Debtor Urbanization: Fringes and FIREs in Contemporary City-Building

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups:
Poster #:
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: Washington 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Organizers: Michael Koscielniak
Chairs: Michael Koscielniak


This paper session explores the relationship between debt and city-building. Lending at a variety of scales creates opportunities for growth and decline, for expansion and exploitation, for prosperity and plunder. At the level of the municipality, governments take on bond debt to fund infrastructural improvements, finance pensions, or deliver services. Cities like Detroit, MI and St. Louis, MO depend on the accumulation of bond debt to distribute public goods to inhabitants and establish attractive physical environments for private investment. The prospect of improvement and revitalization conceals crisis and enables ballooning debts that thwart the functioning of public institutions or prompt the wrath of rating agencies employing creditworthiness to govern a city’s fate. Within real estate markets, developers structure financing arrangements that draw from a roster of private lenders and public subsidies. Individuals dreaming of owner-occupancy navigate a crowded lending landscape and interact with mortgage institutions specializing in transaction speed over tenancy security. Targeted predatory arrangements, deregulation, speculation, and market “downturns” threaten individual fortunes and a broader American economy dependent on the sustained health of the housing market. Finally, persons and families without access to conventional banking institutions rely on Alternative Financial Services (the fringe economy) to handle both ordinary and emergency needs. These marginalized borrowers seek out quick cash or rent-to-own products with escalating interest rates culminating in surrendered assets and wrecked credit scores. At all scales, the racial capitalist underpinnings of the American financial system unevenly distribute risk and precarity in ways that reinforce subjugation and hierarchies. Municipalities, prospective homeowners, and fringe finance borrowers inhabit a neoliberalized financial environment that depends on frictionless access to capital and draconian penalties for delinquency. But lives and futures become uncertain when lending institutions securitize debt, call in loans, unevenly sanction borrowers, or change lending terms. Each day, government units declare bankruptcy, families surrender their homes, and individuals fight off aggressive collections agencies. Where debt is concerned, inclusion is not synonymous with progress.

This session centers debt as a determinant of contemporary urbanization. We assemble papers exploring the constellation of borrowing and lending and its expression in a variety of geographies, fields of practice, technologies, institutions, labor, and political ideologies. We are seeking papers that interrogate the fringes and the FIREs (finance, insurance, and real estate) of debtor urbanization. The session also invites work on student loans, micro-credit, and adjustment policies. We are interested in work that examines the relationship between debt and urban and neighborhood decline (in growing and shrinking cities). We invite work analyzing debt in a variety of forms, histories, and contexts. Additionally, we encourage submissions that present political and policy interventions into debtor urbanization establishing post-debt or non-debt futures and systems.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Introduction Michael Koscielniak University of Michigan 5 9:55 AM
Presenter Andy Pike*, Newcastle University, John Tomaney*, University College London, Financialising city statecraft 19 10:00 AM
Presenter Mark Davidson*, Clark University, Kaleidoscopic Indebtedness: Examining the Geographies of American Municipal Borrowing 19 10:19 AM
Presenter Kathe Newman*, Rutgers University, Assembling Community: Nuanced Stories of Community, Credit, and Debt 19 10:38 AM
Presenter Mark Kear*, University of Arizona - Geography & Development, “Duty to Serve” and the Redemption of Chattel: GSEs, Manufactured housing and the lessons of the little subprime crisis 19 10:57 AM
Discussant Sarah Knuth Department of Geography, Durham University 19 11:16 AM

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