What a City Is for: Remaking the Politics of Displacement

Regular price $ 18.95

by Matt Hern

MIT Press

9/1/2017, paperback

SKU: 9780262534420


An investigation into gentrification and displacement, focusing on the case of Portland, Oregon's systematic dispersal of black residents from its Albina neighborhood.

Over the last two and half decades, Albina--the one major Black neighborhood in Portland--has been systematically uprooted by market-driven gentrification and city-renewal policies. African Americans in Portland were first pushed into Albina and then contained there through exclusionary zoning, predatory lending, and racist real estate practices. Since the 1990s, they've been aggressively displaced--by rising housing costs, developers eager to get rid of low-income residents, and overt city policies of gentrification.

Displacement and dispossessions are convulsing cities across the globe, becoming the dominant urban narratives of our time. In What a City Is For, Matt Hern uses the case of Albina, as well as similar instances in New Orleans and Vancouver, to investigate gentrification in the twenty-first century. In an engaging narrative, effortlessly mixing anecdote and theory, Hern questions the notions of development, private property, and ownership. Arguing that home ownership drives inequality, he wants us to disown ownership. How can we reimagine the city as a post-ownership, post-sovereign space? Drawing on solidarity economics, cooperative movements, community land trusts, indigenous conceptions of alternative sovereignty, the global commons movement, and much else, Hern suggests repudiating development in favor of an incrementalist, non-market-driven unfolding of the city.


"This book is a raw, honest, and brilliant analysis delivered with the fire of someone who cares very deeply about the world we share. His words fly off the page and into my life as he invites me to envision a different way of living in a different world, and in doing so, he makes me feel less alone." -- Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, author of Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies, Islands of Decolonial Love, and As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance.

"What a City Is For is a scholarly look at Portland made accessible to general readers. Matt Hern's work is essential reading for anyone interested in urban studies and the politics of Portland generally. This text will stand the test of time."-- Judson L. Jeffries, Professor of African American and African Studies, The Ohio State University, coauthor of The Portland Black Panthers and contributor in Black Power Afterlives: The Enduring Significance of the Black Panther Party. 

About the Author:

Matt Hern is a founder of Solid State Industries, teaches at multiple universities, and lectures widely. He is the author of What a City Is For: Remaking the Politics of Displacement (MIT Press) among many other books.