The Contested Urbanisms of Abandonment

Authors: Olaia Chivite Amigo*, University of Michigan, Maria Arquero de Alarcon, University of Michigan, Martin Murray, University of Michigan
Topics: Urban Geography, Cartography
Keywords: Urban Abandonment, Land Re-purposing, Thick Mapping
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Embassy Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The successive cycles of urban transformation in industrial regions during the last century have created uneven, asymmetrical landscapes consisting of scattered abandonment interspersed amongst nodes of concentrated activity. This project examines the case of Detroit through a finely-grained account of the disparate narratives chronicling the existing realities and projected futures, their representation and mediation. We argue that traditional land use planning approaches do not recognize improvisational activities in highly vacant areas, failing to project alternative, more just city futures. Overlooking the residents-led processes of vacant land repurposing or the significance of temporary regimes of occupation and shared ownership, current plans challenge the right to the city by those who have remained in place. Building on the concept of Thick Mapping (Presner, Shepard and Kawano 2014), our exploration offers a “multiplicity of interpretations rather than simply reporting facts or considering maps as somehow given, objective, or complete.” We examine a variety of source materials through provisional, critical cartographies that overlay official and unofficial planning documents, newspaper accounts, media commentaries, and interviews with key informants. The investigation focuses on three neighborhoods targeted under the innovative green agenda of the 2012 Detroit Future City Framework. While the official narratives of ecological and productive innovation embody the quest for a more sustainable future, the overwhelming presence of blight and chronic lack of investment speak of very different priorities. Despite this lack of official support, the project reveals how this legacy of neglect have nonetheless instigated the emergence of contested, alternative urban imaginaries.

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