Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

From Toxic Wreck to Crunchy Chic: Environmental Gentrification through the Body

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

From Toxic Wreck to Crunchy Chic: Environmental Gentrification through the Body

Article excerpt

Abstract. This paper takes up the challenge of extending and enhancing the literature on environmental gentrification by considering bodies and embodied practices as significant dimensions of this process. In considering the question of how a polluted past can be mobilized as an asset for neighbourhood rebranding and gentrification, this research suggests that the conflation of both pollution and 'health' with different kinds of urban bodies and practices is an important strategy for solidifying a clean and green neighbourhood future. I argue that some bodies are constituted as 'dirty' by the symbolic and substantive displacement of environmental pollution onto those bodies, in ways that allow the neighbourhood to redefine itself as clean (whether it is environmentally clean or not) once those bodies are displaced, contained, or made invisible. This perspective requires us to consider the radically coconstitutive character of representations and materiality, bodies and cities, nature and social relations. Based on a case study of Toronto's Junction neighbourhood, this paper maintains that bringing bodies to the foreground attends to the power of embodiment in producing and reproducing urban change and, critically, urban inequalities.

Keywords: environmental gentrification, embodiment, Toronto, industry, pollution, intra-action

Introduction

Gentrification is a global phenomenon that has been transforming cities and neighbourhoods for several decades. Cities like Toronto, Canada have seen neighbourhoods of all kinds--working class, commercial, ethnic--remade by an influx of wealthier residents and new retail enterprises. But what if a neighbourhood is better known for abattoirs, volatile organic compounds, and diesel trains than for Victorian housing stock, ethnic restaurants, or historical significance? How could gentrification proceed here, and could this toxic past even be mobilized as an asset? Environmental gentrification provides one pathway: environmental cleanup has been found to increase neighbourhood attractiveness, and it may spur gentrification through the arrival of new residents, businesses, and developments (Essoka, 2010; Quastel, 2009). Atoxic past can also be remediated through representational strategies such as place marketing that promise a clean, green, sustainable future. Extending these observations, this paper explores the ways in which environmental gentrification also works through the conflation of both pollution and 'health' with different kinds of urban bodies and embodied (body-centred) practices. This provides one way of making sense of how gentrification proceeds even in the face of significant urban environmental challenges, including incomplete cleanup.

While I examine representations of embodiment in a particular case study--Toronto's west-end Junction neighbourhood--bodies and practices are not just symbols of pollution or health. Bodies are material, organic entities that are transformed in very real ways through a range of intertwined processes: biological, environmental, social, cultural, economic, technological, and so on. These transformations might be visible on the surface of the body or in its physical form; they might also be internal transformations: hormonal, electrochemical, molecular, neurological. In addition, material entities (bodies, nature, cities) are not only passive recipients of either symbolic or material changes: they can be active in meaningmaking and material processes. Therefore, it is necessary to explore the representational and the material as always coproductive, and to try to see how this interplay has real outcomes in terms of spatialized socioeconomic inequalities. Furthermore, it is important not to view human and more-than-human actors, organic and built environments, cultural and political forces as discrete and distinct. Instead, they can be viewed as intertwined, mutually constitutive, intra-active phenomena that constantly produce one another (Barad, 2003). …

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