Introduction

mercedes portrait.jpeg

Mercedes Urquidez, 67, poses with the mural she helped to create at the Los Sures senior center.

If gentrification was a disease, many scholars would classify displacement as its biggest symptom. No matter how we hypothesize about the order in which gentrifying factors arrive in a neighborhood, it is almost always a given that, by the end of it all, residents are pushed out. The central question around gentrification, then, becomes one that has to do with housing: if there is a way for people to stay in their homes; where the displaced end up; and who takes their place when they are eventually forced to leave.

Over the course of an hour-long interview, South Williamsburg resident Mercedes Urquidez confirmed that housing is at the center of long-time residents concerns: “The only thing that’s killing us is the apartments. The housing.” Her personal experience reinforces the emphasis that scholars have placed on housing, and yet it expands upon the narrow lens of displacement. According to Mercedes, gentrification directly affects residents right to live, but it does so by more than just displacing them. In her case, it has kept her in the same apartment though she longs to move. It has prohibited her family from joining her in Manhattan. It has caused her granddaughter to move in with her and sleep on her couch. Gentrification is characterized both by the movement of people and the lack there of. As geographer Neil Smith notes, “gentrification is not just a physical process, it is a social one, involving the movement of people and the movement of capital, and, as a social process, it embodies many of the characteristics of the larger society in which it occurs.” (cite) One thing is for certain: gentrification is, at its core, about housing, but the ways in which it effects the homes of those living through gentrification are simultaneously diverse and profoundly interconnected. Gentrification produces both a diaspora and a ghettoization of a people, at once forcing them to leave their homes and cultures behind and trapping them in a neighborhood they no longer recognize. 

Introduction