Reappearance of the public: Placemaking, minoritization and resistance in Detroit

Montgomery, A.

Go to article

Montgomery, A. (2016). Reappearance of the public: Placemaking, minoritization and resistance in Detroit. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 40(4), 776-799.

African American , Central Business District , Detroit , Michigan , Placemaking , Racial Capitalism

Recent studies of public space in US central cities tend to focus either on (1) market-driven placemaking (privatized parks, hipster shops) in gentrifying enclaves or (2) street cultures (community gardens, hip-hop) in low-income neighborhoods. Neither focus adequately frames the ability of African Americans to shape public space as the white middle class returns to central cities. In this case study of downtown Detroit, I theorize a dialectic: the history of clashes between racial capitalism and social movements in public space reappears in the contradictory design of market-driven placemaking, which suppresses and displays cultures of resistance. White business and real-estate interests showcase downtown spaces to counter news of disinvestment and suffering in low-income neighborhoods. The legal and political legacies of civil rights and black power struggles–– combined with consumer demand (black culture sells)––force them to involve black entrepreneurs, professionals and artists in placemaking. This placemaking subordinates the black urban poor, even as it incorporates their street cultures. The contradictions of placemaking shape possibilities for resistance, as shown in mundane subversions and street protests that use the downtown spotlight to call for social justice citywide. This analysis contributes to research on public space at a time when new movements are challenging public order in the financial core of US cities.

Main finding
Focusing on the redesign of the city’s privatizing Central Business District, the author reframes the clash between racial capitalism and social movements as a relation that forms a new public with racial integration and cultural affirmation. However, the author criticizes this new public for its cost of human rights and lack of black power movements. The author argues race (black middle and upper class) is incorporated by white developers to achieve public order and to place capital. The author claims that longtime residents base their claims to city-owned land by citizenship rights and communal bonds while elites justify placemaking control with financial returns and enhancing the city’s image. The invisible hand of the market was relied upon to legitimate the elites' use of downtown public space and its seeming post-racial integration, but this was just a red herring for white power and the continued neoliberal assault on poor black neighborhoods.

Description of method used in the article
The author used mixed qualitative methods to triangulate finding, these included interviews with planners, activists, and residents, archival research and participant observation (attended redevelopment meetings and political demonstrations). Events and interviews, some outside Detroit regarding the city's redesign, were recorded with either video, audio, or photographs and ArcGIS and ATLAS were used to relate the different types of data. The author used the term "crossplace ethnography" (p. 783) to describe this type of approach to research.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Other or N/A
Case Study
Physical types
Geographic locations