Not In My Neighbourhood: the other side of progress

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Not In My Neighbourhood is an impressive portrait of three cities and gives a face and voice to vulnerable yet defiant citizens who are directly affected by gentrification in their own neighbourhood.

Everywhere in the world, more and more people live in cities. Cities grow and change, but not everyone is profiting; in fact, whole communities are actively being pushed out. The documentary Not In My Neighbourhood by the South African filmmaker Kurt Orderson dives into the lives of inhabitants of the world cities Cape Town, New York and Sao Paulo who are pushed out of their homes, displaced from their neighbourhoods or have no homes at all.

What is gentrification?

Gentrification was first used by the British sociologist Ruth Glass in 1964 London. She observed a process of urban development in which wealthier people, the gentry, settled in dilapidated working class neighbourhoods just outside the City. They were attracted by the good location, appeal of the 19th century architecture and foremost: the low rents. As more well-to-do citizens took up residence in the stately houses and the demand for living space increased, rent and real estate prices went up and the original, poorer, inhabitants could no longer afford to remain in their homes. They left, whether or not forced.

Winner and losers

Today the term gentrification is no longer being used by just academics. Although initially gentrification was primarily researched and described in cities in the United Kingdom and the United States, in the last few years the term has found a foothold in other parts of the world as well, including the Netherlands.  

Gentrification has become a mainstream concept, but it is not easy to explain what it actually is. It takes on different forms in different communities anywhere in the world, because of different circumstances. One aspect of gentrification is the same everywhere: there always are winners and losers. Apart from prosperous citizens moving into relatively cheap living quarters, the winners generally are investors and local governments profiting from higher housing prices, rental income and taxes. The losers are poor, vulnerable citizens who are being displaced and in some cases had to leave their homes and neighbourhoods in which their families had lived for generations.

Three cities, three stories.

That makes Not In My Neighbourhood so interesting and so important: it gives a face and voice to these vulnerable but defiant people who are directly affected by gentrification in their own neighbourhood. Moreover, the documentary shows three completely different cities: Cape Town in South Africa, New York City in the United States and Sao Paulo in Brazil. The story of each city is unique, and yet the documentary has been edited in such a way that the stories are interwoven, as it were, and blend into each other: while an inhabitant of Brooklyn is still speaking, the camera slowly zooms in on the skyline of Sao Paulo.

Prestes Maia in Sao Paulo (Image: still from Not In My Neighbourhood)

Woodstock, Cape Town (Image: still from Not In My Neighbourhood)

Not in My Neighbourhood Official trailer


“This land is our land”

In Cape Town gentrification is described as a direct result of the spatial planning policy descending from the apartheids regime. The film follows a predominantly coloured community consisting of a few families living in the direct vicinity of The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock. The Old Biscuit Mill is a former 19th century industrial complex which now is a hip, multifunctional food and creative hub. Great for its young and affluent target audience, but an outright threat to its neighbours. Cunning investors are trying to buy them out in order to realize their plans for new construction of mid-range apartment buildings (“of which is a shortage in this city”). The local government chips in with confusing communication and downright denial of there being a problem at all. The close community, whose members have known each other for years, is fighting back regardless.

“Positive change for whom?”

In New York gentrification is directly connected to racial violence and police brutality. Orderson interviews social justice warriors in Brooklyn who see their area changing due to new, richer neighbours. Although diversity was actually promoted in this city district ten years ago, as two female local entrepreneurs recount bitterly, it is now regarded a nuisance. Or as a local urban planner describes: “You have this shift where the lower income populations who have ridden out a lot of the hardships, the crime, the turbulent days and have stayed loyal in trying to maintain the place as much as possible are now no longer able to benefit from the change that's coming”.

“Giving back life to the city centre”

In Sao Paolo the central theme is the lack of affordable housing for the lowest income groups. The film follows working class communities that are squatting empty, derelict skyscrapers in the heart of the city, as an alternative to living on the street. From their stories resonates a strong sense of community, but foremost the wish to be able to live as a true citizen: poverty is bearable as long as they have their own home. Indeed, “the city centre belongs to all workers, those who clean it, who build it, who work in an office, in a bank, hospital, all of them”.

Heritage and people

Gentrification is more than just a form of urban development. Gentrification is always about people. All personal stories in Not In My Neighbourhood are basically about people and their heritage, both tangible and intangible. They are not only about physical places, but about the fundamental right of people to live (and continue to live) where their roots are. About people that feel connected to a place, where they have built their lives and where they want to see their children grow up. And about the fight that they dare to commence to stand up for this. 

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