Gentrification: a philosophical analysis and critique

Journal of Urban Affairs (forthcoming)
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Philosophical discussions of gentrification have tended to focus on residential displacement. However, the prevalence of residential displacement is fiercely contested, with many urban geographers regarding it as quite uncommon. This lends some urgency to the underexplored question of how one should evaluate other forms of gentrification. In this paper, I argue that one of the most important harms suffered by victims of displacement gentrification is loss of access to the goods conferred by membership in a thriving local community. Leveraging the social scientific literature, I go on to argue that non-displacement gentrification also often damages local communities. One can hence extend existing philosophical critiques of displacement gentrification to argue that non-displacement gentrification likewise poses a threat to relational equality, and often violates certain basic occupancy rights. Focusing on the value that inheres in thriving local communities also suggests some new possibilities for critiquing gentrification. For instance, existing occupancy rights critiques focus on incumbent land users’ interests in stability. However, one can also argue in a Lockean mode that incumbent land users’ occupancy rights are at least partially grounded in their community having laboured together to create objects of value. An extension of Michael Walzer’s theory of justice to incorporate community goods as a separate ‘sphere’ might also have widespread appeal. Taken together, these arguments constitute a sustained and theoretically ecumenical case for the pro tanto moral objectionability of gentrification.

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Harry R. Lloyd
Yale University


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