Sharon Zukin


On her book Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places

Cover Interview of December 15, 2009


Naked City argues against destroying the diversity of urban centers by gentrification, chain store invasion, and the kind of upscale redevelopment that makes all places look the same.  Both updating Jane Jacobs’s vision of urban life and criticizing its failure to confront the power of investors and developers, the book enters the still-raging debate between those who want to build big, in Robert Moses’s style, and those who want to preserve the “authentic” city of neighborhoods and local identities.

Using “authenticity” to fight for space is dangerous.  It risks elevating one group’s interests and visions above all others.  But economic arguments in favor of controlling rents and preventing the disappearance of independently owned stores have little political traction.  If we organize to protect the cultural value of social diversity, we may have a better chance of enabling people to stay in their neighborhoods, their jobs, and their homes.

The twenty-first century city need not stand on the ruins of older forms of urban life; neither should it displace the twentieth-century urban population.  Creative destruction of a certain amount of the city’s physical fabric is inevitable and even desirable.  But the city’s social fabric must be nourished and preserved.

© 2009 Sharon Zukin