Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places

Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places

Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places

Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places


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 Cityis 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.

"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

--San Francisco Chronicle


This is a good moment to take stock of recent changes in cities that we think we know well, changes that both surprise us in the daily routine of walking through our neighborhoods and contradict the images in television replays and earlier films noirs that we see in popular culture. Naked City is one of those films noirs, a black-and-white police thriller made in 1948 on the streets of New York, a film that tracks a murder suspect from Park Avenue to the Lower East Side and finally to an end with no escape in sight, high over the East River, on the Williamsburg Bridge. Realistic in its time, especially because it was filmed on location, Naked City contrasts the brute power of New York’s skyscrapers with the cultural vitality of its streets and the everyday lives of the men and women who work in small shops and diners, drive taxis, clean offices, and solve crimes. “There are eight million stories in the naked city,” the voice-over narrator famously declares. But he might just as well have said: It is these stories, these buildings, and these streets that create the authentic city of our lifetime.

Today this black-and-white city seems less permanent and less authentic than it did in 1948. During the past few years, cities have become sites of massive redevelopment, with bulldozers tearing down old buildings, giant shovels digging holes in the ground so other big machines can lay new foundations, and cranes popping up like push pins from the ground. Since 2008, though, a worldwide economic crisis has stilled the financial . . .

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