Backlash against Gentrification and Kidnapping Rich Executives

Sunday, April 24th, 2022

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What Happens Next is a podcast where an expert is given just SIX minutes to present his argument. This is followed by a Q&A period for deeper engagement.

Today’s topics backlash against gentrification and kidnapping rich executives.

Our Speakers are Mitchell Schwarzer and Tom Sancton.


Larry Bernstein:
Welcome to What Happens Next. My name is Larry Bernstein.

What Happens Next is a podcast where the speaker gets to present his argument in just Six Minutes and that is followed by a question-and-answer period for deeper engagement.

Today’s discussion will be on the backlash against gentrification and kidnapping executives.

Our first speaker is Mitchell Schwarzer who is a Professor of Architectural and Urban History at California College of the Arts. Mitchell is the author of Hella Town: Oakland’s History of Development and Disruption. Mitchell will discuss why both the wealthy and the poor oppose new building and change in Oakland. The Not in my Back Yard has become the mantra in Oakland and California, limiting growth, driving up real estate values that results in out migration.

Our second speaker will be Tom Sancton who is the author of a new book The Last Baron: The Paris Kidnapping that Brought Down an Empire. The book is amazing, fast paced and a joy to read. It is a fascinating true story about the kidnapping of one of France’s leading industrialists. You’re about to find out why Wado was targeted for kidnapping, why his family didn’t pay the ransom, how Wado’s reputation was tarnished, and why Wado’s kidnapping changed his life.

Buckle up.

If you missed it, check out last week’s program on the War in Ukraine. It got rave reviews. One listener said that he learned more in six minutes than watching 20 hours of TV on the war.

Our first speaker was Anthony King a Professor of War. Anthony discussed how the increasing number of Russian casualties will undermine their resolve to take offensive action, and that the near-term supply of weapons will decide the war.

Our second speaker was Retired General Paul Kern, former Commanding General of the Army Material Command. Paul explained how the US Army has perfected the art of resupply by rail, land, air and sea and how we plan to resupply Ukraine.

Our final speaker was Angela Stent a Georgetown Professor and author of Putin’s World. Angela discussed Putin’s perspective on the war.

I use interns to help me prepare this podcast, and I am looking to hire a new batch of interns for the summer. Historically the interns have been seniors in high school, college students, or recent graduates. Interns will read assigned books to decide if they are show worthy, we will review last week’s show to learn how to make it better, and interns will be exposed to all aspects of podcasting. Please let me know if you are interested.

You can find transcripts for this program and all of our previous episodes on our website, and you can listen on Podbean, Apple Podcast and Spotify.

Let’s begin with our first speaker Mitchell Schwarzer.


Mitchell Schwarzer

Topic: Backlash to Gentrification
Bio: Professor of Architectural and Urban History at California College of the Arts
Reading: Hella Town: Oakland’s History of Development and Disruption is here


The story I’m about to tell is from my book, Hella Town: Oakland’s History of Development and Displacement. From 2016 to 2018, five arson fires were intentionally set at residential construction sites in Oakland, California and nearby Emeryville. They were lit at a point in the construction process when the rising wood frames had not yet been protected by a sprinkler system.

In late November of 2018, a handyman, Dustin Bellinger, was arrested and eventually sentenced to five years in prison. The fires stopped, but a great deal of damage had been done.

Developers had to start over, and the long delay in construction alongside higher insurance and security costs jacked up pricing for the 500 apartments. While most people decried the arsons, some applauded the destruction of what one Twitter user called gross, expensive condos.

Smaller acts of vandalism, busting windows or spraying graffiti, the fires were the extreme end of a grassroots-protest-against building market rate housing in a city experiencing a dire housing shortage.
The phenomenon of NIMBY-ism, not in my back yard, go back to the early 1960’s and battles for local control over neighborhoods under siege by grandiose plans, urban renewal.

Over time, the battle for local control over neighborhoods, NIMBY-ism, burned most brightly in upper-class districts. An apartment building on or near a single-family street, a chain or franchise replacing a mom-and-pop store, greater density, traffic congestion, and introduction of unwanted outsiders.

Recent Oakland NIMBY-ism among the poor and working classes too represents a demand for local control over neighborhoods faced with disruptive forces.

New market rate housing is today’s principal culprit because many fear the introduction of more affluent residents will supplant those unable to afford Oakland’s housing.

Improvements to a neighborhood are also out of favor: bike lanes, improved transit lines, better landscaped streets, cafes, yoga studios. Why? Because these accessories signal an influx of gentrifiers. The more educated and affluent, usually white and Asian folks, whose presence will lead to the exodus of black and Latino residents who cannot afford the new housing.

This NIMBY-ism aims to keep the remaining poor and working-class of the East Bay unattractive to developers and gentrifiers. Better to have less investment, less improvements, less good services, since they would all lead to rising house prices and the need for people to relocate from Oakland inland toward the Central Valley.

NIMBY-ism for the poor and working classes in Oakland appears committed to keeping the neighborhood torpor going and demanding an increase in the supply of affordable housing absent those marketplace mechanisms that are central to the nation’s system of housing production.

Mitchell Schwarzer:

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Tom Sancton

Topic: Kidnapping
Bio: Research Professor at Tulane and author of several books including the Bettencourt Affair
Reading: The Last Baron: The Paris Kidnapping that Brought Down an Empire is here

On the morning of January 23rd, 1978, Baron Édouard Empain was snatched off the street in front of his home in Paris. The kidnappers promptly cut off his little finger and sent it to the family along with a ransom note demanding 80 million Francs worth about $70 million today. They threatened to send other body parts unless the money was paid immediately.
The French press went ballistic and called it The Kidnapping of the Century. There had been dozens of other kidnappings in Europe during the 1970’s, the so-called, “Decade of Lead.” What made this one special? The identity of the victim and the importance of his industrial empire.

The Empain-Schneider group was a sprawling multinational comprising 175 companies ranging from transport, banking, to steel making, armaments, and most important, nuclear energy. It was central to French economic and security interests. So who was Baron Empain?

Édouard Empain, Wado to his friends, was the 40-year-old grandson of the company’s legendary founder. Empain was tall, athletic, and movie-star handsome. He was rich, drove fancy cars, lived in a chateau, and vacationed on the Riviera. But he had two flaws: a weakness for high-stakes gambling, and women. During his 63-day incarceration, scandalous details about his private life leaked out into the press, doing permanent damage to his reputation, and ultimately triggering his downfall. The arc of Empain’s fall has an aspect of Greek tragedy. It’s also a multifaceted saga spanning three generations, and featuring a cast of fascinating characters.

The first Baron Empain was a self-made man built on railroads, energy, finance, and civil engineering. His exploits included the building of the Paris Metro, railroad construction, gold mining in the Congo, and the creation of a city on the Egyptian Desert, Heliopolis, the City of the Sun. His achievements led the Belgian King, Leopold II, to ennoble him with the Baron’s title, and a freshly minted coat of arms.

When the first Baron died in 1929, he was one of the world’s wealthiest men. The founder’s eldest son, Jean Empain nicknamed Johnny, inherited the Baron’s title, and his command over the Empain industrial empire. Handsome and charming, Johnny was a hedonistic playboy who preferred cruising around the world on his yacht, and throwing wild parties in his chateau, to minding the office. Johnny was a boozer, a gambler, and a serial womanizer who counted Josephine Baker among his many conquests.

But the woman he finally fell for was an American exotic dancer from Columbus, Ohio, Rösel Roland. Her specialty was dancing nude, covered only by a thin coat of gold paint, hence her nickname, Goldie. Johnny married her in 1937 after she gave birth to a son, Édouard aka Wado, the one who would later be kidnapped. Johnny and Goldie lived the high life, throwing extravagant Gatsby-like parties at their chateau, and hobnobbing with Europe’s rich and famous. During the war, Johnny’s guest list included high-ranking Nazi officers, with whom he maintained a cozy relationship throughout the occupation. At war’s end, he was investigated for collaboration, but fled the country and died of cancer before he could be tried.

Finding herself cut out of the will, Goldie promptly married Johnny’s impotent cousin in order to save her title and her fortune. But she lived apart from him in her own chateau. She paid little attention to her son, Wado, preferring the company of a famous jockey with whom she had a lovechild, Dianne.

Another fascinating character was the head kidnapper, Alain Caillol.

Caillol had been born into a wealthy family but turned to a life of crime as an act of revolt against his strict father. Caillol was educated at posh boarding schools and nurtured a passion for books and grand opera. After an early career as a burglar and bank robber, he organized a motley band of thugs and misfits with the aim of kidnapping a high-profile figure and holding them for ransom. Wado was then at the apogee of his career, a self-proclaimed master of the universe, whose image as a super-rich capitalist made him an obvious target for the left leaning Caillol and his band.

While researching this book, I had the good fortune to enlist Caillol as a key source. Now 80 years old, a free man after spending decades in prison, Caillol told me the inside story about how his gang carried out the kidnapping, along with the fly-on-the-wall details about Wado’s long incarceration in a freezing stone quarry. He also provided a first-person account of the shootout with police that left him wounded and a fellow kidnapper dead when they came to collect the ransom.

Caillol’s arrest led to Wado’s release and set in motion the manhunt that finally netted his eight co-conspirators. But for Wado, it was anything but a happy ending. Because of the revelations about his private life, he emerged from his long captivity as damaged goods, lost his family and his control over the Empain group.

Within a few years, the industrial empire built by his grandfather was spun off in bits and pieces, and the Empain name disappeared. Sad to say, Wado never kicked the gambling habit, and it ruined him. When he died in 2018 at the age of 80, he was practically penniless. As I wrote in the preface, this is a cautionary tale about a man who threw caution to the wind. That’s my six minutes.

Tom Sancton:

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