Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sharon Zukin's "Naked City"

Sharon Zukin is Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and Professor of Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of Loft Living, Landscapes of Power (winner of the C. Wright Mills Award), The Cultures of Cities, and Point of Purchase.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, and reported the following:
Allen Ginsberg, Charlie Parker, Miguel Pinero and the Ramones: page 99 takes a walk through the rich counter-cultural history of Manhattan’s East Village on the way to explaining how so much of New York’s revitalization in recent years relies on consuming authenticity. “Living local” in the East Village capitalizes on the image of a fabled past while promoting today’s consumer culture. In other words: gentrification.

Gentrification feeds on the vitality of neighborhoods that claim cultural distinction, offering a different sexual politics or visual aesthetics and ultimately a different sense of space and time. Like all big cities, New York has cool, hip or marginalized districts where walking on the wild side has led to new caf├ęs, boutiques and bars and luxury condos. Naked City exposes how this transformation occurs, showing that the way we consume authenticity risks destroying the city’s truly diverse character.

Each chapter of Naked City explores a different dimension of authenticity, from neighborhoods that are cool, poor, and “ethnic” to spaces that are democratic because of public use, or where immigrant street vendors cook and sell the foods of their homelands, or where residents plant community gardens to grow local roots. The book travels from the hipster district of Williamsburg to the historic African-American capital of Harlem and from a farmers’ market in the East Village to community gardens in East New York. On the industrial waterfront of Red Hook, we visit the Swedish meatballs in the city’s first Ikea store and then walk around the corner to eat tortillas, pupusas and huaraches.

Though the authenticity of the old city is revered, the men and women who have created this authentic character—artists, immigrants, workers, ethnic minorities—are often the first to be displaced by gentrifiers and new development. What happens to the city then?

This is the question that drives the millions of stories in any Naked City.
Learn more about Naked City at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue