by Tim Verlaan
Until a decade ago, it was mostly Marxist geographers and other critical urban researchers who used the G word. The process began in the 1960s in the run-down neighbourhoods of American and Western European cities, where well-educated young people and bohemians moved in to take the place of workers’ families who moved out to the suburbs in search of a better life. Attracted by the romanticism of run-down yet affordable buildings and the authenticity of working-class districts, the new arrivals opposed large-scale renewal. Their struggle was successful, and since then gentrification has been discovered by public officials as a policy goal and by property developers as an earnings model. If it wasn’t for the emergence of a new urban middle class, popular and famous districts such as the Jordaan in Amsterdam, Brooklyn in New York and Islington in London would probably have suffered another fate than conservation and restoration.
Priced Out follows these historical developments in Portland — a mid-sized city by American standards in the north-western state of Oregon. As is so often the case with people who write or make films about gentrification, the journalist himself is both offender and victim. In 1998 Cornelius Swart made a documentary about the northern part of the city — at the time still a largely black neighbourhood plagued by decline and crime. But change was hanging in the air, and less than two decades later the streets were the domain of white double-earners and trendy cafés furnished with rough wood and industrial lamps. Progress? Not according to local residents who’ve lived here since before the transformation. Although there’s plenty of debate among academics about the phenomenon, one of the leading figures is explicit about what gentrification means for her personally: pain, loss and sadness.
Swart puts his finger not only on the paradoxes but also on the complex history of gentrification. In the post-war years, black Americans moved to the industrial cities of the north in search of work at exactly the time that industrial employment started to decline and white Americans de-parted in droves for the suburbs. And now that the latter group has rediscovered urban living, the poor Afro-American residents are being forced out. By following their lives closely, the filmmaker does something that many urban researchers neglect to do: chart the future of departing residents.
I am Gentrification is a somewhat lighter account, told by a Swiss journalist who unintentionally leaves a trail of gentrification around the world. Full of self-mockery and scorn for compatriots who think that their cities are becoming overcrowded, director Thomas Haemmerli makes it from squatter to home-owner in Sao Paolo, Tbilisi, Mexico City, Paris and Zurich. Haemmerli succeeds in eclectic fashion in linking his life story to the post-war development of these cities, thereby giving a human face to an abstract socio-economic process. Perhaps the greatest achievement of I am Gentrification and Priced Out is the evidence that gentrification is no longer limited to trendy districts in a handful of Western cities, but has become a global phenomenon that affects the lives of millions of city-dwellers every day.
Friday Oct 11, 16:45
Introduction by Tim Verlaan
I am Gentrification: Confessions of a Scoundrel
Thursday Oct 10, 21:00
Saturday Oct 12, 23:00