Techno-Gentrification: act 3

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Author: Jean-Hugues Kabuiku & Mathys Rennela

Illustration: Crackdown of a rave party in Redon (France) by the military police on June 19th, 2021.

Part 5. Outro: Where do we go from here?

On June 23rd 2022, an art event called “Regards du Grand Paris” took place in collaboration with the Atelier Medicis, an art center in one of the poorest areas of the Paris region (Clichy-sous-Bois), backed by the French billionaire Liliane Bettencourt via her fondation.[1] The description mentioned the exhibition’s intent to contextualize photographic works in the territories they stem from. Aiming to “revalorize” Clichy-sous-Bois, in the same way that the Collective Mu “revalorized” Aubervilliers. But who is this photographic exhibition for?

In Act 2,[2] we saw how the elite captured the aesthetic of squatter movements, in order to create a “revalorization” of disfranchised neighbors, and real estate speculation. The complicity of “cultural actors” is striking, as most of them are actually entrepreneurs looking for their next profitable endeavors and disguising themselves as cultural institutions, which sometimes double as tax optimization schemes for billionaires.

Metropolises such as New York, Paris and Amsterdam underwent a heavy process of de-industrialization and became tertiary sector global hubs for finance, real estate, insurance & advertising. They began to compete with each other in this new industry, all while fulfilling distinct roles and functions within the global system.[3]“Briefly, in the 1980s Tokyo emerged as the main center for the export of capital; London as the main center for the processing of capital, largely through its vast international banking network … Continue reading

It’s in this context that people are trying to organize against the accelerated financialization of their neighborhoods. Cities are undergoing a radical process of spatialization of capital,[4] with the complicity of cultural actors disguised as alternative spaces. The question of housing is a democratic matter. In Berlin, a petition called for Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co gathered 350,000 signatures, becoming the most successful ballot initiative in Berlin's post-reunification history.[5] The petition was rejected by the German federal court. Shaming individuals for moving into disfranchised neighborhoods after their “revalorization” has proven to be an inefficient strategy.

The state works alongside private interests in order to facilitate and accelerate the rampant gentrification of cities. As the state within capitalism works for capital. To paraphrase Murray Bookchin in his essay “Social ecology and communalism”,[6] implementing municipalism and communalism is a question of radically transforming the institutions to create the conditions of an active and real democracy. For that, it is necessary to abolish the institutional and economic structures of dominations such as nation-states. These structures have created a centralized and impersonal world where all can be transformed in merchandise to produce always more accumulations. It is not in such a world that the civic and political participation will be able to express itself fully.

Then, how do we sensibilize cultural workers within a context of recession, in which the opportunities for stable revenue are shrinking every year? How can we push back against manifestations of ‘’Techno-gentrification”? What does it mean to resist within a neo-liberal context, in which the radical left does not have the cultural hegemony? What is this resistance entitled to in terms of social reproduction?[7]

As we need stable revenue in order to feed and house ourselves among other things, what does it mean for people when it seems that there is no other choice than collaborating with actors of the “revitalization” of disfranchised neighbors, and when alternative ways of resisting and living are criminalized?

It seems that for a part of the nightlife industry in the Netherlands and in Germany, the solution is to lobby, and “raise awareness”, while working with local authorities.[8] This is the standard liberal political tactic of collaborating with local authorities, which has failed to produce any sensible change in the way the nightlife industry operates and shields itself from capitalist greed.

Writing for Resident Advisor about nightlife activism,[9] Andrew Ryce states that “In order for nightlife culture (...) to survive, we must work to push and lobby the people who represent us.” He later writes that “real estate developers and neighborhood associations get what they want because they have the resources to organize”, and argues that “armchair activism” is to blame as people do not get directly involved in local politics, and fail to apply “public pressure outside of internet bubbles” (for example, by appearing in more traditional media). But the game that Ryce asks us to play here is a losing one:

  1. Activist groups have limited financial resources. When Ryce points out that “making change isn't impossible: it just takes time, commitment and human resources”, he fails to see that time commitment is costly. Activist groups should wield tools which aim for the strongest impact with the least cost, instead of working within the system.
  2. Seeking visibility in the press is pointless in a media landscape in which dance music magazines critically depend on ticket sales and party advertisements. A platform such as Resident Advisor will always be reluctant to amplify community activism (and when it does so, it will take a “neutral” stance), as Resident Advisor is first and foremost a ticketing company and its magazine is nothing more than a promotional tool.[10]

The strategic use of nightlife in urban redevelopments only really works if it actually contributes to the improvement of the image of the neighborhood. The mistake in fighting back against those nightlife industry corporations is to focus on their personal accountability and the real estate investors they associate with, instead of tackling their Achilles’ heel: their image. If the goal of the inclusion of cultural spaces in those redevelopment projects is to improve the image of the neighborhood in order to attract a new creative class of young executives, what is at play here is a PR campaign. What needs to be opposed to it is a smearing campaign:

  1. Disrupt the redevelopment narrative: Publicly exposing the deeds of the institutions in the neighborhood (posters, sticker actions), in order to weaken the image of “community center” that they often try to co-opt; Educating and exposing any form of collusion between nightlife institutions and real estate agencies; Encourage local neighborhood organizations to apply pressure on the venues and give them a negative image.[11]A good example of disruption of the narrative is the current campaign against the on-going predatory luxury housing redevelopment plan in Astoria (New York City), which is happening with the … Continue reading
  2. Engage local authorities: Actively engage with local authorities in order to make a problem out of their involvement in techno-gentrification.
  3. Occupy spaces: Directly protest the actions of problematic cultural institutions, not just on social media, but also on their premises (picket line, occupying the space while refusing to financially contribute to it, …)

When it comes to engaging local authorities: a common mistake in local community organizing is to reduce engagement with local authorities to electoralism. For the specific purpose of tackling techno-gentrification, electoralism is neither a cost-savvy tactic (it requires to convince and mobilize a significant part of the electorate), nor an efficient one (as election outcomes are highly unpredictable). However, the threat of any form of electoral impact is enough to bring local authorities to action. The overall inconvenience of being personally held accountable and being called out and disrupted (through the phone, at town halls, at their office, by email) outpasses the benefits from their involvement in cultural institutions. 

The type of campaign that we have just discussed can only happen in reaction to techno-gentrification, instead of offering a proper alternative model. As journalist Mickaël Correia asked in 2018: how can a cultural policy free of all economic logic exist?[12]L’envers des Friches Culturelles - Quand l’attelage public-privé fabrique la gentrification As highlighted in his work, a subsidiary of the SNCF (French national railway company) is in charge of speculative real estate operations. Which actions can we take against such public authorities, which are at the service of economic development and cultural companies, and are increasingly hegemonic?

The renters’ movement in Spain is currently occupying hotels (in Madrid and Barcelona),[13]Twitter thread, July 14th owned by a capital hedge funds (such as Blackstone) which are inflating the real estate markets through massive properties buy-ups. In February 2015, students and staff members of the University of Amsterdam occupied the Bungehuis building in protest of the university’s austerity program, which involved budget cuts in research and education but also real estate speculation (via the sale of the occupied building).[14] While the Bungehuis occupation had a very noticeable impact on student protest movements in the Netherlands, eventually leading to the Maagdenhuis occupation, the board of the university still went through with the sale of Bungehuis to Aedes Real Estate, which intended to rent the building to the members’ club SoHo House, going against the demands of protestors.[15][16] 

If we were to bring back occupations of cultural spaces as a way to force structural change, how should we navigate the legal risks associated with it? Within the Dutch context, we saw the shortcomings of working with the state, even (seemingly) under the same political colors. Amsterdam’s 2015 student protest movements are yet another example, as they were violently ended by the police, under the mayorship of Eberhard van der Laan (from the Dutch Labor Party). In a metropolis in which factory jobs have been replaced with jobs finance, insurance and real-estate (FIRE),[17]“In the United Kingdom, total employment fell by 5% during 1978-1985, while services employment increased by 41% and FIRE employment increased by 44%” The Global City by Saskia Sassen which are now the main source of employment, the question is: how do we build alliances and with whom?

Theoretician Antonio Negri offers the following example as a pathway to resistance: “The Parisian struggles of winter 1995–6 (...) were memorable because on that occasion the plans for privatizing public transport in Paris were rejected not only by the unions but by the combined struggles of much of the metropolitan population. However, those struggles would never have assumed the intensity and importance they had, had they not been traversed and, somehow, already prefigured by the struggles of the sans-papiers, the homeless, the unemployed and so on. In other words, the vast complexity of the metropolis opens escape routes for all the urban poor: this is where the metropolis, even an imperial one, wakes up to antagonism.”[18]From the Factory to the Metropolis: Essays - Antonio Negri

As we cannot expect private profit-based projects to ally themselves with the urban poor, there is a clear path for cultural workers to aim for class solidarity, working against those corporations which pretend to “democratize culture” for the disenfranchised. As the class war, the climate collapse, the far-right & crypto-fascist governments gain ground in the West, we can as cultural actors either choose to match our enemies' antagonism (fight against cultural hegemony and surpass it in order to defeat them), or we can choose to work in those cultural venues which pushed the “indesirables” even further to the periphery of metropolises, through the process of displacement facilitated by techno-gentrification.


3 “Briefly, in the 1980s Tokyo emerged as the main center for the export of capital; London as the main center for the processing of capital, largely through its vast international banking network linking London to most countries in the world and through the Euromarkets; and New York City as the main receiver of capital, the center for investment decisions and for the production of innovations that can maximize profitability.” The Global City New York, London, Tokyo, by Saskia Sassen
11 A good example of disruption of the narrative is the current campaign against the on-going predatory luxury housing redevelopment plan in Astoria (New York City), which is happening with the complicity of cultural institutions.
12 L’envers des Friches Culturelles - Quand l’attelage public-privé fabrique la gentrification
13 Twitter thread, July 14th
17 “In the United Kingdom, total employment fell by 5% during 1978-1985, while services employment increased by 41% and FIRE employment increased by 44%” The Global City by Saskia Sassen
18 From the Factory to the Metropolis: Essays - Antonio Negri