“This ain’t the same place it was / different space and buzz.”

-Gift of Gab, “The Gentrification Song” (2018)1

America is abuzz with gentrification. The archives of media, academia, and Hollywood2 are now replete with images, ranging from triumphant to melancholic, of urban change. Indeed, the symbology of gentrification has become iconic. From café seating on sanitized sidewalks to roving security “ambassadors,” from alien architectural styles to a rushed coat of paint (“flipper gray” is currently in vogue3), gentrification appears to be scrawled across the visual landscape of American cities. It thus seems to be inextricable from an optical epistemology, a way of knowing by seeing. According to this common sense, if it looks like gentrification, then it probably is (fig. 1).

In this special issue, we offer a different take, starting with the lyrics from Gift of Gab, the recently deceased stalwart of...

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