Colonizing the Inner City- Gentrification and the Geographies of Colonialism.

What is gentrification?

Gentrification is a complex and contested issue. While there are many, some times conflictual definitions of gentrification, some common themes hold true: In contemporary post-industrial cities, the trend is characterized by renewed development interest in disadvantaged inner city areas, and the influx of a new, wealthy (‘gentry’) population. Old housing is refurbished alongside the construction of new buildings and services that cater to the higher-earning and more privileged population that moves in. This ultimately means the ‘upscaling’ and transformation of the area and its demographics as higher home values, land speculation, and the area as a development ‘hot spot’ lead to the breaking of the community fabric via the violent uprooting and displacement of the area’s previous population, one often systemically disadvantaged and in a position that makes resistance to these processes difficult.

 

What is colonization?

Colonization is defined as the practice of invading other lands and territories for the purpose of settlement and/or resource exploitation, most often through violent means in a “war for territory”[3]. When talking about colonization and colonialism, it is important to avoid positioning these as being events of the past or (often) romanticized fictions- colonialism is “neither new nor limited to any specific historical period (i.e., the ‘colonial period’ of the 15th to 19th centuries)”[3]. To do so would mean the denial and erasure of the very real and current colonial processes at work today, and their consequences. Colonialism is a continuous, on-going project. Its forms and tactics may evolve over time, but its intention of domination, exploitation, and genocide of populations deemed inferior does not.

 

The right to the city and anti-colonial anti-gentrification

Gentrification represses the possibility of meaningful citizenship and right to the city for all people. The right to the city is not merely one of being allowed to exist or ‘hold space’ in an urban context (although with the threat of policing, displacement and homelessness, this is nevertheless crucial), but the “demand…[for] a transformed and renewed access to urban life”[2]

As David Harvey writes

Far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights. [2]

This vision is bent on the agency of all people – as individuals and in collectives- one that is meaningful, and essential to our capacity for autonomy and self-determination in our own formation and that of our environment and the dynamics that structure it.

We believe that a critical and explicitly anti-colonial and anti-racist look at gentrification’s root causes and upholding systems is essential to understanding and resisting it. Gentrification has been a popular topic in recent urban planning and geography work, however, analysese has been mostly focused along class lines. We recognize that class lines are inseparable from racial and gendered lines, among others, and it is important to situate gentrification processes within the geography of power structures at work, as continually (re)created and informed by the colonial context of the land we are on. Colonialism itself is also understood as having deep and vital ties to patriarchy and white supremacy, and as ever-changing. Neocolonialism as exercised through neoliberal and globalized economic processes and forms of governance is only the most recent of a multitude of forms colonialism has and can take on- by no means exclusive of one another at a given time.

Gentrification and colonialism are inseparable, and continually mutually reinforce each other. Though obviously case and context specific, common patterns of stages of colonialism emerge[3]- these include 1. recon, 2. invasion, 3. occupation, and 4. assimilation of the area’s original peoples by colonizers. These stages have fluid boundaries and are by no means separate in their operation at a given time. Canada was, and is, a colonial project, and this process remaps itself at smaller scales in processes of gentrification of inner cities and these emerge as battlegrounds, although in more nuanced ways. We are reminded of this every time systemically disadvantaged and repressed peoples are further displaced, and their citizenships revoked, as city (re)settlers take on the self-appointed task of (re)colonizing and ‘taming’ the ‘urban wilderness’ of the inner-city, and its peoples.

Defavorized areas and populations are structurally ‘maintained’ until they are ready to be harvested as settlements and resources by and for colonizers, with often devastating implications for those displaced and removed from their homes, communities, and in many ways identities.

We know that this process isn’t new. When talking about gentrification or, really, any topic taking place on ‘this land’, it is essential to acknowledge whose land this is. It is essential to acknowledge this land as stolen, and ‘Canada’ as a product founded and maintained through violent processes of colonialism and genocide- requiring continuous maintenance, repression, erasure, and re-writing of peoples and history . Gentrification is just one of the innumerable ways colonialism continuously manifests itself and serves this maintenance role- however, tangible links between gentrification and processes of colonization, as seen on the streets and in the populations that occupy them, stand out perhaps more easily than others. Anti-gentrification work is undoubtedly only part of a much larger and on-going project of decolonization, affirmation and realizing of indigenous sovereignty and agency, and continual unlearning and accountability on the part of settler-allies. It’s one we hope to take on.

Works Cited
1. David Harvey. 2008. The Right to the City.
2. Henri Lefebvre. 1968. Le Droit à la Ville.
3. Zig Zag. 2006. Colonization and Decolonization- A Manual for Indigenous Liberation in the 21st Century, Warrior Publications. (available for download here).

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6 thoughts on “Colonizing the Inner City- Gentrification and the Geographies of Colonialism.

  1. Reblogged this on urbanculturalstudies and commented:
    post/blog from an Anti-Gentrification Working Group: “Right to the City Montreal” citing Harvey and Lefebvre…

  2. Reblogged this on Urban Choreography and commented:
    Some gentrification might be inevitable ….

  3. Reblogged this on Free UniversE-ity and commented:
    Old article, but reblogged today in light of yesterday’s eviction of Africatown and conversations with people who could really use an introduction to colonization and gentrification.

  4. […] i Perhaps the most helpful definition I have heard of gentrification, in terms of my own understanding, is the process of making an area comfortable for the gentry. If we already understand that the University (and education generally) operates as a tool of colonization (see Jeruviel Stardust Earthen-Hornbroth “Abolishing Education and Liberating Creation” and Layla Abdel Rahim Wild Children, Domesticated Dreams: Civilization and the Birth of Education) then it should come as no surprise that a university contributes to the gentrification of neighborhoods in the commute range of its campus(es). To learn more details of how specifically the University of Washington has contributed to the colonization of the Salish Sea region and gentrification in the area, see: here for a list of resources on the Alaska-Yukon Pacific World’s Fair which launched the UW and Seattle (and Bill Gates) into their current positions of colonial/capitalist dominance, and also read Bill Speidel‘s Sons of the Profits: There’s no business like grow business. The Seattle Story from 1851-1901about the founding figures (or Profits) of the City of Seattle. Also see “Colonizing the Inner City- Gentrification and the Geographies of Colonialism.” […]

  5. […] i Perhaps the most helpful definition I have heard of gentrification, in terms of my own understanding, is the process of making an area comfortable for the gentry. If we already understand that the University (and education generally) operates as a tool of colonization (see Jeruviel Stardust Earthen-Hornbroth “Abolishing Education and Liberating Creation” and Layla Abdel Rahim Wild Children, Domesticated Dreams: Civilization and the Birth of Education) then it should come as no surprise that a university contributes to the gentrification of neighborhoods in the commute range of its campus(es). To learn more details of how specifically the University of Washington has contributed to the colonization of the Salish Sea region and gentrification in the area, see: here for a list of resources on the Alaska Yukon Pacific World's Fair which launched the UW and Seattle (and Bill Gates) into their current positions of colonial/capitalist dominance, and also read Bill Speidel's Sons of the Profits: There's no business like grow business. The Seattle Story from 1851-1901about the founding figures (or Profits) of the City of Seattle. Also see "Colonizing the Inner City- Gentrification and the Geographies of Colonialism." […]

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