book review

Book Review Preview: The Roots of Urban Renaissance

The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle Over Harlem, by Brian D. Goldstein. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2017

Reviewed by Dennis E. Gale, Stanford University

Novelist Ralph Ellison wrote in the mid-1960s that New York City’s Harlem was “a slum,” and “a ruin,” composed not only of the “spires and crosses of churches,” but, as well, of “garbage and decay.” (Clapp, 1984, 77) Doubtless, the eminent African-American author could not have imagined then the transformation that would eventually spread over the nation’s center of African-American culture. Ironically, the “spires and crosses of churches” would eventually emblemize the ecclesiastically-centered nature of a movement to reverse the neighborhood’s economic and physical decline. Historian Goldstein, immersing readers in the tortuous details of Harlem’s resurgence, ably traces its evolution from the alt-adversarial 1960s to its gradual revitalization, largely at the hands of church-affiliated community development corporations (CDCs), in the 1980s and thereafter.

In its early stages, the campaign to rebuild Harlem was heavily influenced by black radicals who sought community control over planning and development decisions. A more or less constant theme during this period was the primacy of confrontational politics in advancing agendas. Rejecting the heavy hand of centralized bureaucratic project planning with its allegedly token input from residents, some citizen activists demanded outright administrative dominion over decision-making. Many opposed government redevelopment programs and their emphasis on comprehensive neighborhood clearance, household relocation, and the building of large-scale modernist projects such as public housing towers. Instead, some leaders called for a mixture of housing and retail development consistent in scale with Harlem’s historical streetscapes. Some activists desired rehabilitation of older housing while others decried “hand-me-down” housing and wanted new residential construction. Not surprisingly, property owners did not always see eye to eye with renters, and merchants sometimes favored more commercial development than residents wanted. As Goldstein reveals, Harlem’s power structure was distributed across many fault lines.

 

Find the cited text here:

James A. Clapp. The City: A Dictionary of Quotable Thoughts on Cities and Urban Life. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey Press. 1984.

Price: $39.95

Pages: 383

ISBN: 978-0-674-97150-9

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