Infra-Structural Labor and Revitalization in Chicago

Authors: Rea Zaimi*, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: infrastructures, labor, race, waste, space, austerity urbanism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM
Room: Balcony N, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Mass foreclosures in the wake of the housing crisis exacerbated the vacancy, population decline, and decaying infrastructure that have plagued U.S. Rust Belt cities for decades. Under post-recession fiscal and state retrenchment characteristic of austerity urbanism, city governments are mobilizing vacancy and revitalization initiatives as key levers for re-organizing land and labor surplused by the crisis and by decades of state-sanctioned racialized disinvestment and organized abandonment. In this vein, the City of Chicago has implemented innovative programs that turn vacant land and buildings, cast as detritus, into a resource for spurring community-centered development in its disinvested South Side neighborhoods. My paper examines how these programs render vacancy a key site for enrolling residents’ devalued or unpaid labor in the revalorization of disinvested spaces. I demonstrate how the work of revalorization functions as a form of infra-structural labor that clears land of disinvestment’s residues to accommodate future rounds of accumulation. Through ethnographic and archival methods, I analyze how historical entanglements of waste, race and space in Chicago are being reworked in and through this infra-structural labor. Foregrounding its centrality to the production of urban space and capital’s reproduction under fiscal austerity, my paper posits infra-structural labor as a key site for critical theoretical engagement with urban infrastructural transitions.

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