Raise Money, Raise Hell, or Leave: Contesting DIY Urbanism in the Black Outer City

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This dissertation considers the ways do-it-yourself (DIY) urbanism is promoted, taken up, and responded to by the black middle class. Using thirty-eight interviews and one year of ethnographic observation in the Northwest Detroit neighborhood of Bagley, I document the following findings. First, many DIY projects have come from government and nonprofits, and not the grassroots. Second, these projects have served to further drive a wedge between the black middle class and the black poor who are more newly arrived to the neighborhood by promoting a neoliberal ideology that the best citizens are those who undertake neighborhood maintenance activities that were once provided by the state. Third, residents themselves view DIY urbanism as a racialized burden. Expected only of them, but not their white counterparts of any class, DIY urbanism emerges as a contested site whereby the black middle class is torn between the desire to empower themselves to make a change, and deep resentments over urban austerity. This research adds to our knowledge of resilience in declining black neighborhoods by paying more detailed attention to how African Americans see their resilience in the context of uneven urban development.

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  • 01/29/2019
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