Concordia Public Scholar Mieko Tarrius aims to expose the racial dynamics of tech-led urban development

‘Gentrification can’t be studied without considering whiteness’
October 4, 2022
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Mieko Tarrius: “As a white immigrant from France, I started to ask myself, am I part of the problem?” | Photo by Aurelie Vandenweghe

For decades gentrification has been a hot-button socioeconomic phenomenon that has preoccupied urban planners, economists, social justice organizations and governments alike. The effects of gentrification have real-life consequences on marginalized people across the globe and come in many forms.

Mieko Tarrius is a Concordia Public Scholar and PhD candidate in geography and urban studies. She is focusing her research on what is known as tech-led gentrification and how this relates to race and whiteness.

Her work is informed by her personal experience of living in marginalized neighbourhoods in France and New York City. Both experienced massive changes due to the impact of gentrification.

This fall Tarrius begins her dissertation that aims to expose the racial dynamics of tech-led gentrification in Montreal’s Park Extension and University City in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Her research is supported by the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Société et culture and Concordia.

‘Gentrification in all forms is complex’

What exactly is tech-led gentrification?

Mieko Tarrius: It’s a multi-faceted phenomenon.

First, it’s gentrification led by tech companies that comprise the global tech industry. For example, a startup decides to move to a marginalized neighbourhood for the cheap rent. This then attracts other capital and investment, as well as workers and tourists from areas not traditionally associated with the neighbourhood.

The neighbourhood then changes by having less housing and business spaces for traditional residents. This not only causes physical displacement of residents being forced to move elsewhere but changes in business and culture, too.

Tech-led gentrification can also refer to global technological giants like Airbnb or Uber and the impact these enterprises have on traditional housing and employment associated with marginalized peoples.

Your experience of living in Crown Heights in New York City was a major inspiration for your current research. Tell us about that.

MT: When I arrived in New York in the early 2010s to do my master’s, the only neighbourhood I could afford to live in was Crown Heights, a predominantly poorer Black and Hasidic Jewish area of Brooklyn.

Over the four years I lived there I saw restaurants and local bars that had been there for years being replaced by massive high-rise developments. 

As a white immigrant from France, I started to ask myself, am I part of the problem? This is when I began to realize that gentrification can’t be studied without considering race and whiteness and positionality. By this I mean understanding how my own identity and privileges inform my point of view, my research, as well as my personal and academic trajectory.

Your research will involve interviewing people who live in these neighbourhoods. What methods will you use to collect this data?

MT: I am a big believer in the power of visuals.

I will ask those I interview to take pictures of the neighbourhood themselves and tell me why they are significant. This method is very useful, as it sparks emotions and memories and results in deeper conversations.

You are at the beginning of your research, but what do you hope it can accomplish in the end when it comes to addressing tech-led gentrification and race?

MT: I want to reveal how exactly tech-led gentrification impacts the racialized and vulnerable communities and empower marginalized populations to better resist the negative impacts of tech-led gentrification.

In the end, I hope my work will help policymakers make better decisions around urban development so they take race and white privilege into consideration and actively work with marginalized communities in the planning and implementation processes.


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