Newcomers: Gentrification and Its Discontents, by Matthew L. Schuerman, Chicago, Illinois, University of Chicago Press, 2019.
Reviewed by: Dennis E. Gale, Stanford University
That’s right. It’s another book about American gentrification. And lo, the author, a senior editor at New York’s WNYC radio, defines his use of the G-word at the outset, a courtesy too often lacking in media and scholarly publications on this subject. Gentrification, Schuerman writes, is “the process by which a low-income neighborhood becomes a wealthy neighborhood.” To qualify as gentrification, he adds, a neighborhood’s median income must increase from an amount less than that of the metropolitan statistical area median to one greater than that median. While some readers may quibble with this standard (e.g. too inclusive or not inclusive enough), Schuerman commendably launches his study with a well-intentioned degree of specificity. And yet, as he works his way through dozens of interesting vignettes, it is not apparent that he adheres consistently to his definition.
Newcomers is divided into three chronologically overlapping sections. Part One addresses the “beginnings” of U.S. gentrification from 1956 to 1991. Part Two examines efforts to “reckon” with its growth and impacts from 1972 to 2000. And Part Three contends with the “conflicts” it generated from 1992 to 2018. As readers may be aware, the term gentrification was coined by British sociologist Ruth Glass in the mid-1960s. But that nomenclature didn’t take hold in the American lexicon until the late 1970s and 1980s. However, the phenomenon of gentrification itself has American roots dating back a century ago, although known under different terminology (Gale, forthcoming 2020). Thus, Newcomers is a welcome antidote to the myopia among modern observers regarding the historical evolution of this transformative urban development process. The author focuses on extensive case studies of San Francisco, Chicago, and New York and emphasizes the personal stories of tenants, activists, and others whose lives are affected by gentrification.
The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.
The reviewer may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Misunderstood History of Gentrification: People, Planning, Preservation, and Urban Renewal, 1915-2020, by Dennis E. Gale, Philadelphia, Temple University Press, forthcoming, 2020