We are pleased to host author p.e. moscowitz at the Spring Gentrification Conference
p.e moscowitz is a queer journalist, writer and public speaker. They currently live in New Orleans and was born and raised in NYC. p.e has written for places like The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation and VICE, WIRED, OUT Magazine and others. They werote the book about gentrification called How to Kill a City, which was published by Nation Books/Perseus/Hachette and reviewed positively in The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The New Republic and elsewhere. Their next book, is titled The Case Against Free Speech: The First Amendment, Fascism, and the Future of Dissent
We are so excited to have you coming to Rochester and speaking at our Spring gentrification conference. Where did you grow up? and where do you live now?
p.e. I grew up in New York City’s West Village (before it was completely gentrified). I now live in New Orleans.
Did you go to college? If so where and what did you study?
p.e. Yes, I went to Hampshire College in Western Massachusetts, and studied photo, but got an internship at a local NPR station, which is where I fell in love with journalism.
How do you define gentrification?
p.e. Gentrification, to me, is about turning cities into profit machines — taking away or destroying aspects of cities that support communities, and selling them to the highest bidder.
How has your background and upbringing affected how you view the United States and its development throughout modern history?
p.e. I grew up in a relatively diverse community, and it really felt like a community. And then I watched the West Village, and really all of New York, become this gilded place for the rich before my eyes. I saw everything that made New York great — its communities, its small shops, the fact that artists and activists and working class people could afford to live there — be pushed away. It made me incredibly sad and angry, and so I decided that I needed to learn as much possible about that process.
What do you say to people who feel that gentrification is a myth or not a real concept or problem in urban communities and cities?
p.e. Ask all the people around them who have had to leave their neighborhoods, or who are struggling to afford rent, or who are working 60 hours a week to survive because their rent eats half their paycheck. You don’t need to read any studies to see that rent and housing expenses are hurting nearly everyone. And look around you! Neighborhoods are changing. Whether you think these changes are good or bad usually depends on whether you can afford them: no one is against new parks, or new public transit, but when those developments increase housing costs, only certain people can remain in neighborhoods.
Where did you get the inspiration to write How To Kill A City?
p.e. See question 4! But also, I was really sick of the mainstream coverage of gentrification, which presented it as if it was some mysterious process about mustachioed hipsters, as opposed to one that can be defined, and fought. So I decided to define, and fight it!
What has the overall consensus been about your book? Do you get people who publicly disagree with you?
p.e. It’s very rare that I meet people these days who don’t think gentrification is a problem — I think you have to be pretty willfully blind to not see the suffering going on in gentrifying neighborhoods. Most of the disagreement I get is from people who think that the free market is the best method to solve the problem – i.e. just build as much housing as possible and everything will resolve itself. I deeply disagree with this prognosis, as virtually every other developed nation on earth has much stricter housing regulation (and in general cheaper rents and more affordable costs of living).
Have you traveled to a city that you feel does urban design right? If so, what city?
p.e. Short answer, no. Virtually every city on earth has to a certain extent bought into this neoliberal philosophy (which I would argue is a fantasy) that they must compete with each other and run themselves like businesses. Even New York and San Francisco, which are supposedly progressive, give away billions in tax breaks to corporations, while under-funding their public housing, transit, etc. Berlin has the most interesting and comprehensive anti-displacement policies: moratoriums on development, along with rent control, and they’re also considering making corporate landlords completely illegal!
How do you stay healthy both mentally and physically?
p.e. I try not to get angry on the internet as much as possible! Waste of energy. And I exercise and try to eat relatively well. I think it’s pretty hard to stay healthy mentally in this world – we live in depressing times. But community and friends really help.
What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of your career?
p.e. To be honest, self-doubt. I have so much I want to say, and a way to say it, but often am not sure people will want to hear me out. I’ve been delighted to learn that a lot of people do want to hear me out!
What has been the best experience of your career thus far?
p.e. I love speaking to small community groups — it’s really rewarding to see where the rubber meets the road or whatever. I wrote this book to help change things, and so to see people using it to change their local communities makes me really happy.
Is this your first time visiting Rochester or upstate NY?
p.e. I’ve only been to Rochester a few times, but I have lots of family from upstate New York and spent lots of my childhood around upstate, so it kind of feels like a second home to me in a lot of ways.
What should the audience expect from your Keynote address? What is the key point they should leave with?
p.e. That I don’t beat around the bush. I will lay the blame for gentrification at the feet of those who cause it: corporations and politicians. I hope people leave with a better sense of what gentrification is — not a mysterious process but a purposeful pursuit of money by turning communities into profit centers.
Why should the Rochester community come out to your keynote address? \
p.e. I’m not exaggerating when I say every city is at risk of massive displacement and gentrification over the next few decades. Rochester has already seen a lot of that. The good thing is, it’s not too late, like it is in many parts of New York City, to change things. Hopefully through a community dialogue we can figure out what Rochester needs to do.
What is it that inspires you to keep going as an author and public speaker?
p.e. Changing people’s minds! But also, I write to process my understanding of the world. It is my coping mechanism for confusing times.
What are you working on now?
p.e. A book about the concept of free speech, and how that relates to race, gender and capitalism.
Is there anything else you’d like the readers to know?
p.e. Hmmm not really! I love dogs. Lol.
list any contact info you’d like to include (blog, twitter, email, FB, etc): people can email me at email@example.com