Graduation year: 2021
Semester/year area of interest proposed: Spring 2020
Major status: ENVS single major
Other major (if applicable):
Minor(s) (if applicable):
The theory of the Urban Growth Machine, by the Marxist geographer David Harvey (2002), refers to the strategic coalition between local government and industry. This is based on private developers’ incentives to create the greatest profit from their investments in spatial monopolies, by charging rent for space, and a local government’s incentive to attract capital to the city, through firms and high-income individuals (Harvey). This coalition together uses a variety of tactics to work towards this common interest, such as place-marketing the city as an ideal and valuable place to be located.
One common “market theory” for gentrification is that neighborhoods in a city which have lower rent amounts increase in rent–creating a rent gap between what the new residents can pay and the older ones can afford (Anderson). The residents of the neighborhood generally cannot afford the higher rent and they leave, and a higher class of people (generally upper-middle class) move in. This comes with renovations to the existing exteriors of residences and businesses. The aesthetic effects of this are predictable in almost any gentrified neighborhood; horizontal slat fencing, businesses with “industrial-inspired” metal seating, and modernist architecture.
Gentrification can be defined in many ways, but one concrete sign is that property values have increased- this is due to urban growth. Traditionally, gentrifiers (the new residents) are members of the “creative class”- young adults with creative or artistic professions, but more recently gentrifiers have a variety of professions. Place marketing often tries to re-create this dynamic, with new “arts district” neighborhood names (Bond, Browder). This is similar to marketing a place for tourism, but the people to be attracted are residents rather than tourists. Place marketing creates a narrative for a place, and a narrative for the historical uses and occupancy (Smith). This often covers up a past that white and upper middle class new residents would prefer to forget- slavery, white supremacy, and neighborhood disinvestment.
Place marketing serves to attract capital to the city- through marketing a place, prospective residents with the ability to pay a premium for their desired location can be persuaded to move to a place (Harvey). Transportation serves a key role in this, both in transportation as an amenity and transportation as a cultural expression. Public transportation, generally light rail systems, serve as an amenity to directly transport residents to jobs in the downtown or business district of a city. Places advertised as walkable are ideal- they provide the amenity of easy access to cultural amenities and small businesses.
Public transportation has the potential to make the city more accessible and connected, and access to a network of high-quality public transportation adds both intrinsic and monetary property value to a particular location. Public transit represents an investment in connecting different areas of the city, which can drive urban growth- it could be said that transit is one of the government’s contributions to the urban growth machine. Patterns of investment and disinvestment within cities do not happen in a vacuum; economic patterns, nation-wide funding, and cultural outlooks on types of transit also play a part.
It has been documented that light rail transit in particular, seen as a newer and more commuter focused form of transit, creates higher property values, especially when it is a direct route to the business district (Bowes). In this way cities are incentivized to prioritize “commuter transit” routes over other forms of transit, in order to attract large companies and their employees to the city. Public transportation is also a way of controlling who can go to a given part of town. This can create “segregation by route” wherein racially segregated areas are not accessible to one another by public transit.
Bicycles as transportation infrastructure can serve as place marketing, and the bicycle itself can be used as a motif in marketing the city, marketing housing, or in marketing amenities (Stehlin). Bicycle routes often serve recreation rather than commuting functions. Bicycle infrastructure can easily be marketed as an amenity to a city, where higher wage workers with less physically demanding jobs choose to bike to work. Bicycle infrastructure can be an investment in the promotion of the performance of counterculture, an aesthetic hallmark of gentrification (Stehlin).
Place marketing in Richmond, Virginia often creates a narrative selectively invoking an industrial era, where the history of slavery and civil rights struggle can be conveniently forgotten. New gentrifiers often use an aesthetic of a productive industrial era, which removes politics and people to focus on the goods being manufactured. This is apparent in newly coined neighborhood names and newly opened businesses and rental properties.
In Richmond, transportation has served a significant role in place marketing; the 2015 UCI world championship bike competition was held in the city, which led to the creation of bike infrastructure (bike lanes, bike rental stations, promotional street marketings). Another important instance of transportation as marketing was the recently added “Pulse line,” an express bus route connecting the business district with shopping malls and newly created tourist attractions. The creation of this express line led to the discontinuation of other bus lines, and decreased finding available for other routes and stops. The pulse line and the bike race both served to create the image of Richmond as a destination, which recently landed it on the 2020 “52 places to visit” list by the New York Times.
Environmental studies could be described as the study of the “environment”, and in the city this “environment” is determined largely by economic and political forces. I want to study the interactions between gentrification, place marketing, and transportation through a critical lens because these are relevant to people’s everyday lives. Through a Marxist geographical perspective, space can be studied as a function of capital. I would like to study the space of the city (particularly the American city), and the ways in which this is changing, and what effects these changes have on residents.
- What are some examples of “segregation by route” in newly created public transit routes?
- What are the economic outcomes of new transit infrastructures in tech hub cities?
- What are some ways in which transit shapes rapidly urbanizing tech hub cities?
- What forces beyond the scale of the city affect how transit is created?
- What objectives currently-urbanizing tech hub cities planning non-car transit infrastructure?
- What are the economic incentives that factor into the design of new transit routes?
- What role do bike infrastructure and public transit routes play in placemaking through the performance of countercultural identity among upper-middle class residents?
- How is place made in gentrified cities when the previous residents have been displaced?
- How can the “right to the city” be honored for residents displaced by gentrification, and for gentrifiers?
- Can tech hub cities urbanize without systematically displacing residents?
- How is public transit impacting workplace culture in tech cities?
- What initiatives or strategies could ensure that public transit is designed equitably in rapidly urbanizing cities?
- How can new public transit and bicycle infrastructure projects be evaluated for their impact prior to their construction?
- How do non-car transit infrastructure and changing class dynamics affect urban pollution in gentrified areas?
ECON 220 (financial system and the economy) Fall 2020. This would allow me to learn more about the complex financial systems at play in America.
ECON 250 (radical political economics) Spring 2021. This would help me further study some of the theorists I read, and expand my knowledge of Marxism and other theories that could be applied to city geography.
ECON 255 (tech institutions and economic growth) Spring 2021. This course will help me broaden my knowledge on tech companies’ role in cities, and more broadly on how tech companies influence the economy.
SOAN 222 (city and the society) Spring 2021. This course will help me go more in depth in everything I aim to study with my area of interest, especially throughout history.
Here are the required breadth courses I will include in my ENVS major/minor: CHEM 100, GEOL 150, ECON 260, SOAN 265, HIST 261, RELS 102. These are in addition to my ENVS core courses, and the area of interest courses I propose above.
Feedback to date
- 3/31/2020: Jessica Kleiss suggested narrowing focus to not include car infrastructure, specifying generally vague language, including case study
- 4/1/20 Added missing citations, added case study of Richmond, VA, changed organization/structure to be more logical, clarified different theories of gentrification.
- 4/4/2020: Jim Proctor suggested situating urban transportation more concretely, demonstrating awareness of variety, expanding scale to beyond city, and changing classification of key questions.
- 4/7/20: Revised categorization of key questions and added questions to reflect an expanded scale of inquiry. Revised section describing patterns of public investment in transit.
Revisions to date
- Stehlin, John. 2015. “Cycles of Investment: Bicycle Infrastructure, Gentrification, and the Restructuring of the San Francisco Bay Area.” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 47 (1): 121–37. https://doi.org/10.1068/a130098p.
- Revington, Nick. 2015. “Gentrification, Transit, and Land Use: Moving Beyond Neoclassical Theory.” Geography Compass 9 (3): 152–63. https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.12203.
- Bowes, David R., and Keith R. Ihlanfeldt. 2001. “Identifying the Impacts of Rail Transit Stations on Residential Property Values.” Journal of Urban Economics 50 (1): 1–25. https://doi.org/10.1006/juec.2001.2214.
- Harvey, David. “The art of rent: globalization and the commodification of culture.” In Spaces of Capital : Towards a Critical Geography, 394-411. Routledge, 2002.
- Anderson, Matthew B. 2014. “Class Monopoly Rent and the Contemporary Neoliberal City.” Geography Compass 8 (1): 13–24. https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.12107.
- Bond, Patrick, and Laura Browder. “Deracialized Nostalgia, Reracialized Community, and Truncated Gentrification: Capital and Cultural Flows in Richmond, Virginia and Durban, South Africa.” Journal of Cultural Geography 36, no. 2 (2019): 211-45.
- Smith, Neil. 2008. Uneven Development : Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space (3rd Edition). Athens: University of Georgia Press. Accessed March 4, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central.