Inhabiting Tremé : gentrification, memory and racialized space in a New Orleans neighborhood

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Parekh, Trushna

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This dissertation investigates how the process of gentrification is experienced in the lives of residents of the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans. Using an ethnographic approach, I demonstrate the impacts of gentrification on neighborhood life and practices, showing how memory and belonging are negotiated in the context of gentrification. I also call into question assumed distinctions between gentrifiers and longstanding residents. I lived in the neighborhood for eight months, conducted in-depth interviews with residents, attended neighborhood organization meetings, and was a participant observer in activities such as second line parades. Emotional and physical impacts of events in the neighborhood history continue to permeate the present day lives of longstanding residents. I show how these residents turn to nostalgia as a way of inhabiting the present. I argue that gentrification brings more challenges, threatening practices that are vital to the fabric of the neighborhood. Longstanding residents have maintained traditions of everyday engagement with the neighborhood space, such as second line parading. However, the influx of gentrifiers brings new sensibilities of inhabiting and engaging with the neighborhood that sometimes clash with the practices of longstanding residents, threatening these ways of life. I also interrogate the perspectives of gentrifiers by examining their responses to racialized constructions of the neighborhood. I show how discourses of gentrification and racialization are linked by examining how this neighborhood is remembered. I argue that the authenticity of a particular narrative about the neighborhood is either challenged or embraced by gentrifiers, depending on their own racialized identity, in order to support their particular politics of belonging to the neighborhood. This dissertation is unique in identifying 'returning residents' who complicate traditional boundaries in the literature between gentrifiers and longstanding residents. These are residents that grew up in the neighborhood, then moved away for some time, and subsequently returned as the neighborhood was becoming gentrified. They are neither gentrifiers nor longstanding residents. Thus, the task of urban scholars in comprehending the complex and multi-faceted process of gentrification demands an approach with a nuanced treatment of residents, making their understandings, practices and motivations a central focus of our work on this topic.