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Gentrification is too much with us, late and soon…

4 January 2023

From Alex González Ormerod in the on-line newsletter “The Rest of the World” (latam@restoftheworld.org)

Why we can’t look away from Mexico City’s gentrification

Happy 2023! Or is it still 2022? You can’t tell going by the incessant, and near identical, reporting about the gentrification of Mexico City by digital nomads. You might even remember reading my own thoughts in this newsletter about whether tech was a force for gentrification in Latin America — 11 months ago!

Only a few articles have actually moved the story forward, so why are we still talking about this? On the face of it, the gentrification of Mexico City feels like a story that has repeated across many moments in history: class conflict, migration, displacement. And yes, it is fundamentally about those things. More recently, though, I’ve been thinking that this story also reflects something very specific about the time and place we are living in right now.

Digital nomads are not your typical migrants (or even expats, if you can stomach the term). They are a specific product of the Covid-19 era — often employed and facilitated by tech, untethered by and unmarried to geography. They are a prime example of the consolidation of the new global economy, and the negative externalities it has dragged along.

Take these three issues Mexico City is facing that have come hand in hand with this tech-enabled kind of gentrification:

  1. Digital nomads are being accused of community displacement while still depending on the displaced. You can see it on every corner of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods: armies of last-mile delivery workers recruited to service digital nomads with the disposable income to order out for every meal. These gig workers depend on generously tipping foreigners but cannot afford to live in the gentrified parts of town that their customers have filled out. 
  2. Startups catering to foreigners have become culture vultures. As many neighborhoods have become increasingly populated by Airbnb and other home rental platforms, properties must now appear “authentically Mexican” but may have been gutted of the most genuinely local element of them all: genuine locals.
  3. Social media highlights gentrification in all its glory and infamy. Migrants have always changed neighborhoods, but never before has this phenomenon been so easy to see (and call out) than in the age of digital oversharing. There is now a whole subgenre of Twitter in which foreigners will post their impressions of the city, only to get harangued for their ignorance. Internet culture has made their cultural dislocation all the more evident — and so much more cringe.
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