Sharon Zukin on Privately Managed Public Spaces, Gentrification and Urban Authenticity

The Midnight Charette is an explicit podcast about design, architecture, and the everyday. Hosted by architectural designers David Lee and Marina Bourderonnet, it features a variety of creative professionals in unscripted and long-format conversations that allow for thoughtful takes and more personal discussions. Honesty and humor are used to cover a wide array of subjects: some episodes provide useful tips for designers, while others are project reviews, interviews, or simply explorations of everyday life and design. The Midnight Charette is available for free on iTunes, YouTube, Spotify, and all other podcast directories.

On this episode of The Midnight Charette Podcast, Sharon Zukin discusses the economic and social impact the technology industry has had on cities around the world, the relationship between gentrification and the commodification of modern life, building improvement districts and the increasing securitization of public spaces, and the desire to live in authentic neighborhoods.

Sharon Zukin is a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York where she is also a distinguished fellow in the Advanced Research Collaborative. She has written numerous books including The Cultures of Cities and Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places.


Innovation Economy

(08:36) "The discourse that is very popular about this kind of urban change all over the world now is innovation discourse. It's all about the so-called “innovation economy” […] Sometimes the tech ecosystem, sometimes the startup ecosystem, but basically the kinds of networks, organizations, and spaces in which the new economy is being imposed. And I do see it as kind of an imposition on top of older ecosystems and older ways of working."

Gentrification and Uber

(35:11) "I think that the availability of an on-demand car has made it easier for people to travel to areas of the city that they would not ordinarily have gone to if they had to go by subway or by taxi. So that these people who visit out of the way neighborhoods—usually where low-income people live—they are agents of gentrification. […] They’re going to these neighborhoods and they're saying, “This is the real authentic city that I want to live in.” That's an unforeseen consequence."

Small Businesses and Consumptive City Centers

(25:54) "If you look at the heart of many small towns, the small businesses are dying. […] The centers of the towns or the cities, if they survive, survive by upscaling to sell really expensive products in precious kinds of boutiques, cafes and restaurants."

(29:40) "The transformation of so many urban spaces into shopping places could be considered ideological. It's a way of lulling all of us into becoming slaves of consumer society and advocates of corporate capitalism by the clothes that we buy, the labels, the brands that we 'engage with'."

Business improvement districts 

(53:23) "Business Improvement Districts have become so widespread around the world and so well entrenched in New York […] that people don't even think of what neighborhoods, streets and parks would be like without them anymore. […] The city government in New York, and in many other places of the world, has decided it's more efficient and cheaper to let building owners and business owners pay for the maintenance and cleaning in New York, and also the security of their little part of public space."

Securitization of Public Spaces

(01:05:20) "There is such a selective enforcement of public order. […] For example, a case in Bryant Park where a group of people, who obviously seemed middle class, would spread a tablecloth on the grass on movie nights […] and lay out a picnic dinner including bottles of wine, and the private security guards would not bother them. By the same token, if a homeless person comes along and roots through the garbage cans for bottles to return for the deposit, or somebody takes a drink out of a bottle in a brown paper bag, you can bet that the security guard will at least I ask them what they're doing, if not ask them to leave."

(01:12:25) "These are the frictions. These are the frictions that we live within densely populated cities and they're significant of political divisions in this country as well as other countries. How well do we accept others who are historically different?".

The Podcast episode is embedded above and available on The Midnight Charette website, YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, and all other podcast apps.

About this author
Cite: The Second Studio Podcast. "Sharon Zukin on Privately Managed Public Spaces, Gentrification and Urban Authenticity" 27 Apr 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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