Unintended Consequences: Some readings on art, design, and gentrification.

Featured Image: La Muerte del Barrio by MTO


Workhorse has offices in two of the fastest gentrifying cities in the United States, Washington, DC and Charleston, SC. The role of art and artists in changing cities has been examined and critiqued for a long time. In Charleston, I’ve gotten involved in the affordable housing issue through the Charleston Area Justice Ministry. This has really allowed me to do some introspection – specifically, how art and design influences gentrification and how I, as a designer, play a role in that.

“When artists and galleries move into what is branded as a “newly established art community,” they generally don’t think of themselves as gentrifiers so much as they think of themselves as pioneers of a “new community,” (as opposed to new members of the pre-existing, already culturally-rich community). So it’s not just that these art galleries attract developers like ants to a picnic; it’s also that they often display a blatant disregard for the rich history of the community they are overtaking. “ “Art & Gentrification: What is “Artwashing” and What Are Galleries Doing to Resist It?”, Artspace, 2017

Urban revitalization has not been equitable and designers have often been utilized as tools of gentrification. Maybe we’re not tossing people out of their homes and building condos over old neighborhoods ourselves, but we sure have branded the fuck out those condos, coffee shops, and yoga studios. A renewed awareness of our ethics is needed in order to make sure we are creating the inclusive communities we want to see continue and to thrive.

Mi Casa No Es Su Casa: Illumination Against Gentrification, 2015

We need models of planning and development that involve community improvement without displacement. Gentrification is not placemaking but place-taking. It destroys our collective memory of places, contributing to the global homogenization and commodification of everything. Bring it into the light of day and it could melt away in the sunshine. The Gentrification Dilemna, Architect Magazine, 2012

Reading List

Hyperallergic, 2017
An Artists’ Guide to Not Being Complicit with Gentrification

Brookings Institution, 2019
How placemaking can empower urban communities, not tear them apart

Smart Cities Dive, 2019
Is ‘Sustainable’ Urban Placemaking Elitist?

The City at Eye Level, 2018
Gentrification and Placemaking: An Interview with Juliet Kahne

Next City, 2015
The Complicated Business of Placemaking in a Place That Already Exists

Archinect, 2015
A closer look at the often complicated relationship between placemaking and gentrification

Project for Public Spaces, 2015
Does Placemaking Cause Gentrification? It’s complicated.

The Architects Newspaper, 2019
What we’re getting wrong about gentrification and cultural heritage

American Society of Landscape Architects, 2014
Is Urban Revitalization Without Gentrification Possible?

Artsy, 2017
What Role Do Artists Play in Gentrification?

City Rising: Gentrification and Displacement (Video)

City Observatory, 2018
Gentrification isn’t ending. We must rise to meet that challenge.

Artspace, 2017
Art & Gentrification: What is “Artwashing” and What Are Galleries Doing to Resist It?

The Plan Journal, 2016
Gentrification and the Heterogeneous City: Finding a Role for Design

Slate, 2015
There Goes the Neighborhood, Again: A gentrifier digs deep into his new home’s past in pursuit of its true historic owners.