Sharon Zukin, it seems, spent quite a while walking around New York. So, as the first three or four chapters (which is about half the book) indicate, she seems to have figured out more or less the formula for gentrification in this city: First you have a working class neighborhood equipped with old, mixed-use buildings and typically having a predominantly ethnic group. Second you have artists and/or creative types deeming such place as "authentic" and setting up shop in these low-rent neighborhoods. Third you have a thriving art scene that attracts new residents, as well as coverage either by the New York Times, the New Yorker, or any other publication that yuppies simply cannot resist. This all eventually leads to a ridiculous rise in property value, displacing both the original group that inhabited the neighborhood and the artists and/or creative types that brought it to prominence.
Of course there are variations to this formula. There is mention of private groups banding together to broker private control of public spaces, with the ultimate goal being high-end commercial attractiveness. As a New Yorker I found all this information relevant. I have been to most of these neighborhoods that Zukin describes, and have seen the rapid growth of these areas, specially Harlem. What bothered me about this book is that it took 'til the last few pages before she mentioned any other city besides New York. So, in that sense, any non-New Yorker may not find anything too relatable or familiar. It isn't up until the last third of the book, that the message becomes broader, and begins to deal with the issue of shared spaces. However, the idea presented in this book on authenticity, and whether there is such a thing as an authentic urban place, are ones I find worthy of reflection. There is also the notion that politicians love gentrification, only because it gives off the idea of a functional, safe, thriving and upwardly mobile city. This is of course mostly superficial, since it is not the original inhabitants that are thriving, but a new influx of people. Recent arrivals that have no roots in the neighborhood, but do have a lot of money. The book also goes into other areas that are related, and equally interesting such as "culture consumption" and neighborhood branding tactics. So overall its a good read that may serve as something of an update on Jane Jacob's "Death and Life of Great American Cities" post-millenium.