Landscape of Consumption

Read in ‘Landscapes of Power’ (1991) of Sharon Zukin:


Do you remember? One of the first critical papers on gentrification was written by Sharon Zukin, the Brooklyn based professor of Sociology at City University of New York, in 1991. Long before Amsterdam planners noticed the urban phenomenon, Zukin wrote about the destructive character of gentrification. It was ‘a landscape of consumption’ that developed during the 1970s. In detail she described how a population was socially and economically displaced from older cities, especially its city centres. “There could be no more devastating indictment of the effects on place of market power.” The new organization of downtown was now based on cultural capital: places that claimed to be unique, with new products, new practices of consumption, a new labor force that could deal with cultural capital, ‘loft living’ and saving a historic built environment. “Artists, actors, and graduate students are often mobilized to fill these roles.” They staffed the new service careers in publishing, restaurants, advertising, and cultural institutions on which downtown’s economy more and more depended. She noticed it related to a new culture of cuisine too. “While it becomes harder to feed a low-income family a nutritious diet, more affluent, choice-ridden consumers are increasingly preoccupied by new means of consumption – and new anxieties about how to choose between them.” Zukin described how even tourism invaded the gentrified neighborhoods.

Amsterdam based municipal planners are still advocating the process of gentrification, simply thinking it is healthy and economically sound. They even hope it will cross the A-10 highway zone and infect all outlying neighborhoods, destroying the cultural heritage of postwar neighborhoods (?) and turning these suburban zones into densified profitable ‘cashcows’. Thus they are creating new ‘landscapes of consumption’. They refer to Jane Jacobs, who they all adore and who was very much against Modernism. Zukin warned them, but they seem not to listen. “For developers, centrality is a geographical space; for gentrifiers, it is a built environment. But for a population that is socially or economically displaced from older cities, centrality is a struggle between their own segmented vernacular and a coherent landscape of power.” Let’s recommend the planners to re-read chapter 7 of ‘Landscapes of Power’ and remember quotes like this: “The notion of gentrifiers as ‘urban pioneers’ is properly viewed as an ideological justification of middle-class appropriation.” The artists emerged as victors, also in Amsterdam.






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