Thursday, March 18, 2010

Japonica Brown-Saracino's "A Neighborhood That Never Changes"

Japonica Brown-Saracino is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Loyola University Chicago. In August she will join the faculty of Boston University. She is the author of articles on gentrification, culture, and ethnography and is the editor of a forthcoming book, The Gentrification Debates (Routledge 2010).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A Neighborhood That Never Changes: Gentrification, Social Preservation, and the Search for Authenticity, and reported the following:
Ten years ago I began a comparative study of urban and rural gentrification. I conducted ethnographies of two Chicago neighborhoods – Argyle, or “Little Saigon,” and once-Swedish Andersonville, which was experiencing an influx of lesbian and other middle class professionals – and two small New England towns: Portuguese fishing enclave turned gay resort of Provincetown, Massachusetts and Dresden, Maine, a farming village to which professionals and retirees were moving.

A pattern unrelated to the original research question immediately emerged. Namely, all sites contained gentrifiers who spoke and behaved in ways previous work did not predict. Scholarship suggested that all gentrifiers, with the exception of those at risk of displacement, are indifferent toward long-timers and supportive of gentrification. Yet more than half the gentrifiers I interviewed worried about the consequences of their presence, specifically that changes they fueled would lead to long-timers’ displacement. Furthermore, they articulated anxiety that displacement would strip their neighborhood or town of “authenticity” they valued – an authenticity deeply connected to the sustained presence of certain long-timers. Many engaged in practices aimed at preventing displacement or thwarting gentrification.

My book, A Neighborhood That Never Changes: Gentrification, Social Preservation and the Search for Authenticity, pursues this unexpected finding, revealing a range of orientations and practices among gentrifiers. As page 99 reveals, the book primarily attends to those I term social preservationists: gentrifiers who move to live near long-timers with whom they associate “authentic” community, and who work to preserve the local social ecology. For social preservationists, who like most gentrifiers tend to be affluent, a place’s value is contingent on the presence of certain long-timers, such as Provincetown’s Portuguese fishermen, Andersonville’s Swedes, Argyle’s Vietnamese merchants, and Dresden’s farmers. Thus, they deploy political, symbolic, and private strategies to prevent displacement.

Page 99 [inset, click to enlarge] details preservationists’ criticism of their own participation in gentrification and affluence – a central claim of the book. This self-criticism borrows from longstanding and widespread concern about the threat affluent people pose to “authentic” people and places as well as from heightened public awareness of gentrification’s consequences.

Beyond page 99 the book explores long-timers’ reactions to social preservation and why preservationists work to preserve some – but not all – long-timers. It reveals the daily lives of four very different places and details how diverse groups negotiate local change. Cumulatively, A Neighborhood That Never Changes demonstrates how distinct ways of thinking about place and change play out in gentrifying neighborhoods and towns.
Learn more about A Neighborhood That Never Changes at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue