Turning the city inside out : shifting demographics in American cities



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Narratives around many of America's inner-city neighborhoods have changed significantly in the past decade. Once portrayed by the media and pop-culture as blighted, dangerous areas to be avoided, these neighborhoods have become hip epicenters of a new philosophy in urban planning-- "place-making," a concept popularized by economist and urbanist Richard Florida. Place-making claims to be a kinder, friendlier kind of urban renewal emphasizing tolerance and diversity-- but is this the case? Through both physical changes and city-lead branding efforts, place-making seeks to draw young professionals, specifically those in the rising "creative class," to inner city areas in hopes these young workers will in turn draw employers. Unlike past gentrification, which often happened through the actions of private developers, these redevelopment efforts often entail municipal or quasi-municipal and corporate intervention in the guise of non-profit redevelopment companies, whose mission is not just to build a few profitable buildings, but to change the entire face and meaning of a neighborhood. More than a decade into the place-making project, planners and developers have successfully shifted narratives surrounding neighborhoods as different as Austin's east side and Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine and drawn a new population of mostly young, highly educated, and upper middle class residents. But in doing so, these efforts have created huge economic divides and displaced long term residents. Using Cincinnati and Austin as case studies, this report tells the story of this shift from these residents' point of view, as well as gain insight from the young professionals moving in to the area. While doing so, I will also delve into the blight narratives that lead to place-making in the first place-- charting the change in news media and pop culture from the "urban blight" era to today, comparing residents' perceptions with news coverage to uncover the long-term, hidden vibrancy in neighborhood ignored by both the media and contemporary developers engaging in place-making projects.