A Neighborhood That Never Changes Gentrification, Social Preservation, and the Search for Authenticity
by Japonica Brown-Saracino
University of Chicago Press, 2009
Cloth: 978-0-226-07662-1 | Paper: 978-0-226-07663-8 | Electronic: 978-0-226-07664-5
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Newcomers to older neighborhoods are usually perceived as destructive, tearing down everything that made the place special and attractive. But as A Neighborhood That Never Changes demonstrates, many gentrifiers seek to preserve the authentic local flavor of their new homes, rather than ruthlessly remake them. Drawing on ethnographic research in four distinct communities—the Chicago neighborhoods of Andersonville and Argyle and the New England towns of Provincetown and Dresden—Japonica Brown-Saracino paints a colorful portrait of how residents new and old, from wealthy gay homeowners to Portuguese fishermen, think about gentrification.

The new breed of gentrifiers, Brown-Saracino finds, exhibits an acute self-consciousness about their role in the process and works to minimize gentrification’s risks for certain longtime residents. In an era of rapid change, they cherish the unique and fragile, whether a dilapidated house, a two-hundred-year-old landscape, or the presence of people deeply rooted in the place they live. Contesting many long-standing assumptions about gentrification, Brown-Saracino’s absorbing study reveals the unexpected ways beliefs about authenticity, place, and change play out in the social, political, and economic lives of very different neighborhoods.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Japonica Brown-Saracino is assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and a faculty fellow in the Center for Urban Research and Learning at Loyola University Chicago.

REVIEWS

“Refusing the easy stereotypes that characterize too much reporting on gentrification, Japonica Brown-Saracino provides a nuanced portrait of the varying beliefs and practical activities of affluent, recently arrived residents in quaint rural towns and gritty multiethnic urban neighborhoods. In particular, she illuminates the challenges faced by some community newcomers as they strive to maintain a commitment to social diversity and authenticity in the face of changes that they themselves help to ignite. Exceptionally well researched, analytically sophisticated, and engagingly written, this is an important and original contribution to our understanding of community in America.”
— Richard Lloyd, author of Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Postindustrial City

A Neighborhood That Never Changes offers a sophisticated reinvention of the classic community study by emphasizing how local residents interpret contemporary economic and political forces through the lens of culture and the imagination of authenticity. Brown-Saracino’s intellectually ambitious and entertaining book adds to the burgeoning literature on gentrification by slicing through some of the assumptions of the field with empirical rigor. Furthermore, urban and cultural sociology thrive on comparative approaches, and this beautiful book will serve as an exemplar of this perspective for years to come.”
— David Grazian, author of On the Make: The Hustle of Urban Nightlife

"The study is strengthened by interviews with 'old-timers' whose views on gentrification suggest that while they might fear displacement, many appreciate the enthusiasm for place and the infusion of investment newcomers bring. Fronted by a thorough survey of the literature, this immensely readable case study is clearly informed by theory without being clouded with jargon."
— Choice

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface

Acknowledgments

- Japonica Brown-Saracino
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226076645.003.0001
[gentrification, social preservation, private capital, public investment, environmentalism, social ecology]
This chapter introduces the concepts of gentrification and social preservation. For more than three decades, sociologists, planners, and policymakers have paid attention to gentrification: “an economic and social process whereby private capital (real estate firms, developers) and individual homeowners and renters reinvest in fiscally neglected neighborhoods or towns through housing rehabilitation, loft conversions, and the construction of new housing.” Importantly, gentrification is also supported by public investment of funds preceding or following the moving in of the gentry: typically young, highly educated individuals. Social preservation is in some ways analogous to environmentalism. Like environmentalists, who seek to preserve nature, social preservationists—those who adhere to the preservation ideology and engage in related practices—work to preserve the local social ecology. (pages 1 - 21)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Japonica Brown-Saracino
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226076645.003.0002
[gentrification, Chicago neighborhoods, New England towns, census data, demographic change, urban areas]
This chapter examines the gentrification of four sites: two Chicago neighborhoods (Andersonville and Argyle) and two small New England towns (Dresden, Maine; and Provincetown, Massachusetts). Specifically, it explores the factors that motivate gentrifiers' relocation to the central city or a small town, their practices, and the response of residents—new and old alike—to gentrification. Census data are used to select sites that over the past decade have experienced demographic change indicative of gentrification, such as rising property values and median income. The selected sites vary in terms of longtime residents' racial, ethnic, and occupational characteristics, stage of gentrification, and population, as well as in terms of newcomers' characteristics. Two are in urban areas, and two are small towns. (pages 22 - 50)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Japonica Brown-Saracino
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226076645.003.0003
[social homesteaders, Provincetown businesses, gays and lesbians, gentrification, pioneers, newcomers]
This chapter begins by introducing two pioneers as background and contrast to the social homesteaders who are its focus. The first is Fred, a white gay man in his fifties who owns several prominent Provincetown businesses that serve gays and lesbians. Fred, who is athletic and classically handsome, moved to town in the 1980s with his partner and certainly fits the pioneer prototype. Like other pioneers, he was drawn to Provincetown by the excitement and sense of promise he associated with gentrification. Fred sold his law practice outside Boston so he “could start a whole new life, a new business. That was exciting.” He was also drawn to Provincetown because of qualities he associates with newcomers. (pages 51 - 79)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Japonica Brown-Saracino
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226076645.003.0004
[social preservation, relocation, old-timers, gentrification, ungentrified space, physical presence]
This chapter documents the accounts social preservationists provide of the impetus for their relocation, which they typically locate in appreciation for ungentrified space, namely, space marked by old-timers' presence. It also explores social preservationists' vision of the future of the space in which they live, which emphasizes old-timers' sustained physical, cultural, and political presence, and their more general concern that gentrification will destroy the authenticity of their place of residence and, therefore, threaten the distinction between their home and other, less-authentic places. In concert with such concerns, social preservationists bemoan the cultural, social, political, and aesthetic implications of gentrification even as they acknowledge (and criticize) their participation in the process. (pages 80 - 103)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Japonica Brown-Saracino
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226076645.003.0005
[social preservation, old-timers, symbolic practices, political choices, housing, businesses]
Social preservationists' practices fall into three general categories: (1) symbolic, as in the use of festivals, streetscapes, and artworks that celebrate old-timers or theater productions that criticize gentrification; (2) political, from protests against upscale development to membership on an affordable-housing task force; and (3) private, such as the decision to support old-timers' businesses and to resist selling property for profit. Of course, the lines between the categories sometimes blur. Symbolic practices are often overtly political. Private efforts often arise from political concerns, and political choices can be very personal. However, the categories isolate the medium through which preservationists work. This chapter first outlines the dimensions of each type of practice. Then it describes the practices typical of each site and how context shapes preservationists' strategies. (pages 104 - 144)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Japonica Brown-Saracino
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226076645.003.0006
[selection process, social preservation, old-timer, preservationists, community, place of residence, authenticity]
This chapter examines four questions about preservationists' selection process. First, which longtime residents do they seek to preserve? Specifically, whom do they believe has the greatest claim to authentic community and, therefore, to a place? Second, what beliefs, stereotypes, and political-economic factors influence their association of a place with a particular group? Third, of what consequence are notions of authenticity for authenticators? For preservationists, what are the effects of associating community with traits they do not share? Finally, if definitions of authenticity affect preservationists—those with the privilege to select not only their own identity, but also, to an extent, that of their place of residence—what does this say about the power of authenticity and of ideology? (pages 145 - 179)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Japonica Brown-Saracino
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226076645.003.0007
[gentrifiers, social preservation, social preservation ideology, demographic traits, social location, ideas and practices]
This chapter explores how those who articulated the social preservation ideology and engaged in related practices while the author was in the field are similar to and different from other gentrifiers. Specifically, it compares social preservationists' demographic and cultural traits with those of the other gentrifiers in the sample. In so doing, it provides a portrait of the social location of the preservationists the author interviewed as well as of the historical and cultural location of social preservation itself, and of its relation to other sets of ideas and practices. (pages 180 - 212)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Japonica Brown-Saracino
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226076645.003.0008
[self-representation, old-timers, gentrification, community change, social preservationists, longtime residents]
This chapter explores the response of those whom social preservationists regard as old-timers to gentrification. Drawing from interviews and observations, it documents their perspectives on community change. The chapter reveals that, in spite of their well-founded attention to old-timers' struggle, preservationists' assessment of gentrification does not always correspond with old-timers'. Social preservationists are highly attentive to gentrification's costs and, therefore, notice certain facets of the process: disenfranchised old-timers rather than those who serve on boards; the growing number of Andersonville shops that serve gay men rather than thriving Swedish ventures. The chapter also emphasizes old-timers' perspectives over those of other longtime residents whom preservationists do not seek to preserve. (pages 213 - 249)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Japonica Brown-Saracino
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226076645.003.0009
[political economy, social preservationists, old-timers, gentrification, policy formulation, social preservation, economic interest]
It is plausible that some of the very concerns that inspire social preservationists' attention to old-timers encouraged scholars to overlook social preservation or at least to leave it unexplored. Specifically, by emphasizing outcome and actors' economic positions, scholars forsook notice of a set of beliefs and practices that challenge the notion of the iconic pioneer whose culture and practices serve his economic interests and ensure gentrification's success. Paradoxically, those who wish to advocate for old-timers may have missed opportunities to join forces with preservationists or to take social preservation into account when formulating policy. These political concerns connect to an explanation for why social preservation was long unidentified: urban scholars' long-standing devotion to the study of political economy. (pages 250 - 266)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Appendix 1: Research and Sampling Methods

Appendix 2: Interview Guide

Notes

References

Index