[This is an excerpt from the pamphlet Gentrify This!, an analysis of current processes of gentrification in Montreal. As real estate speculation, redevelopment of public spaces, heightened surveillance, and “public safety” schemes play out across the city, it is easy to lose track of how we fit in, and how we can resist.]
What role, if any, do students play in this process? Certainly they are not responsible for the introduction of the stale, prefab culture of the ruling classes into former industrial neighbourhoods—any more than are, say, immigrant populations who bring diverse cultural forms with them as they move into traditionally white working-class areas in search of cheap rent.
All the same, though, students and other young, generally creative people do play a role in transforming the culture of neighbourhoods. Firstly, as a largely transient population, the increasing number of students in a neighbourhood can contribute to the disintegration of social networks built around long-standing neighbourly relations and connections of family and friendship. Secondly, even amongst those progressive students engaged in radical organizing in their campus contexts, there is often a general lack of knowledge about the organizations and collectives already engaged in anti-gentrification struggles in the neighbourhood. Lack of collaboration between politically left students and community members creates needless parallel efforts and limits the capacity of the community to create long-term strategies of resistance to gentrification.
The main fault in this whole process, of course, lies squarely with the big developers, who promote lifestyles foreign to and impossible for the socio-economically marginalized to obtain, with the direct intention of creating profit through the establishment of pleasant environments for the wealthy. As the Prével-developed Imperial Loft website brags, “There will be a terrace on the roof, a terrace with a swimming pool and an urban chalet with barbecue, kitchen, lounge, fireplace and billiard table to allow residents to take full advantage of their urban environment.” In the gentrified landscape, the urban environment is not about building neighbourhood connections so much as it is a muted backdrop upon which to paint images of bourgeois socio-cultural perfection.
There are lots of things to be done without expecting to integrate easily into an existing community, and it is often best to start slow. Getting to know the history, character, geography, and people of your area will help you to understand where you fit. Learning your tenants’ rights and standing up to landlord neglect and illegal practices are a good beginning, and the Régie de Logement will support tenants when landlords break the law (where facts are documented). Let us get together with friends to build networks of solidarity and support and strategize ways to strike back against police, developers, and a changing social landscape. Gentrification is happening now and will not stop without active resistance.