• Reflections on Four Years of Housing-Justice Support Work with #Mapping_Action_Collective

    Mapping Action Collective, based in #Portland, Oregon, leverages mapping and data to support housing-justice organizing, using #GIS to dismantle systems of oppression, and grounding its work in the needs of the communities and movements with which it works.

    As the interwoven US crises of homelessness, evictions, displacement, and housing instability reach catastrophic levels, students, scholars, practitioners, and activists are joining the call of housing justice for all. In this article, we reflect on the work of Mapping Action Collective (#MAC), a small nonprofit organization based in Portland, Oregon, that over the past four years has leveraged mapping and data to support housing-justice organizing. MAC’s work includes curating and producing relevant nontraditional or hard-to-acquire datasets owned by and in support of community-based groups; developing decision-support software consisting of an interactive map; producing spatial analyses that support campaign work; and organizing educational workshops and events focused on applied critical methods and data literacy.

    MAC formed out of a student club in Portland State University’s geography department, where several members became frustrated with the dominant paradigm of academic geographic information systems (GIS), which often fancies itself value-free, apolitical, or neutral, regardless of outputs or products that suggest otherwise. While critical perspectives have emerged in the domain of GIS since the 1990s, many of those criticisms are rarely considered in the standard quantitative GIS course curriculum. Few spaces are available for students to engage critically with their newfound data and mapping skills. The 2017 Resistance GIS (RGIS) conference provided a space to discuss and learn from other like-minded scholars, students, and organizers. Building on the work of critical geographers around the globe, at RGIS we asked ourselves if there was room for subversion of the status quo in GIS: can mapping and data be used to dismantle systems of oppression, rather than reinforce them?

    Asset mapping and spatial analysis supporting Portland’s unhoused community

    Shortly after the conference, our small student group grew into MAC and began to apply that question to our studies and work in Portland. Through a small grant from Second Nature, we focused our efforts on the exploding crisis of homelessness in our community. Grounding our work in non-extractive collaboration, we began building a relationship with Street Roots, a local nonprofit organization that, in addition to advocacy work, publishes a weekly alternative newspaper sold by people experiencing homelessness to earn an income. One of Street Roots’ main assets to the people it serves is the Rose City Resource (RCR), a comprehensive list of resources and services such as food boxes, bathrooms, needle exchanges, shelters, and counseling and recovery services. No other organization in the area curates such an important dataset for those experiencing homelessness, and this one could only be accessed in a printed three-by-three-inch (7.6 × 7.6 cm) paper booklet, and was updated only twice yearly.

    While honoring the value of this paper booklet as a low-barrier, nontechnical way of sharing resources, we wondered if broadening its reach via mobile phone and web, or structuring its format for wider dissemination, would benefit Street Roots and the community it serves. Simultaneously, we reflected on the inherent problem of our outsider thinking and wanted to avoid preaching technology as savior. We learned more about the work Street Roots was doing, joined their events, and built relationships with Street Roots organizers and staff to learn what they needed to do their work. As it turned out, our thinking and Street Roots’ vision aligned—increasing the reach of the RCR was a necessary endeavor.

    In late 2018, MAC and Street Roots staff began working together to navigate web development, data management, and data communication (the practice of informing, educating, and raising awareness of data-related topics), to create a tool that was accurate, accessible, and easy for Street Roots staff and volunteers to use and update. Most importantly, MAC wanted the tool to be useful to the community that Street Roots serves. To get feedback on the usability of the tool, MAC members stopped by the Street Roots HQ to test it with paper vendors, folks who dropped in to get coffee or use the restroom, and Street Roots volunteers. MAC integrated this feedback into the development of the tool. The end result was the Rose City Resource Online, a web application and data-transformation pipeline that was collaboratively created with the community it was intended to serve—designed to be easy to use, and functional for any member of the community to use to get up-to-date information about resources and services. The tool was officially launched at the onset of the Covid‑19 pandemic.

    We also joined activists working to end the overpolicing and criminalization of people experiencing extreme poverty and homelessness on the streets of Portland. This criminalization occurs through excessive policing within “enhanced service districts” (ESDs). ESDs, similar to business improvement districts (BIDs), are zones where businesses and property owners pay an extra fee collected as a tax to pay for extra security and maintenance. Proponents of ESDs claim they facilitate urban beautification and keep neighborhoods safe, but overlook the reality that this process of so-called revitalization amounts to coercive exclusion of vulnerable people. Clean & Safe, Portland’s largest ESD in downtown, pays for armed and unarmed private security, and supervises six Portland Police officers who solely patrol in their district. In August 2020, an award-winning audit of ESDs revealed the City provides almost no oversight of the activities of these districts, even as they have large budgets and authority over public space. This year, Portland city commissioners will vote on whether to renew Clean & Safe’s 10‑year contract. Organizers and community members are preparing to oppose the contract, especially given recent scrutiny of the district and its managing organization, Portland Business Alliance.

    West Coast–based activists from Right 2 Survive, Sisters of the Road, and the Western Regional Advocacy Project asked us to analyze and map police arrest data to strengthen their argument against ESDs. A report from the city auditor that incorporated arrest data from 2017 to 2018 had already concluded that over half of all arrests made by the Portland Police Bureau were of the unhoused. Building on that fact, our research found that the citywide average of arrests for unhoused individuals was 6.1 per square mile, but within the bounds of ESDs that number was 137.7. And while correlation is not causation, it is hard to ignore the magnitude in difference between these numbers.

    Data on police harassment and arrest of the unhoused community are difficult to obtain and understand. Through our work with the anti-ESD team, MAC members have learned how to navigate the complicated system of roadblocks that keep this data from the public, and use the data to support the argument against policing homelessness.
    Collaboratively developed tools for fighting displacement and speculation

    We have also collaborated with organizations we consider leaders in the intersecting space of data activism and housing justice. In the summer of 2019, we joined the efforts of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP) to develop a tool to facilitate landlord and building research in San Francisco (and soon Oakland). For years, tenant unions and organizers have scrutinized corporate-ownership documents, property records, assessor data, and eviction data to unmask speculators, serial evictors, greedy landlords, and their entangled networks of limited-liability companies (LLCs) and shell companies. Investment companies purchase properties using different LLCs for the purpose of anonymity and liability reduction. The corporate web guarding landlords can make ownership and property research challenging and slow.

    At the commencement of the project, AEMP contributors in San Francisco garnered feedback from their partners at the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition and facilitated workshops with local tenant groups to assess their research needs and questions in fighting displacement. Shortly thereafter, MAC joined AEMP by assisting in the prototyping process, and by providing general support, design capacity, code contributions, and cloud infrastructure for hosting the project. The result is Evictorbook (in development), a web-based tool that simplifies organizer and tenant research by enabling a user to type an address, landlord, or neighborhood into a search bar to reveal a profile of a building’s eviction history, its owner, and the corporate network to which it belongs. The ability to surface this data to the user is the result of a custom data-processing pipeline that links and stores publicly available assessor, eviction, property, and corporate-ownership data in a regularly updated graph database. A public launch of Evictorbook is expected in the coming months.

    Similar collaborative work has evolved through a partnership with the Urban Praxis Workshop (UPX) to redevelop Property Praxis, a research tool focused on speculative and bulk property ownership in the city of Detroit. Every year since 2015, members of UPX have curated a dataset that incorporates assessor data that is augmented with tax-foreclosure data and corporate filings to illuminate the LLCs and individuals that own more than 10 properties in the city. The intention of Property Praxis is to offer a more holistic understanding for organizers and community members of how speculative property ownership impacts Detroit neighborhoods. In late 2019, UPX asked MAC to build upon their previous work by modernizing the Property Praxis user interface and automating their data-curation process. The new version is currently in development and will be launched later this year.
    Final thoughts

    Activist work can be strengthened by research and data, but only if this is done in a way that is not extractive and based on community need (voiced by the community). Four years of experience working with MAC has taught us that grounding our work in the needs of the communities and movements we support is crucial to doing justice-oriented work. This can only happen by building successful, trusting, and long-lasting partnerships. By showing up and participating in community events and never moving forward on project work without meaningful discourse and consideration of community goals, we work towards dismantling the top-down legacy of data work. Even after several years of doing this work, we still have lessons to learn from our community partners on trust-building and accountability.

    Part of our development as an organization over the last few years has been the choice to organize horizontally, make decisions through consensus, and avoid toxic tech culture in our own spaces. Such intentionality promotes healthy working environments and reflects the values at the core of our organization in our day-to-day operations. Organizing in this way is by no means simple, efficient, or profitable. It takes long conversations, trust-building among members, and solid conflict-resolution mechanisms to operate without hierarchy. Despite the extra time and mental and emotional labor that it can require, our group feels strongly that it is worth it.

    While we try to hold these aspirational goals, we are also aware of our own complicity in problematic systems in the fields of research and data analysis. Recognizing and dismantling our own internalized norms of white supremacy, sexism, classism, and colonist behavior is work that is ongoing. We are a work in progress. We continue to be inspired and led by the work of our partners and we look forward to many more years of collaborative work.

    https://metropolitics.org/Reflections-on-Four-Years-of-Housing-Justice-Support-Work-with-Mappin
    #résistance #cartographie #visualisation #cartographie_participative #USA #Etats-Unis #logement #justice_spatiale #ressources_pédagogiques

    ping @visionscarto @reka

  • Reinventing Segregation in Northern California: An Interview with Alex (...) - Metropolitics
    https://metropolitics.org/Reinventing-Segregation-in-Northern-California-An-Interview-with-Alex

    Reinventing Segregation in Northern California: An Interview with Alex Schafran
    Darian Razdar - 14 May 2019
    Lire en français
    Darian Razdar interviews Alex Schafran about his new book Road to Resegregation: Northern California and the Failure of Politics. They discuss a new form of segregation called “resegregation” and the roots of this manifestation of unequal geography that impacts poor and racial-minority residents in Northern California’s peripheral cities.
    segregation / resegregation / housing / race / social class / inequalities / Northern California / California / Bay Area

    Over half a century since the Civil Rights Era, cities and urban regions in the United States remain divided and rife with inequality. Alex Schafran’s new book, Road to Resegregation: Northern California and the Failure of Politics, takes a new look at what segregation means in 21st-century US cities and regions through an in-depth analysis of Northern California’s political fragmentation and regional planning. This book urges its readers to recognize financial crisis, economic precarity, and housing unaffordability as a part of a broad and structural process of resegregation. This new form of segregation, characterized by regional geographies of precarity and coerced mobility, expels the poor and racially-marginalized from city centers, while maintaining their insecure access to resources.

    Resegregation in Northern California first became visible with widespread foreclosures that ravaged entire blocks and communities in cities like Oakland and Antioch beginning in 2007. Northern California is simultaneously home to wealth and inequality, and the region continues to make the news with San Francisco’s record-high rents. Road to Resegregation calls our attention to previous failures in city- and region-building and points toward solutions, which Schafran argues can only be addressed through coalition politics concerning our “common purpose” (p. 254).

    Dr. Alex Schafran (PhD, City & Regional Planning, University of California - Berkeley) currently holds the position of Lecturer at University of Leeds School of Geography.

    Darian Razdar: Your book outlines a novel understanding of unequal geographies in US urban regions, which you call “resegregation.” What distinguishes the re-segregation of today from the segregation faced in mid-20th-century US cities?

    Alex Schafran: My notion of resegregation, which builds on the work of other writers like Jeff Chang, is probably better thought of as a new form of segregation. The new geography of race and class in places like Northern California—people of color increasingly living in far away suburbs and exurbs with long commutes, shaky fiscal conditions, overstretched finances, rising poverty, high housing and commuting costs—is clearly different from postwar ghettoized segregation. But since we are still talking about racialized inequality spread across a metropolitan region, we must still call this new inequality segregation. Calling it resegregation implies a step backwards, which I think is politically important, and certainly better than segregation 2.0.

    DR: The Road to Resegregation builds from fieldwork you conducted in California’s Bay Area. Why did you choose to study this region to understand resegregation?

    AS: The simple answer is that it is where I am from, and it’s the place I know best. I knew that in order to really understand what was happening, I needed a depth of knowledge it would be hard to replicate in a place I wasn’t deeply familiar with. Sadly, it is also a major epicentre of resegregation, as it was for the foreclosure crisis. There is the added wrinkle that the Bay Area is supposed to be different. It is the wealthiest and supposedly most progressive region in the country. Somehow I had a sense that this was part of the story—and it was.

    DR: The stories you tell from the Bay Area come from cities and towns like Antioch, Modesto, and Patterson—places often out-shadowed by their neighbors to the west: San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Jose. Could you elaborate on your decision to center the periphery in your methodology? How did this choice impact the research process and your findings?

    AS: The project originally started out as an investigation into gentrification in Oakland, but almost as soon as I began poking around, people started asking me where folks had moved to once they left. Even though I was born and raised in the Bay, and I knew the names of these places, I had never been. By the time I made my first trip to Antioch, the foreclosure crisis had hit, and I knew that I had found my story. The challenge then became the opposite—how to tell the story of places like Antioch, Modesto and Patterson without making it all about them, as clearly these places are not entirely responsible for the challenges they face. So while I do my best to tell their stories, and they are arguably the heart of the book, I’m not sure they are the center. I worked hard to write a truly regional book about Northern California, as virtually every corner of this massive place played a role in resegregation.

    DR: In what ways is this region a paradigmatic example of resegregation of US regions—is it special? To what extent does resegregation in the Bay Area reflect what’s happening across the country?

    AS: Northern California is an extreme example of a generalized phenomenon, one made worse by vast wealth and a complicated geography. It has a lot in common with other big and wealthy regions like New York and Los Angeles, but some form of resegregation is happening everywhere. I’d say there are two sets of differences between regions. One is geographic: in some places, it is older, inner ring suburbs that have become the key sites of rising racialized poverty and inequality, while in others it is exurbs far away from central cities. The other major difference is the extent to which this new form of segregation is dominant, vis-à-vis older forms of postwar segregation which still very much exist. It’s critical to keep two things in mind about resegregation. First, it does not imply desegregation happened. Many places went from one form of segregation to the other. The second, and more important, is that the new form of segregation doesn’t replace the old one. They exist together, and actually drive each other. People leave or get pushed out of older segregated neighborhoods and end up in far away zones with characteristics of resegregation.

    DR: You explain that today’s segregation is rooted in our failure to address the structural, racist issues around urban property tenure, regional mobility, gainful employment, and regional form. What does your research say about the current capacity to address “the failure of politics” in the US’s urban regions?

    AS: That is a tough question, especially given how much worse the political climate has gotten between the time when I finished research and the book was published. The key argument in this regard that I make in the book is that we need to change the focus of our politics. Housing, transportation, infrastructures, schools and water and sewage systems—this is what I call our “common purpose,” the stuff we must discuss and debate collectively, as we built these systems collectively. We must make this the heart of our politics, not just at the local level. I dream of a presidential campaign decided by who focuses most intently on housing and transport policy. We are starting to see some research which suggests that on these issues, partisanship ebbs a bit. The only hope I have for a better political future for the US is one where our debates focus on these systems. The hard part is that in order to get there, we have to build more trust in the political economy of development. To me, that starts with recognizing our past failures, and especially just how racist these systems have been for generations.

    DR: What is to be done before the next economic crisis to ensure we are ready to resist efforts to further re-segregate our cities and regions?

    AS: Well, I’d argue we are already in a state of long-term economic and ecological crisis, and I think it’s best that we just accept where we are and work towards a better future. I think it is particularly critical that we also see resegregation as a future that is already here (like climate change), not one to be avoided. Too often we do politics based on an imagined past or future, instead of just admitting where we are. My book is like a confessional for Northern California, what I hope is an accurate and honest portrayal of where we are at and how we got there. Accepting and admitting this is the first step.

    #ségrégation #segregation #San_Francisco #racisme #ville #droit_à_la_ville

  • The Asylum Story: Narrative Capital and International Protection

    Obtaining international protection relies upon an ability to successfully navigate the host country’s asylum regime. In #France, the #récit_de_vie, or asylum story, is critical to this process. An asylum seeker must craft their story with the cultural expectations of the assessor in mind. The shaping of the asylum story can be seen as an act of political protest.

    The role of the asylum story within the asylum procedure

    Within a context of increasing securitization of Europe’s borders, the consequences of differentiated rights tied to immigration status have profound impacts. The label of “refugee” confers rights and the chance to restart one’s life. In order to obtain this label, a narrative of the person’s history is required: the asylum story. It must explain the reasons and mechanisms of individualized persecution in the asylum seeker’s country of origin or residence, and the current and sustained fears of this persecution continuing should they return. In France, the Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless People (OFPRA)
    is responsible for determining whether or not the person will be granted protection, either through refugee status or subsidiary protection.

    This essay examines the construction of these stories based on participant observation conducted within an association supporting exiles in Nice called Habitat et Citoyenneté (“Housing and Citizenship”, hereafter H&C).

    One of H&C’s activities is supporting asylum seekers throughout the asylum process, including the writing of the story and preparation of additional testimony for appeals in the event of a rejection. Over time, H&C has increasingly specialized in supporting women seeking asylum, many of whom have suffered gender-based and sexual violence. These women’s voices struggle to be heard within the asylum regime as it currently operates, their traumas cross-examined during an interview with an OFPRA protection officer. Consequently, an understanding of what makes a “good” asylum story is critical. Nicole and Nadia, members of H&C who play multiple roles within the association, help to develop the effective use of “narrative capital” whereby they support the rendering of the exiles’ experiences into comprehensive and compelling narratives.
    Creating the narrative while struggling against a tide of disbelief

    The experience of asylum seekers in Nice illustrates the “culture of disbelief” (Kelly 2012) endemic within the asylum system. In 2019, OFPRA reported a 75% refusal rate.

    Rejection letters frequently allege that stories are “not detailed enough,” “vague,” “unconvincing,” or “too similar” to other seekers’ experiences. These perfunctory refusals of protection are an assault in and of themselves. Women receiving such rejections at H&C were distressed to learn their deepest traumas had been labelled as undeserving.

    While preparing appeals, many women remembered the asylum interviews as being akin to interrogations. During their interviews, protection officers would “double-back” on aspects of the story to “check” the consistency of the narrative, jumping around within the chronology and asking the same question repeatedly with different phrasing in an attempt to confuse or trick the asylum seeker into “revealing” some supposed falsehood. This practice is evident when reading the transcripts of OFPRA interviews sent with rejection letters. Indeed, the “testing” of the asylum seeker’s veracity is frequently applied to the apparent emotiveness of their descriptions: the interviewer may not believe the account if it is not “accompanied by suitable emotional expression” (Shuman and Bohmer 2004). Grace, recently granted protective status, advised her compatriots to express themselves to their fullest capability: she herself had attempted to demonstrate the truth of her experiences through the scars she bore on her body, ironically embarrassing the officer who had himself demanded the intangible “proof” of her experience.

    A problematic reality is that the asylum seeker may be prevented from producing narrative coherency owing to the effects of prolonged stress and the traumatic resonance of memories themselves (Puumala, Ylikomi and Ristimäki 2018). At H&C, exiles needed to build trust in order to be able to narrate their histories within the non-judgemental and supportive environment provided by the association. Omu, a softly spoken Nigerian woman who survived human trafficking and brutal sexual violence, took many months before she was able to speak to Nadia about her experiences at the offices of H&C. When she did so, her discomfort in revisiting that time in her life meant she responded minimally to any question asked. Trauma’s manifestations are not well understood even among specialists. Therefore, production of “appropriately convincing” traumatic histories is moot: the evaluative methodologies are highly subjective, and indeed characterization of such narratives as “successful” does not consider the person’s reality or lived experience. Moreover, language barriers, social stereotypes, cultural misconceptions and expected ways of telling the truth combine to impact the evaluation of the applicant’s case.

    Asylum seekers are expected to demonstrate suffering and to perform their “victimhood,” which affects mental well-being: the individual claiming asylum may not frame themselves as passive or a victim within their narrative, and concentrating on trauma may impede their attempts to reconstruct a dignified sense of self (Shuman and Bohmer 2004). This can be seen in the case of Bimpe: as she was preparing her appeal testimony, she expressed hope in the fact that she was busy reconstructing her life, having found employment and a new community in Nice; however, the de facto obligation to embody an “ideal-type” victim meant she was counselled to focus upon the tragedy of her experiences, rather than her continuing strength in survival.
    Narrative inequality and the disparity of provision

    Standards of reception provided for asylum seekers vary immensely, resulting in an inequality of access to supportive services and thereby the chance of obtaining status. Governmental reception centers have extremely limited capacity: in 2019, roughly a third of the potential population

    were housed and receiving long-term and ongoing social support. Asylum seekers who find themselves outside these structures rely upon networks of associations working to provide an alternative means of support.

    Such associations attempt to counterbalance prevailing narrative inequalities arising due to provisional disparities, including access to translation services. Nicole is engaged in the bulk of asylum-story support, which involves sculpting applications to clarify ambiguities, influence the chronological aspect of the narration, and exhort the asylum seeker to detail their emotional reactions (Burki 2015). When Bimpe arrived at H&C only a few days ahead of her appeal, the goal was to develop a detailed narrative of what led her to flee her country of origin, including dates and geographical markers to ground the story in place and time, as well as addressing the “missing details” of her initial testimony.

    Asylum seekers must be allowed to take ownership in the telling of their stories. Space for negotiation with regard to content and flow is brought about through trust. Ideally, this occurs through having sufficient time to prepare the narrative: time allows the person to feel comfortable opening up, and offers potential to go back and check on details and unravel areas that may be cloaked in confusion. Nicole underlines the importance of time and trust as fundamental in her work supporting women with their stories. Moreover, once such trust has been built, “risky” elements that may threaten the reception of the narrative can be identified collaboratively. For example, mention of financial difficulties in the country of origin risks reducing the asylum seeker’s experience to a stereotyped image where economics are involved (see: the widely maligned figure of the “economic migrant”).

    Thus, the asylum story is successful only insofar as the seeker has developed a strong narrative capital and crafted their experience with the cultural expectations of the assessor in mind. In today’s reality of “asylum crisis” where policy developments are increasingly repressive and designed to recognize as few refugees as possible, the giving of advice and molding of the asylum story can be seen as an act of political protest.

    Bibliography

    Burki, M. F. 2015. Asylum seekers in narrative action: an exploration into the process of narration within the framework of asylum from the perspective of the claimants, doctoral dissertation, Université de Neuchâtel (Switzerland).
    Kelly, T. 2012. “Sympathy and suspicion: torture, asylum, and humanity”, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 753–768.
    Puumala, E., Ylikomi, R. and Ristimäki, H. L. 2018. “Giving an account of persecution: The dynamic formation of asylum narratives”, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 197–215.
    Shuman, A. and Bohmer, C. 2004. “Representing trauma: political asylum narrative”, Journal of American Folklore, pp. 394–414.

    https://metropolitics.org/The-Asylum-Story-Narrative-Capital-and-International-Protection.html
    #asile #migrations #audition #narrative #récit #OFPRA #France #capital_narratif #crédibilité #cohérence #vraisemblance #véracité #émotions #corps #traces_corporelles #preuves #trauma #traumatisme #stress #victimisation #confiance #stéréotypes

    ping @isskein @karine4 @_kg_ @i_s_

  • Manifested Stories. An Alternative Narrative to the Urban-Frontier Myth

    Rebecca Pryor traces the history of the revitalization of the Bronx River, illustrating an alternative narrative to the urban-frontier myth—one that centers Black and Brown communities and is community-generated.

    At the beginning of the film The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019), which takes place in the not-so-distant future, a curbside preacher asks passersby why San Francisco is only now cleaning the Bay when residents have lived by its toxicity for decades. The cleanup is not for us, he yells, our neighborhood is “the final frontier for manifest destiny.”

    The preacher’s reference to manifest destiny is the urban-frontier myth at work. Originally theorized by geographer Neil Smith, this myth shows how American frontier language (“frontier,” “pioneer,” and “Wild West”) is used to justify gentrification and displacement. Smith names the myth to pinpoint what’s lurking behind the language: “the gentrification frontier is advanced not so much through the actions of intrepid pioneers as through the actions of collective owners of capital. Where such urban pioneers go bravely forth, banks, real-estate developers, small-scale and large-scale lenders, retail corporations, the state, have generally gone before” (Smith 1996). Through frontier language, gentrification is understood as rugged individualism instead of a phenomenon rooted in social, political and economic forces.

    The myth of the urban frontier reveals the power that stories have over place. The American frontier has always relied on complex justification narratives of white-settler colonialism—taking land and continuing to live on it requires stories about hate, fear, obsession and erasure (Tuck and Yang 2012). The same is true for the story created by urban-frontier language—longtime Black and Brown residents are erased, neighborhoods are devalued and then “discovered” through gentrification. But this is not the only kind of story. Another kind of story, what I am calling an “alternative narrative,” centers Black and Brown communities and can begin to appropriate urban spaces through collective land stewardship.

    Alternative narratives are formed by community-generated stories of place that manifest spatially. Whereas the frontier myth reflects a belief system that justifies erasure and individual profit, alternative narratives encourage the opposite—solidarity and collective ownership. One such alternative narrative is the story that environmental justice leaders created around the Bronx River.
    The Bronx River story

    The revitalization of the Bronx River has all the seeds of a great story. Those involved have mythical accounts of hauling cars out of the water and building parks from trash heaps. Many will talk about the importance of collective power and unexpected partnerships. Several say that they were lost until they “found” the river.

    Also, it’s a river. Rivers and most American waterways are uniquely common spaces. Unlike public parks and plazas, waterways are not owned by a city, state, or federal agency; they are governed by English Common Law, which secures the water as a public highway. The law creates spaces that, in some ways, can remain outside the context of American land ownership.

    The Bronx River story has three acts: the Upper River, the Lower River, and their unification. Act I begins in 1974 when Bronx resident Ruth Anderberg fell in love with a northern portion of the upper river, which runs from West Farms Square to 233rd Street. Once she realized that this was the same river as the one covered in trash at West Farms, she began a public cleanup project, enlisting police chiefs, local residents and friendly crane operators. Filled with everything from cars to pianos, the river was part archaeological site, part landfill. Anderberg’s efforts eventually turned into the Bronx River Restoration Group, a nonprofit that led restoration efforts and a youth workforce program until the late 1990s (DeVillo 2015).

    Act II’s star, the Lower River, which runs from West Farms Square to Soundview, was overshadowed by the catastrophic impacts of government disinvestment in the South Bronx (Gonzalez 2006). One interviewee who lived in the Bronx in the 1970s said that, “as a teenager, I was ashamed of living in the Bronx […] we became the symbol of urban decay, we became everything that can go wrong in a city.” Media and popular culture, like the 1981 blockbuster hit Fort Apache, perpetuated the urban-frontier myth, showing the South Bronx as both terrifying and alluring, rather than as a neighborhood neglected by the government.

    In the following decades, community-based organizations like Banana Kelly and The Point CDC spearheaded community investment and provided critical social services. Vacant lots became community gardens and a movement of community reliance grew. The river, however, remained cut off by industrial lots.

    Act III opens with city and federal investment in the river. The Parks Commissioner dubbed 2000 the “Year of the Bronx River” and committed federally allocated restoration funds to the river’s revitalization. NYC Parks seed grants helped develop two community-designed parks, connecting the South Bronx to its waterfront. Once there was waterfront access to the Lower River, organizations from both sections formed the Bronx River Alliance. From early on, the Alliance led creative community events to bring attention to the river.

    Today, the Bronx River is a physical manifestation of community power. The same interviewee who had said she was ashamed of the Bronx as a teenager described “finding” the Bronx River decades later with her children. “You have to teach new people who come here who might think the river is dirty,” she said. “You have to show them the restoration efforts. This river is used for community building. This river is about community.”
    A visual story: community design and power

    The parks conceived by Bronx residents and activists reflect a story of collective power and appropriation of space. Concrete Plant Park (CPP), a waterfront park designed by community members, reflects how the alternative narrative is also ingrained in its design choices.

    In the early 2000s, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ) used NYC Parks’ $10,000 seed grant to create a youth-led park design for an abandoned concrete plant. As part of their design process, they visited a waterfront park in Westchester County (immediately north of New York City). They saw that the park in this whiter and wealthier community invited people to the water’s edge with green space, whereas most of the parks in the Bronx had asphalt. Their design choices reflected a choice to honor their history and look towards the future. They incorporated passive recreation, a boat launch, and the retention of the concrete plant structures as a reminder of their past. As one interviewee from YMPJ described his experience of CPP, “the concrete plant acts as a visual story for the park: the story of repurposing, the story of community power, the story of what could be done.”

    The concrete plant relics, park design, and ongoing community-led programming are a visual representation of an alternative narrative about how to claim space. This is not a simple story. CPP was not only metaphorically appropriated; the site was removed from city auction and transferred to the Parks Department as a permanent park. And CPP was not created by a design survey and a neighborhood campaign alone—the transformation of CPP has taken over 20 years and is the result of community advocacy, citywide partnerships, and federally secured funding. Similar representations of community power and creative partnerships are found in parks throughout the lower portion of the river, from #Starlight_Park to #Hunts_Point_Riverside_Park.

    Interconnected transformations: people and place

    Interviewees born and raised in the Bronx consistently spoke about the transformation of themselves and the Bronx River as part of the same story. As urbanist David Harvey states, “the right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city” (Harvey 2008).

    An interviewee in her late twenties said, “I didn’t know anything about the Bronx River growing up, except that my grandfather’s brother died on it in the late ’70s. For me and my family, it was like, you don’t go to that place, it’s dangerous.” During college, she wanted to leave the Bronx in order to study the environment, but she became involved with the Bronx River Alliance and its stewardship efforts. When she took her grandfather to see the river, she said that “he was so amazed by the transformation. And I think part of this whole transition in me has been about changing the perception of those who are close to me who have always said, ‘No, you don’t go there.’”

    There are a couple of layers to this anecdote. First, this interviewee is young in the context of the Bronx River story. Without the previous decades of work spent appropriating space and establishing stewardship institutions, she may have left the Bronx to feel professionally fulfilled. Second, the story grew in a way that made room for her. It shifted from the manifestation of a frontier narrative placed on the Bronx—one of fear, danger, and otherness—to an alternative narrative that was generated by the people who lived there.
    A search for justice stories

    After the preacher in The Last Black Man in San Francisco questions the intended beneficiary of the Bay’s environmental cleanup, we watch as our protagonists, two young Black male San Franciscan friends, try to lay claim to their childhood home and, ultimately, to their narrative of belonging in San Francisco. The movie starts by satirizing the all-too-common story of green gentrification, where the cleanup of a toxic site is the harbinger of neighborhood displacement, and ends by illustrating the lonely battle of a Black man attempting to prove home ownership through his story alone.

    The Bronx River story, so far, is different. The river’s restoration was fueled by the incumbent community and its ongoing grassroots revitalization reaffirms their presence. Anchor institutions have helped to employ residents and keep them in the borough, if they want to stay there. Countless collaborative partnerships at the federal, city, and local level have enabled the transformation of the river. The Bronx River story is also not over. New waterfront developments are cropping up along the river as market-rate housing blooms in nearby gentrifying neighborhoods. Banana Kelly, The Point CDC, and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice are now part of a coalition of groups challenging the city’s rezoning of the Southern Boulevard in the South Bronx. What happens next is the cliffhanger.

    https://metropolitics.org/Manifested-Stories.html

    #Bronx_river #Bronx #renaturation #revitalisation #rivière #gentrification #USA #Etat-Unis #narrative #récit #USA #Etats-Unis

  • The House is Ours: How Moms 4 Housing Challenged the Private-Property (...) - Metropolitics
    https://metropolitics.org/The-House-is-Ours-How-Moms-4-Housing-Challenged-the-Private-Property-

    The House is Ours: How Moms 4 Housing Challenged the Private-Property Paradigm
    Lauren Everett - 6 October 2020
    In the midst of a global housing affordability crisis that has been heightened by the Covid‑19 pandemic, it is time to reconsider how the right to profit from property ownership is privileged in policy, funding, and ideology in the United States. Oakland-based Moms 4 Housing’s bold direct action presented a concrete challenge to the status quo.
    housing / affordable housing / community land trusts / property ownership / property / homeownership / private property / real estate / speculation / California / United States / Oakland

    On November 18, 2019, in west Oakland, California, Dominique Walker and Sameerah Karim started moving their families into the vacant three-bedroom home at 2928 Magnolia Street (Holder and Mock 2020). They pressure-washed the exterior, patched the roof, installed a water heater, and added a refrigerator and stove. It was a new beginning for both women—single Black mothers who had experienced homelessness due to the cost of housing in Oakland, despite working full-time. The only problem was, they were neither leaseholders nor owners: The house was owned by Wedgewood Properties, described by its own CEO, Greg Geiser, as the largest “fix-and-flip” company in the United States (Dreier 2016). Historically Black neighborhoods are being gradually eroded in Oakland, with a roughly 50% decline in Black Oaklanders between the 1980s and today. One would have to earn $43.46 an hour, or $86,920 annually, to afford a two-bedroom home in the ZIP code where the Magnolia house is located, while Black women in the area earn an average of $49,369. The city also had more than 4,000 unhoused residents in late 2019, representing a 47% increase since 2017 (Holder and Mock 2020).

    #Oakland #Etats-Unis #logement #housing #homelessness #droitàlaville #droitaulogement