Cool Streets: Attitude or Commodification? What - and Who - Is Driving Gentrification Along Two Changing Boulevards in Milan and Brooklyn

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 3:15 PM
Room: 313+314
Oral Presentation
Lidia K.C. MANZO , Sociology Faculty, University of Trento, Italy
Streets do possess attitude. What usually community preservationists define as 'spirit' or the 'soul of place', here is re-interpreted both in terms of design attractiveness - human scaled, fine grained, mixed use, or highly walkable – and urban lifestyles (Jacobs 1989, Zukin 1995, 1998, 2010, Parham 2012). Especially during a gentrification process, we can discuss how streets embodied essential elements of 'coolness' – showing off trendy styles and great flavors - which seems a reflection of the commodification of cultural production.

Using the concept of 'cool' as a framework - understanding it as a cultural category in its own right (Pountain and Robins 2000) – this work explores the way gentrification interconnects with the development of an individual habitus as a spatial manifestation in which the street coolness is crucial to the construction of stylish individual personae.

This exploratory paper describes the relationship between aesthetics, symbolic meanings, understandings of street character, and patterns of socio-spatial change on local shopping boulevards in two neighborhoods - Milan and Brooklyn - which are discussed as sites of financial speculation and gentrification. These neighborhoods, once considered a symbol of blight in the 1970s, today are one of the most appreciated places for Milan and New York’s wealthy and educated people. As I have observed, their street practices sometimes overlapped with working class people and (super)gentrifiers and sometimes do not. However, with hip bars and cafés, used-books stores, yoga studios, and renovated townhouses, they are 'no longer regarded by the public as blighted, but instead are both celebrated as sites of cultural consumption for a new middle class' (Osman 2011:8).

Drawing on several years of field research (2007-2013), empirical quantitative and ethnographic data on the current, and historical aesthetic characteristics as well as types of stores, and value-creating practices are considered.