg, Denmark. This research examines how civic leaders created a private non-profit called the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership to reduce crime and control disorder through low-income homeownership. As the neighborhood was gentrified by lower income households, the demolition of public housing and the displacement of people were rationalized as the best way to control crime and rejuvenate the community. Interviews with government officials, developers, and community representatives examined the initial and more recent gentrification processes and who has benefitted from the changes in the North End. The findings document a case that disputed the expected dominance of the “rationality of capital” in that low-income homeownership was the prime redevelopment strategy. In addition, respondents selected long-time homeowners as the chief beneficiaries even though they were a small percentage of the community and the chief architects of the redevelopment were not identified.

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