After Tompkins Square Park: Degentrification and the Revanchist City

  • Neil Smith


After the stretch-limo optimism of the 1980s was rear-ended in the financial crash of 1987, then totalled by the onset of economic depression two years later, real estate agents and urban commentators quickly began deploying the language of ‘de-gentrification’ to represent the apparent reversal of urban change in the 1990s. ‘With the realty boom gone bust in once gentrifying neighborhoods’, writes one newspaper reporter, ‘co-op converters and speculators who worked the streets and avenues... have fallen on hard times. That, in turn, has left some residents complaining of poor security and shoddy maintenance, while others are unable to sell their once-pricey apartments in buildings where a bank foreclosed on a converter’. ‘Degentrification’, explains one New York realtor, ‘is a reversal of the gentrification process’: in the 1990s, unlike the 1980s, ‘there is no demand for pioneering, transitional, recently discovered locations’. Those few real estate deals that are transacted, he suggests, have retrenched to ‘prime areas’.1 ‘In the 1970s, the theory was that a few gentrified areas would have a contagious effect and pull up neighboring districts’ but ‘that didn’t happen’, says another commentator. Most bluntly, in the words of census bureau demographer Larry Long, ‘gentrification has come and gone’.2


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© Neil Smith 1996

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  • Neil Smith

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