Spike Lee on gentrification

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Maysie Maysie's picture
Spike Lee on gentrification

Spike Lee rocking the truth on gentrification.


Then comes the motherfuckin’ Christopher Columbus Syndrome. You can’t discover this! We been here. You just can’t come and bogart. There were brothers playing motherfuckin’ African drums in Mount Morris Park for 40 years and now they can’t do it anymore because the new inhabitants said the drums are loud. My father’s a great jazz musician. He bought a house in nineteen-motherfuckin’-sixty-eight, and the motherfuckin’ people moved in last year and called the cops on my father. He’s not — he doesn’t even play electric bass! It’s acoustic! We bought the motherfuckin’ house in nineteen-sixty-motherfuckin’-eight and now you call the cops? In 2013? Get the fuck outta here!


When Michael Jackson died they wanted to have a party for him in motherfuckin’ Fort Greene Park and all of a sudden the white people in Fort Greene said, “Wait a minute! We can’t have black people having a party for Michael Jackson to celebrate his life. Who’s coming to the neighborhood? They’re gonna leave lots of garbage.” Garbage? Have you seen Fort Greene Park in the morning? It’s like the motherfuckin’ Westminster Dog Show. There’s 20,000 dogs running around. Whoa. So we had to move it to Prospect Park!

I mean, they just move in the neighborhood. You just can’t come in the neighborhood. I’m for democracy and letting everybody live but you gotta have some respect. You can’t just come in when people have a culture that’s been laid down for generations and you come in and now shit gotta change because you’re here? Get the fuck outta here. Can’t do that!




*rubs eyes* Maysie?

[url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IA3oxE4X5w8]Buggin' Out[/url]


It depends.Sure neighbourhoods change. THey also get driven over by a truck sometimes too. And somehow I don't think NYC is the only place it's happening.

Having spoken not that long ago with someone who thinks in order to spruce up 20th streeet they need to move the Friendship Inn, and White Buffalo Lodge "because you know there's no reason poor people from all over town should hang out in Riversdale" I think I'm a bit more sympathetic with Lee's position on this.

Didn't help that the person had moved here from Calgary.




epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..in 2008 i decided to go on a trip. i was mostly retired and didn’t have the cash so got a job as a security guard. it was a sweet gig as i patrolled an empty city building on the dtes. i was locked inside. along the outside of the building were these small alcoves where homeless people would come at night and sleep. i befriended one fellow who said he had been sleeping there for more than 2 years. it was a safe place.

..across the street they had just completed a high rise and people were moving in. a part of the gentrification program. one evening i was outside getting some fresh air when one of the new tenants came across to talk to me. he asked me to remove the guy that had been there for 2 years. i tried to dissuade him nicely from his mission but he insisted. and when i refused he threatened to tell my boss. i gave him the number and told him to fuck off.


Bravo, epaulo13, that story is [url=http://rabble.ca/babble/babble-banter/babble-hall-fame-version-x21#comme... Hall of Fame[/url] material.


Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Lovely epaulo13. And a great rant by Mr. Lee. WE BEEN HERE


Thanks, epaulo.

(you will notice some comments by lagatta after the Guardian piece. Must go back there.)

Of course neighbourhoods change, but it is important to take action to defend the right to live somewhere and "the right to the city" for previous residents.

And extend proper urbanism and a healthier enviornment to poorer neighbourhoods, without using these so expel longterm residents.

Social housing is key, but it has to be of a kind in which the residents have a real involvement, not massive "projects", as they call them in the US, with a remote and autocratic administration.


Thanks, Maysie -- and thanks, epaulo for sharing your own experience. I mean, geez, we're not talking about hipsters loosing their favourite pop-up coffee shop to a Tim Horton's here. I wholeheartedly support Lagatta's Lefebvre-ian moment -- the right to the city isn't granted, it's appropriated (and contested, and negotiated) through the very process of living in the city.


I get what you are saying, mersh,but I think it's more likely to be the so-called hipsters pushing out the Tim Hortons... that is to say, the restaurants which are tolerant of people using it as a place to hang out.

THey already bulldozed a McDonalds here to push poor people out of downtown. My guess is the Tim Hortons on 22nd is next, since that's where everyone seems to have moved.



Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Of course neighbourhoods change. That is a very simplistic take on what Lee is objecting to here. He is talking about a) the character of the change, and b) the hypocrisy behind those changes. Gentrification isn't about making a neighbourhood look nicer, it is about commodifying space such that we are made to believe it's nicer -- while the niceness is just a façade that comes at the expense of the people who lived there and the culture they created. That culture is discarded as unimportant -- non-profitable -- and replaced by "developed" real estate. Lee's important point is that none of the things we credit gentrification for -- nicer schools, safer streets, more facilities -- were beyond government's power before middle-class white people moved in. And yet here we are.


And the scope and scale of gentrification is changing, too. Jason Hackworth (writing about neoliberal cities) traces how in NY, there has been a switch from more yuppie/family gentrification towards institutional gentrification (financial and real estate firms buying out whole blocks and rebuilding en masse, etc.).We're not just talking about nice middle class folks trying to find a toehold in the big 'ol city. Municipal governments work alongside developers and business interests to promote specific forms of gentrification, leading to widespread displacement, policing or exclusion. It's happened in Parkdale, and to a certain extent in the Junction in Toronto (big win for brewpubs tho). And if you read accounts from gentrifying residents, they often omit the presence of those who lived in the area beforehand, or dismiss them as undesirable ("there used to be a lot of drug users around here...").


I agree, mersh, and in some major or particulalry desirable cities the speculators don't even live in the same country. An extreme example is Venice, which has been pretty much emptied of Venetians.

However, I must point out that working-class and poor residents are just as annoyed by violent, thieving drug users. They just don't have the clout to keep their neighbourhoods safe.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

And of course the hypocritical way society decides who counts as a "drug user" is part and parcel of this problem. But yes to mersh's point -- in Vancouver too radical, breakneck transformation  is linked to massive, multi-billion dollar developers who have City Hall in their pocket. But wealthy homeowners too: a read something recently that said 85% of a GMV landfill was waste from real estate demolition. 85%!


Thing is, if you aren't poor or non-white, and aren't paying attention, your first encounter with those kinds of attitudes is likely to be from people who think garden spaces, clotheslines, posters, and children need to be controlled because they interfere with property values.


We had a really creepy business pamphlet sent out by the city a year or so ago which essentially urged business owners to look out for and restrict doorways and other spaces where people might loiter, as if hanging out in the street was something threatening.



Catchfire Catchfire's picture

In Vancouver at least community gardens downtown have been acting as holding places for future condo development -- everyone gets so excited about these gardens that hang around for two years or so as surrounding property values escalate and then: bam. Garden gets bulldozed and new condo tower installed.

Gentrification is incredibly indisious: progressive, artistic and even activist communities get tricked into working for capital.


Oh, absolutely. I've been an active member of a neighbourhood tenants' association for about 25 years. Winning anything, such as a lot set aside for a housing co-op or non-profit housing (OBNL, in French) is so hard, and we've lost several important fights, such as the destiny of the former School for the Deaf, a large greystone building between Jarry Park and Jean-Talon market, and across from a métro station.

Now our big fight involves the new campus of L'Université de Montréal, and more generally, the development of the industrial area at the junction of Villeray - Park-Extension and La Petite-Patrie (a short walk west of where I live). Nobody is against the campus, but against expulsions, and we want more social housing among the mix. It is amazing how quickly condo developments are getting thrown up in brownfields.

I wasn't going along with the distinction between legal and illegal drugs - violent drunks are certainly as much a menace as the users of anything illegal - just pointing out that people in working-class neighbourhoods don't like living in dangerous, insalubrious conditions any more than wealthier people do.

Doing housing clinics, we face more and more problems. Remember, the northern half of this area is in Twit Trudeau's riding, and he is always nattering on about the middle class.

Berlusconi was a notorious opponent of clotheslines, which are enshrined in Italian culture due to the mild and usually dry weather. He wanted them taken down in Genova before the G8. He was actually complaining about women's underwear! Guess not all the bras and panties on display were up to snuff by his exacting standards.

That is very vulgar and nouveau-riche; even upper-class Italians treasure their clotheslines (what are maids for, after all?). But as usual, they are less conspicuous in posh areas as there are rooftop terrasses and large balconies, so the washing doesn't hang beneath small balconies and windows, and across streets.


Uh yeah, ya can do that;

people move, neighbourhoods change, demography happens.

Using bad words doesn't change that.

Queens was once a middle class white eighbourhood, then it became an ethnic mixed area, and now is trending majority black middle class, highest median black incomes outside DC.

If you don't like neighbourhood transition, NYC is not your place.

Oh yeah, Spike Lee is a talented jerk, thinks world doesn't know how great he is:

fits right in, in the new Brooklyn: