Settler Futures: Colonizing the Image in Representations of Future Urban Landscapes

Authors: Anna Livia Brand*, University of California, Berkeley
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Ethnicity and Race, Urban Geography
Keywords: Settler colonialism, Urban planning, New Orleans, Chicago
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Majestic Ballroom, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Majestic Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Urban renewal policy in the mid-20th century was premised on the dual promise of clearing blight and revitalizing urban landscapes. While communities of color were the ones who bore the brunt of modernist spatial logics (Fullilove, 2016), racism was tacitly obscured through denigrating accounts of brick and mortar. However, urban renewal narratives depicting the slums were paired with images implicitly linking blackness to the problems of the city and whiteness as the remedy for the future. The language of blight is circulating again in urban planning, paving the way for new forms of clearance and dispossession (McKittrick, 2013; Morrill & Tuck, 2016). Again, the image does racial work that texts elide: positivist narratives of racial geographies (McKittrick & Woods, 2007) are paired with neoliberal, multicultural representations of the future (Melamed, 2006; Mele, 2013; Rutland, 2018). The future again tacitly hinges on white futures and black dispossession.

This research engages settler colonialism by asking how it saturates representations of futurity. It interrogates implicit and ongoing forms of anti-Blackness and racialized notions of dispossession at work in the imaginary of the future city by analyzing both image and text in state-led urban planning efforts in New Orleans and Chicago across two distinct eras, Urban Renewal and the post-Civil Rights, neoliberal city. By applying settler colonial logics to urban planning futures, I interrogate how racial processes are given new life through representations of the future.

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