"It is safe to
say that almost no city needs to tolerate slums," wrote New York
City official Robert Moses in 1945. "Our ancestors came across the ocean in sailing ships
you wouldn't go across a lake in. When they arrived, there was
nothing here," Ross Perot proclaimed in 1996. "We proved we can
create a budding garden out of obstinate ground," beamed Israeli
president Shimon Peres in 2011.
quotes recurring themes within the lore of settler-colonial states:
Before settlers arrived in the United States, Israel, and other
colonized places throughout the world, the land was barren, wild,
and blighted, the people backward, untameable, and violent; nothing
of societal importance existed. It was only when the monied
industrialists and developers moved in, introducing their capital
and their vision, that civilization began.
This, of course, is false.
Indigenous people inhabited North America long before Europeans
did. Poor, often Black and Latino, people populate many
neighborhoods targeted for gentrification. So how do these
people–inhabitants of coveted places who prove inconvenient to
capital–become erased from collective memory? And what role do
media like newspapers, brochures, travel dispatches, and adventure
books play in their erasure?