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Urban Renewal from NYC to Amsterdam: A Podcast

Michelle Rafferty, Publicity Assistant

The forces of real estate development and rebranding campaigns are transforming urban landscapes around the world─and Sharon Zukin has seen much of it first hand. In the following podcast she explains what happens to the people when a city gains financial capital or decides to change its image.  Zukin teaches sociology at Brooklyn College and the City University Graduate Center, and is author of this year’s Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places.

Sharon Zukin: The basic industry of New York has been real estate for many years—the selling of land, the building of more expensive offices and apartments to replace the buildings that came before. This is just an unrecognized, really big part of New York City. New money from bigger investors comes in and drives out the people who are still paying low rents.

Michelle Rafferty: So Manhattan has become a place where many people who work in the city can’t actually afford to live there. Where else do you see this happening in the world, and how do we know when a city is on its way to becoming more elite or less diverse in terms of class?

Zukin: In every city of the world where the center of the city is redeveloped for the financial class and welcomes expatriates and transnational investors, that’s where the local population is being kicked out to the edges of the city. Yes it’s happened in New York, but it’s also happening in Shanghai. Yes it has happened in London, and Paris, but it’s also happening in Nam Ping. The centers of the city, in contrast to the 1960s and 70s have become valuable again. They’re valuable financially, they’re valuable logistically, they’re valuable culturally.

Rafferty: You just were talking about other cities in the world and I know you travel a lot. You get to see how a lot of other cities are changing, compare those changes to New York City. I know recently you went to Amsterdam, and specifically you saw what was going on in the Red Light District. I’m wondering if you can talk about that a little bit more, how that area is changing.

Zukin: The Red Light District has begun to look like a serious disadvantage for marketing Amsterdam. There’s even a kind of “I Love Amsterdam” campaign that copies the “I Love New York” campaign of the past few decades. So the new marketing of Amsterdam is more family friendly and really can’t deal with the drug traffic and the human trafficking of the sex industry. So there’s an attempt to evict those uses of the space and turn the windows of the brothels at least temporarily over to fashion designers and visual artists who display their work in the shop windows.

There was a very interesting exhibition at the Amsterdam Historical Museum this year that shows Ed Kienholz’s installations that reproduce the interiors of some of the very sordid rooms of the prostitutes of the Red Light District. But the exhibition also documents–in video form and in printed interviews–the desires of many of the prostitutes to continue working in the center of Amsterdam. There’s a curious dynamic of women’s control over their bodies and their work in a legalized prostitution situation, and the criminality of a lot of that industry, all of which is played out in urban redevelopment.

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