From Environmental Trauma to Safe Haven: Place Attachment and Place Remaking in Three Marginalized Neighborhoods of Barcelona, Boston, and Havana

Isabelle Anguelovski

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Anguelovski, I. (1). From Environmental Trauma to Safe Haven: Place Attachment and Place Remaking in Three Marginalized Neighborhoods of Barcelona, Boston, and Havana. City & Community, 12(3), 211–237.

activism , environmental justice , place attachment , Placemaking , sense of community , sense of place , sustainability , urban renewal

In recent years, local activists in the Global North and South have been organizing to improve degraded and abandoned spaces in marginalized neighborhoods by creating parks, playgrounds, urban farms, or community gardens. This paper integrates existing knowledge on urban place attachment and sense of community with scholarship on environmental justice in order to understand the role of place attachment in environmental mobilization in distressed neighborhoods across political systems and urbanization contexts. It examines the different forms of connections that activists develop and express toward neighborhoods with long-time substandard environmental conditions and how their experience of the neighborhood shapes their engagement in environmental revitalization projects. This comparison of three neighborhoods in Barcelona, Boston, and Havana shows that activists in all three places intend for their environmental endeavors to express grief at the loss of community, fears of erasure, and emotional connection and feelings of responsibility to place. To address environmental trauma, they aim to construct nurturing, soothing, “safe havens,” recreate rootedness, and remake place for residents.

Main finding
Environmental activists that work in marginalized urban neighborhoods have many similarities across countries. Differences in development level at the local urban scale do not have much of an effect on community sponsored and community led projects. The similarities lie in the way individuals and groups experience place attachment, develop visions to fix places, and how they perceive exclusion in the city. In Barcelona, Havana, and Boston, activists create environmental revitalization projects to deal with the fear of erasure, loss of community, and feelings of responsibility and connection to place. Activists use rootedness, remaking, and the construction of nurturing places to address environmental trauma.

Description of method used in the article
The author conducted interviews with 45 activists in the Casc Antic neighborhood in Barcelona, 49 activists in Cayo Hueso, Havana, and 50 activists in Dudley, Boston in 2009 and 2010. Snowball sampling was used to select the people interviewed and participant observation was utilized to study activists' engagement in the neighborhoods' environmental revitalization initiatives. The projects observed were chosen due to their use of space and their focus on environmental and health improvements. The data were analyzed using grounded theory techniques, process tracing, and content analysis of interviews.

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