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Urban Palimpsests: Nostalgia, Planning, and Contests over Place

Authors: Madeleine Hamlin*, Syracuse University, Patrick Oberle*, California State University - Sacramento
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Qualitative Methods
Keywords: public housing, urban renewal, memory, urban planning, housing justice, research justice
Session Type: Paper
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In this paper, we offer a case study of a planned neighborhood redevelopment in Syracuse, New York, to illustrate how certain places become what we term “urban palimpsests”—spaces that have been planned and re-planned, researched and re-researched so many times that new plans and new research about those plans are both made difficult. Such layered histories of “development” and dispossession make low-income residents in particular suspect of new master plans conceived of and orchestrated by city officials and philanthropists. Meanwhile, under-resourced communities are often over-researched, subject to repeated student projects, program evaluations, and extractivist studies conducted by researchers like ourselves, which in turn poses a set of methodological challenges. Through a focus on Syracuse’s shifting “15th ward,” a soon-to-be twice-cleared community (Vale 2013), this paper explores these dynamics and the problems they pose for planning and for research alike. In particular, drawing on interview data conducted with policymakers, funders, area residents, and other community members, this paper highlights the role of nostalgia in crafting and promoting new urban designs and the contested politics of memory involved in rewriting such landscapes yet again.

Vale, Lawrence. 2013. Purging the Poorest: Public Housing and the Design Politics of Twice-Cleared Communities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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