Gentrification, unbeknownst to many, is actually often a government sponsored process. This is one of the central points of Peter Moskowitz’s argument in How to Kill A City. Moskowitz explains that the federal government has slashed city budgets over the last 25 years, leaving cities no choice but to function in a more “entrepreneurial” manner. Without federal money, the city government’s primary form of income is tax-dollars. People with low incomes don’t pay a lot in taxes, but they utilize a lot of services. Middle class people are the opposite, and therefore are a more profitable and desirable demographic to have living in the city. The way to draw them to the city is through gentrification. This is exactly what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The city government used the storm as an excuse to demolish low-income housing projects and build smaller, middle-income suburban style housing in their place, in the hopes of welcoming a predominantly white, middle class community to New Orleans. This process is detailed in How to Kill a City, and in my visualization of gentrification.
In my visualization, I have drawn three scenes–pre-storm, during storm, and post-storm–in the same location. The first is a traditional low-income brick housing project with storm clouds looming in the corner above the project’s green space. This represents the poor community of New Orleans that made up the majority of the city before the storm. It is juxtaposed with a quote that deems this community undesirable and “not profitable.”
On the opposite side of the housing project is flood water pouring into a pile of rubbish. The storm is now in full force, and has partially destroyed the low-income housing project. However, there is also a government-owned bulldozer plowing over the rubble, showing the government’s role in eradicating services for the poor and encouraging gentrification that would make the city more attractive to middle-class people. The quote details an idea that “God,” through the storm, fixed public housing. In reality, we know the government had a huge hand in this “fixing,” a process quite detrimental to the majority of the pre-Katrina population of New Orleans and left thousands displaced or struggling to make ends meet in their city.
At the edge of the rubble is a white picket fence leading to a classic suburban house with a placard reading HOPE IV on the front. This represents the HOPE IV plan implemented by the Clinton Administration that encouraged cities to knock down low-income housing projects and replace them with smaller mixed-income housing. The corresponding quote explains that HOPE IV housing barely compensated for the amount of housing destroyed by the storm or the government. The sun hangs over the house, indicating that the storm is over, but the situation in New Orleans is far from bright and cheerful. For the thousands of New Orleans residents displaced from their homes and now living in the diaspora, or for the residents that decided to remain in their hometown but now struggle to find affordable housing, it’s a situation that feels as devastating as a hurricane.
Moskowitz, Peter. How to Kill a City. New York: Nation Books, 2017.