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Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places [Paperback]

by Sharon Zukin
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 13, 2011 0199794464 978-0199794461 Reprint
As cities have gentrified, educated urbanites have come to prize what they regard as "authentic" urban life: aging buildings, art galleries, small boutiques, upscale food markets, neighborhood old-timers, funky ethnic restaurants, and old, family-owned shops. These signify a place's authenticity, in contrast to the bland standardization of the suburbs and exurbs.

But as Sharon Zukin shows in Naked City, the rapid and pervasive demand for authenticity--evident in escalating real estate prices, expensive stores, and closely monitored urban streetscapes--has helped drive out the very people who first lent a neighborhood its authentic aura: immigrants, the working class, and artists. Zukin traces this economic and social evolution in six archetypal New York areas--Williamsburg, Harlem, the East Village, Union Square, Red Hook, and the city's community gardens--and travels to both the city's first IKEA store and the World Trade Center site. She shows that for followers of Jane Jacobs, this transformation is a perversion of what was supposed to happen. Indeed, Naked City is a sobering update of Jacobs' legendary 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Like Jacobs, Zukin looks at what gives neighborhoods a sense of place, but argues that over time, the emphasis on neighborhood distinctiveness has become a tool of economic elites to drive up real estate values and effectively force out the neighborhood "characters" that Jacobs so evocatively idealized.

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Editorial Reviews


"This is scholarship with its boots on the ground, challenging us to look at the familiar in a new light." --The Boston Globe

"A highly readable narrative...a revelation, no matter where you live."
--The Austin Chronicle

"Provocative." --San Francisco Chronicle

"Astutely describes the conflict between "original" features of a neighborhood that seem to have been there forever and new ones that each new generation creates...cogent and accessible."--The New York Times

"Zukin is a good noticer, and an entertaining tour guide to the ambivalent ravages of gentrification...The strengths of Naked City lie in Zukin's acute eye, her attentive ear for shifts in the way we talk about cities, and her evocative sympathy for the longtime residents of neighborhoods such as Williamsburg, Harlem, Red Hook, and her own East Village...Zukin offers a compelling account of how a certain kind of success spoils cities--and some eminently sensible, if politically radical, ideas about how to preserve people along with buildings."--Times Literary Supplement

"Twenty-first century urbanists have been working with twentieth-century frameworks--I suspected it, and Sharon Zukin has articulated my suspicions, and more. Her book makes an essential compass, like those of Naomi Klein, Walter Benn Michaels, and Douglas Rushkoff, for citizens wrestling with the mercurial force of 'late capitalism' not only in their brains, but in their neighborhoods, workplaces, classrooms, and at the local store."--Jonathan Lethem, author of Chronic City

"You can count on cities to fascinate, and you can count on Sharon Zukin to make sense of it for us. Naked City looks at the strange beauty of New York City's nooks and crannies to find universal experiences, un-told stories, and small wonders. Zukin is a brilliant analyst cum tour guide, and the writing is simply captivating."--Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day

"Sharon Zukin's Naked City is a must read for two reasons: For many of us who once lived in New York, but have been gone for many years, Zukin brings us up to date with vivid and peopled descriptions of the city's streets and neighborhoods. And for us sociologists, no matter our connection to New York, Zukin uses the city to persuasively show that the longing for authenticity is as much about us as it about the places that are always changing around us. It is a wonderfully smart argument that will likely become the definitive statement on this topic. Naked City combines the best of keen urban observations and broad attention to the politics, economics, and culture of places to yield a book that, once you start reading, you will find it hard to put down."--Mary Pattillo, author of Black on the Block

"Zukin provides us with a sound analysis that can be appreciated not only by social scientists and planners, but also by suburbanites and small town residents." --Contemporary Sociology

About the Author

Sharon Zukin is Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. She is the author of Loft Living (the classic book on SoHo's gentrification), Landscapes of Power (winner of the C. Wright Mills Award), The Cultures of Cities, and Point of Purchase.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; Reprint edition (May 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199794464
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199794461
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #380,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born and raised in Philadelphia, I came to New York City to go to college--and have never left. Manhattan, as the critic John Berger writes, is the island for those who hope excessively--and I join my hopes and fears to those of everyone else in this ever-crowded, ever-new and ever-maddening place. I teach sociology at Brooklyn College and the City University Graduate Center, talking and writing about the neighborhoods, art scenes, real estate developers, immigrants and gentrifiers who make the city's soul.

To continue following Sharon Zukin's blog posts, go to:

Customer Reviews

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Naked City December 24, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Sharon Zukin, it seems, spent quite a while walking around New York. So, as the first three or four chapters (which is about half the book) indicate, she seems to have figured out more or less the formula for gentrification in this city: First you have a working class neighborhood equipped with old, mixed-use buildings and typically having a predominantly ethnic group. Second you have artists and/or creative types deeming such place as "authentic" and setting up shop in these low-rent neighborhoods. Third you have a thriving art scene that attracts new residents, as well as coverage either by the New York Times, the New Yorker, or any other publication that yuppies simply cannot resist. This all eventually leads to a ridiculous rise in property value, displacing both the original group that inhabited the neighborhood and the artists and/or creative types that brought it to prominence.
Of course there are variations to this formula. There is mention of private groups banding together to broker private control of public spaces, with the ultimate goal being high-end commercial attractiveness. As a New Yorker I found all this information relevant. I have been to most of these neighborhoods that Zukin describes, and have seen the rapid growth of these areas, specially Harlem. What bothered me about this book is that it took 'til the last few pages before she mentioned any other city besides New York. So, in that sense, any non-New Yorker may not find anything too relatable or familiar. It isn't up until the last third of the book, that the message becomes broader, and begins to deal with the issue of shared spaces. However, the idea presented in this book on authenticity, and whether there is such a thing as an authentic urban place, are ones I find worthy of reflection.
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6 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Naked City/Blinded Eyes October 3, 2012
By Tom
Format:Kindle Edition
Zukin has a condescending attitude that all businesses run in lower income communities a) need help, b) are unique, and c) are worthy of our money even if they are bad for the economy and bad for our wallets. A business is not worthy of our money if it is a bad business, and Zukin needs to accept that many businesses in lower income communities are not well run and can be very exploitative, just as big businesses can. There is little about the book that is pro-business and it feels like Sharon does not want to live in a market-based world.
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