Date of Degree

5-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor(s)

Philip Kasinitz

Committee Members

Sharon Zukin

John Mollenkopf

Jason Patch

Subject Categories

Sociology

Keywords

urban sociology, gentrification, brooklyn, new york, cultural sociology

Abstract

Depending on the audience, the term “gentrification” conjures images of pristine condos, fancy restaurants, dive bars full of hipsters, or eviction notices. This qualitative study examines the divergent perspectives of existing and former residents in a gentrifying neighborhood. For most of the twentieth century Williamsburg, Brooklyn was a working class neighborhood and it served as an ethnic enclave to several waves of (im)migrants. The neighborhood struggled through a period of deindustrialization, divestment, and high crime through the 1980s, when it began to gentrify. Initially networks of artists and students started moving into the area, but it soon became a destination for nightlife. In 2005 the neighborhood was rezoned among protests from residents. Since then, the gentrification has intensified with high-rise luxury condos on the waterfront and upscale, corporate retail outlets.
This research is based on fifty interviews with residents, supplemented with an additional ten interviews with local business owners, census records, and archival retail data. The residents in this sample are divided into tenure cohorts based on how long they have lived in the neighborhood: Long Term, Medium Term, New and Former. A theory of neighborhood attachment styles is proposed, suggesting that members of each cohort (excluding Former) have a specific attachment to Williamsburg depending on their motivations for moving to the neighborhood and the conditions of the neighborhood at that time. Throughout the dissertation we hear from members of each cohort about crime, community activism, and shifting retail as gentrification has progressed.
Both Long Term and Medium Term residents have experienced cultural displacement as a result of advanced gentrification. Members of both tenure cohorts feel out of place at times, and that their own cultures or identities are being erased. Most New residents were initially unenthusiastic about moving to Williamsburg, thinking of it as a good investment rather than an attraction on its own. In the process of “upgrading” the neighborhood, New residents employ various strategies to gain symbolic ownership over the neighborhood. These efforts often end up excluding existing residents and increasing their feelings of cultural displacement. This work illustrates that length of tenure and neighborhood attachment style are important predictors for experiences of cultural displacement and strategies for ownership in the neighborhood. In order to mediate the negative effects of gentrification for existing residents, we must first deeply understand the lived experiences of cultural displacement and the methods through which existing residents are excluded.

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