Noting the “ghosts of place” in gentrifying neighborhoods

A sociologist who has studied gentrifying neighborhoods in New York City suggests neighborhoods have “ghosts of place”:

Sociologist Michael Mayerfeld Bell has described “ghosts of place” as “the sense of the presence of those who are not physically there,” and argued they are a “ubiquitous aspect of the phenomenology of place.” Who among us has not felt the spirited animation of the spaces we inhabit, and the objects we see, sometimes independent of our own memories or feelings of nostalgia? Based on his longstanding public socializing and photography, Bob, and other longtime downtown residents, identify the transformation of the neighborhood’s characters, marginal groups, and social misfits into collective ghosts, through the social transformation of the “place” of the neighborhood, and in spite of their continuous physical presence. Even an advanced level of gentrification does not lead to immediate wholesale displacement of existing groups and cultures. Co-presence and co-existence among diverse groups signify the everyday lived experience for people in gentrified areas. The sense of community they possess is in part composed of the mundaneness of everyday life in a neighborhood: the people and places people see and their daily and nightly rounds. But some groups are at greater risk than others of losing a physical, social, and cultural stake in a gentrifying neighborhood. Under conditions of rapid change and threats to their way of life, people work to preserve a sense of community, and in effect fight for their stake in place, in a multitude of ways…

The street gives residents like Bob the opportunity to feel the ghosts of place from their youth. Meanwhile, the nightly encounters he has with today’s living ghosts—physically present but increasingly socially invisible—anchor him to his community and allow him to cope with what he has lost. As upscale downtown living and nighttime consumption increasingly characterize his neighborhood, ghosts have become Bob’s life.

In other words, as neighborhoods gentrify, the original residents fade to the background as they try to live their normal lives. Eventually, these ghosts haunt the changed place, occasionally popping up, sometimes drawing attention, but not leaving much of a mark.

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