Publication Date

April 2018


H. Shellae Versey




English (United States)


?Place-keeping? is the dynamic process through which a community preserves the physical environment of their neighborhood as well as the cultural memories and histories embedded in that space. Place-keeping stabilizes and strengthens residents? place attachment, sense of belonging, and place identity, psychological constructs strongly associated with increased wellbeing, particularly for senior residents ?aging in place.? Drawing on a social memory model of place attachment, this thesis argues that a community?s capacity for place-keeping relies on continuous access to public space, in order to facilitate essential social memory practices. As a transformative force of change, gentrification disrupts such access, manipulating the design and affordances of public space to create new place meanings. This erasure of established place identities results in ?root shock:? violent, lasting psychological consequences to those residents whose sense of selves are uprooted by gentrification. Through a thematic analysis of eight focus groups conducted in Central Harlem during the summer of 2017, this paper investigates how older, predominately African American residents of Central Harlem perceive gentrification?s effects on their mental health, their community, and on Harlem?s identity, and how these residents utilize social memory sharing for place-keeping. Four themes were chosen by the author to convey the narratives of the participants: (1) erasure and manipulation of Harlem?s identity, (2) visibility and belonging, (3) changes in social networks and institutions, and (4) the affordances of accessible communal space. These themes construct an overarching narrative that older residents in Central Harlem are actively engaging with gentrification in their daily lives. These findings confirm the hypothesis that gentrification-driven changes disrupt essential social memory practices, limiting older residents? capacity for place-keeping, erasing past place identities and producing new ones. Implications for political action, urban planning, and future research are discussed.

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