The Shape of the City: Gentrification and Culture in Atlanta and America

Fall 2019
George Thomas
ENGL 1102

Gentrification—the economic and cultural “revitalization” of American cities--has been, for better or worse, the defining feature of urban life in the twentyfirst century. As late as the 1990s, the “inner city” was often portrayed in journalism and popular culture as a decaying, crime-ridden ghetto; now it is often seen as a booming, culturally vibrant, economically desirable playground for hipsters and creatives—at least those who can afford it. How did this happen? Is it good or bad? Can gentrification go on forever? What is it doing to American culture? This class will look at the history of cities in order to understand the politics, economics, and cultures of urban change, zooming in on gentrification in Atlanta as a case study. We will analyze television shows, web series, movies, short stories, and a novel to try to figure out how cities have been represented in popular culture—and even how gentrification is changing urban culture right now. Finally, we will explore ways we might make our cities more diverse, sustainable, and inclusive. Readings will include selections from Jane Jacobs (The Life and Death of American Cities), Kevin Kruse (White Flight), Richard Florida (The New Urban Crisis), Ryan Gravel (Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities), Mark Prendergast (City on the Verge: Atlanta and the Fight for America's Urban Future), as well as popular depictions of urban life, including The Warriors, Detropia, Escape from New York, Boyz n the Hood, Atlanta, Girls, The North Pole, Sorry to Bother You, Blindspotting, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Class assignments will include short essays, a class digital history map, and project proposals for Atlanta’s future.

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