SOC208 2019 Tut 9 Fri 1230 – Suburbia, meh … Give me Inner City! Cosmopolitan, gentrified, creative … and diverse?

In a globalised, digital world, with expensive inner city housing and commuting nightmares, surely we should all just live AND work in the suburbs? Work online, or in little local community working co-ops? Save ourselves all that expense and travel time? And yet we don’t. Something draws us back to the inner city, in ever-greater numbers.

The last few decades have seen a counter-movement away from suburban life, as young educated people and skilled migrants return to live in the inner city. These middle class knowledge-workers, identified as cosmopolitans by Robert Merton and Herbet Gans in the mid-twentieth century – outward-oriented, mobile, highly educated, networked professionals, students, artists, intellectuals and bohemians –now dominate inner urban environments. Richard Florida calls them the ‘creative class’, and notes that congregations of these workers appear in particular areas and particular cities (e.g. New York, San Francisco, Silicon Valley – and in Australia, inner Sydney and Melbourne). They attract both businesses AND other creative workers, because they give the business a competitive advantage in the ‘creative age’, and because the diversity they bring to an area – culturally, technologically, ethnically – is attractive to other creative workers.

They have changed the inner city. Sharon Zukin notes how the cosmopolitans have not only changed the mixture of people in the inner-city streets, but also changed the character – and costs – of the streets themselves. Carefully considered consumption choices have lead to the urban renewal of housing, shopfronts and amenities, with cafes, bars, food and clothing outlets and farmers markets selling organic, free-range, ethical products now a staple of inner city living. As Zukin notes in ‘Consuming Authenticity’:

“Often the same men and women are shopping for fresh goat cheese, supporting fair trade coffee, and restoring old brownstone houses in these socially ‘marginal’ areas. Just as they take pleasure in choosing alternatives to mass-market products – ‘pure,’ original, ethnic, fresh – so they are willing to take risks in choosing where to live. But in the process of developing alternative consumption practices, they contribute to changes that make these spaces more desirable” (2008, p725)

However, there are problematic elements to this renewal. ‘Desirable’ is synonymous with ‘expensive’. This is not only manifest  in the spiralling prices of houses and rentals in inner city areas, but in the rampant inflation of organic, ethical, and ethnic food sold to creative types searching for ‘authenticity’ in their consumption choices, which as John Oliver notes in a recent satire of the American Whole Foods chain, sometimes borders on the ridiculous.

At a more serious level, the consumer driven gentrification wave has lead to the displacement of the working-class and migrant workers who have traditionally inhabited the inner city for many decades. In looking at the differences between cities and regions, Florida notes that as business compete to attract the creative class, the cream of the gifted middle class and skilled migrant workers are sucked into the largest ‘creative’ global cities and spaces, leaving many home countries and cities to suffer from ‘brain drain’. In looking at the differences within the city, Zukin points out how existing, long-term working class residents and unskilled migrants are displaced in inner city areas of high migrant, middle-class intake, via increases in the cost of housing and living. And Kathleen Dunn notes how even the production chain and public space of traditional migrant workers working in the humblest of jobs – such as NYC street vendors – is being coopted and displaced by the wave of middle-class hipster food trucks sweeping the inner cities of America (and Australia).

Each of these factors points to widening inequality; between different global cities, between the inner and outer cities, and within the inner city itself, often between older and newer migrant groups. They also raise concerns over the long-term sustainability of such expensive living arrangements, the maintenance of diversity and authenticity if the poor are driven out, and the stability of neighborhood social cohesion.

S208UOW19 #Tut9 #Fri1230


Posted in SOC208 - Cities, Communities and Families, UOW.

2 Comments on SOC208 2019 Tut 9 Fri 1230 – Suburbia, meh … Give me Inner City! Cosmopolitan, gentrified, creative … and diverse?

Grace said : Guest Report 2 days ago

The process of gentrification has ultimately resulted in a significant social and economic divide in major urban environments and surrounding suburbia. Although improvements in a city and its cosmopolitan space allow for the overall functioning and structure of an urban environment to be ideal and incorporate all aspects of an individual’s lifestyle, there are also impacts that encourage a greater social divide. With improvements to an urban space and living environment, comes rising costs which causes the structural and social conflicts of those in a lower class unable to afford to live in the newly gentrified parts of the city. This creates smaller communities within the larger picture and forces those of a lower economic status to the older parts and fringes of the city. However, often most jobs and businesses are centralised in the heart of the cities, which will result in longer travel commute times for those living in the lower socio economic areas. Thus, creating a clean divide in one’s lifestyle, where they live and work in 2 separate areas where a social and physical divide can be seen.

Tamika said : Guest Report 2 days ago

Interaction is key for a growing economy, which is why cities are most likely the greatest place for individuals and groups to share their skills and experiences. It is more common for individuals to find work in the cities, and then locate back into the suburbs for accomodation facilities. However, even though cities can look like mayhem, what gets people coming back is the beautiful scenery of the city. The unique architecture of the cities continue to capture the interests of individuals (Brownstone 2014). Also, many people are re-using spaces in the city and turning it into something more useful and desirable, such as; public parks, green spaces, railways, museums etc. Another explanation why people are drawn to the city life, is that their are many more single person households. Nowadays many people are delaying their time to start a family and continuing on with building their careers, which changes household types. Many people who live on their own, prefer to live closer to the city as the crowded and business of the city allows them to feel a sense of belonging.

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