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Systems Thinking and Gentrification: Review of The New Urban Renewal

July 30, 2012

How do neighborhoods change? How does a forgotten ghetto become an urban hotspot?

Derek S. Hyra answers these questions in The New Urban Renewal: The Economic Transformation of Harlem and Bronzeville (published by University of Chicago Press, 2008).

Hyra presents a careful comparative study between two economically gentrifying communities: Harlem (New York) and Bronzeville (Chicago). He takes a “systems thinking” approach (though he does not call it that) to see how global and national forces interact with municipal political structures, which interact with community organizational structures, which all work together to affect local conditions. These are the lenses through which he views gentrification in those two communities.

He notes that while Bronzeville and Harlem are gentrifying economically, their racial composition is not changing–they both remain primarily African American neighborhoods. So Hyra also analyzes intraracial, cross-class conflict.

Hyra’s interest is especially in displaced, non-home-owning residents of each community. He keeps this population in mind throughout the book and makes recommendations at the end for how to minimize resident displacement in gentrifying communities.

The New Urban Renewal is not very concise–typographical errors and run-on sentences are surprisingly common for a University of Chicago Press Book. But this can be overlooked. The concepts in Hyra’s book are well worth understanding and exploring.

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