Reconfiguring Racial Regimes of Ownership: Vacancy and the Labor of Revitalization on Chicago’s South Side

Authors: Rea Zaimi*, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: vacancy, property, race, real estate, racial capitalism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Washington 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Urban vacancy has become a central focus of emerging bodies of expertise and a host of public and private institutions at multiple scales. Attributing vacancy to capital abandonment, these institutions seek to stimulate development in high-vacancy neighborhoods through investment in land and real estate. My presentation challenges the narrative of capital abandonment and disinvestment that informs responses to vacancy in planning, policy, and many academic circles. I situate vacancy as an outcome of the historical co-production of race and property value and reveal how vacant-land revitalization efforts are reconfiguring this racial regime of property on Chicago’s South Side. First, I trace the articulation of race with property depreciation through the metric of economic obsolescence in early 20th-century real estate appraisal methods. I demonstrate that appraisal was a key site in which racial difference was produced and instrumentalized by the burgeoning real estate industry toward its pursuit of profit and credibility as an honorable and public-spirited profession. Second, I position vacancy on Chicago’s South Side as the outcome, not of capital abandonment, but of the influx of highly extractive forms of capital whose conditions of possibility are inextricably bound with racial regimes of property. Finally, I show how current vacant-land revitalization efforts mobilize property ownership to enroll residents’ unpaid labor in the maintenance of vacant lots. Attention to the historical articulation of race with property value enables a critical examination of contemporary responses to vacancy, which traffic in liberal discourses of “community” and “empowerment” as they reinstantiate racial regimes of ownership.

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