Regeneration, Citizenship, and Justice in the American City since the 1970s

by Aneta Dybska (Author)
©2016 Monographs 220 Pages


This book investigates post-industrial American cities as sites of struggle where political identities are mobilized and new modes of citizenship are articulated. This interdisciplinary analysis gleans insights from anthropology, literary criticism, cultural studies, geography, political philosophy, and urban studies. Drawing on scholarly, journalistic, essayistic, and fictional texts, the author examines the linkages between urban regeneration policies, citizenship, and social justice in the neoliberal city. She foregrounds grassroots and official strategies of community building, civic revival and democratic governance, as well as the right to the city, localism, and sustainability as key discourses and practices of re-configuring and re-inhabiting the urban.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Part I Land Control: Urban Fictions in Pursuit of Justice
  • Chapter One Redistributive Justice in a Black Suburban Utopia: Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills
  • Chapter Two Restorative Justice: The Talented Tenth Meets the Creative Class in Ronald R. Hanna’s Afraid of the Darks: The Gentrification of Shaw
  • Part II The Right to New York City during the AIDS Epidemic
  • Chapter Three The Right to the City and Homelessness
  • Chapter Four Gentrification and Loss of Sexual Counterpublics in New York City
  • Chapter Five Insurgent Citizenship in the Global City: Sarah Schulman’s People in Trouble and Rat Bohemia
  • Part III Revitalizing Neighborhoods through Urban Agriculture
  • Chapter Six Community Gardens, Social Justice, and Environmental Gentrification
  • Chapter Seven Multiculturalism and Social Capital in the Garden
  • Chapter Eight Sustainability, Food Justice, and Locavore Ethics
  • Part IV Rightsizing Detroit: Ideologies and Practices
  • Chapter Nine Communitarianism as a Politics of Urban Regeneration: Grace Lee Boggs’s The Next American Revolution
  • Chapter Ten Shrinking Detroit: Corporate-based vs. Community-based Visions of Revitalization
  • Coda
  • Works Cited
  • Index
  • Series Index

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This book has been long in the making. For someone who had hitherto mostly done research in African American studies and written a book on black masculinities, embarking on an urban studies project several years ago meant exploring a new territory within American Studies. I relied on my intuition, the lure of the unknown, and the enthusiasm of discovery. Throughout this time, my sentiments oscillated between fascination with the grand modernist urban project and discomfort at discovering the sinister consequences of such innocuous-sounding processes as urban renewal.

My first and deepest debt is to Dominika Ferens who has been my intellectual and emotional companion throughout the years of writing. She listened, ­­­discussed my ideas and never doubted that out of a chaos of thoughts and fleeting interests there would mature a book. She meticulously read and commented on the first, last, and innumerable drafts in between, and encouraged me to be more daring in asking research questions and formulating my arguments.

I am grateful to many individuals for their support and friendship. To Krystyna Mazur for having introduced me to Sarah Schulman’s fiction which led me to invest a great deal of time in the study of New York City’s sexual minorities during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in relation to the process of gentrification and neoliberal urban policies. When my fledgling interest in American urbanism began to take root, Piotr Skurowski generously shared with me Ric Burns’s New York: A Documentary Film (PBS). Its enticing use of the visual material and multi-layered narrative opened my eyes to the numerous perspectives and approaches that the study of the city entailed. It is with New York City that my work on this project began. My intellectual forays into Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Detroit were much later fascinations.

In the process of writing the book, I benefited from professional friendship with Sandrine Baudry, which found its fruition in our co-edited volume of the European Journal of American Studies titled “Spatial Justice and the Right to the City” (2015). It is through our cooperation that I discovered that in Henri Lefebvre’s homeland scholars in the field of American Studies, anthropology, and geography were also committed to the study of community gardening in U.S. cities.

During the final stages of the project, I received generous support and encouragement from my colleagues at the Institute of English Studies, University of Warsaw. Deserving special mention are Małgorzata Grzegorzewska, Emma Harris, Elżbieta Foltyńska, and Dominika Oramus. When other demands on my ← 7 | 8 → intellectual energies made me fall behind in my writing, they were relentless in motivating me to complete the book. My warm thanks also go to all colleagues and friends at the Department of Cultural Studies, to whom I am grateful for uplifting words and genuine concern. A special word of thanks goes to Ewa Łuczak for kindly reviewing the book manuscript.

This project would not have been completed without the patience and understanding of my family members, who have learned to accept that frequently I use my free time for working. It was a comfort to know they believed in my ability to write this book.

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The very isolation of the individual—from power and community and ability to aspire—means the rise of a democracy without publics. With the great mass of people structurally remote and psychologically hesitant with respect to democratic institutions, those institutions themselves attenuate and become, in the fashion of the vicious circle, progressively less accessible to those few who aspire to serious participation in social affairs.

—“Port Huron Statement,” n. pag.

This study of the American city explores the interconnected categories of urban regeneration, citizenship, and justice. It focuses on the ways the urban citizens interact with the changing natural and built environment to make cities livable. The conceptualizations of the city in this project glean insights from anthropology, cultural and literary studies, history, urban geography, planning, political ecology, political science, and sociology. While American urban studies developed in the early 20th century with the Chicago School of Sociology’s research on the problems of the industrial city (such as immigration, race relations, and social deviance), contemporary urban studies investigate the post-industrial city and the emergent forms of urbanism. Once vibrant industrial centers of the national economy, the post-industrial cities are struggling with the effects of deindustrialization, disinvestment, urban decay, and social polarization. In response to the chronic problems, urban studies puts forward regeneration solutions that address issues of democratic governance, the civil society, community building, social justice, and sustainable development. As living laboratories for innovation and just forms of urbanism, American cities create new possibilities for the formation of multiple political identities, performances of citizenship, and articulations of justice in space. The latter entails what geographer Edward Soja calls the “consequential geography,”

the geography, or “spatiality,” of justice [which] is an integral and formative component of justice itself, a vital part of how justice and injustice are socially constructed and evolve over time…. not just the outcome of social and political processes … [but] also a dynamic force affecting these processes in significant ways. (1–2)

Blaming neoliberal urban policies for the blight and disinvestment in the post-industrial American city would mean following the well-trodden path of Marxist ← 9 | 10 → determinism that falls into the trap of overlooking a robust culture of everyday practices, the micro- and macro-level processes that are part of the local/global dialectics. In the new global order, the state operates in conditions of supranational, networked economies so it can only regulate the flow of global fluids, “the heterogeneous, uneven and unpredictable mobilities of people, information, objects, money, images and risks” within the national borders (Urry, “Mobile” 194). All these mobilities and flows diminish the importance of national economies; as a result, new forms of social and economic activity emerge at scales other than national. The rescaling of many aspects of political and socio-economic life has made local governments and municipalities a party to the equitable distribution of public resources and benefits across a spectrum of urban geographies in response to the social justice demands made by collective urban actors (the working poor, immigrants) (Soja 96). In the market-driven environment, municipalities and city-regions carry the burdens and responsibilities of global economic restructuring, unemployment, and decline. The state merely coordinates lower-level governments competing with one another for political and economic clout by means of deregulatory measures, tax abatements, or public-private partnerships, and working to create a safe business environment with control and surveillance.

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman invokes the metaphors of the gamekeeper, the gardener, and the hunter to show humanity’s progression in utopian thinking from pre-modernity to modernity.1 I find these metaphors useful since they can be applied to the changing modes of governmentality (political rationality) that underpin the relationship between the state and the citizen-subjects, as well as the changing power dynamics between the state and city-regions. In contrast to the premodern state which acted as a gamekeeper, merely protecting the forest from poachers, the modern state is a gardening utopia managed by

The gardener [who] knows better what kinds of plants should, and what sorts of plants should not grow in the plot under his care. He first works out the desirable arrangement in his head, and then sees to it that this image is engraved on the plot. He forces his preconceived design on the plot by encouraging the growth of the right types of plants (mostly the plants he himself has sown or planted) and uprooting and destroying all other plants, now renamed ‘weeds’, whose uninvited and unwanted presence, unwanted because uninvited, can’t be squared with the overall harmony of the design. (Liquid Times 86) ← 10 | 11 →

When used with reference to the post-World War II U.S. welfare state, the gardener stands for centralized power operating by means of the hierarchal decision-making process that extends to the lower level political entities. The state is the designer and engineer of the modernist, industrial city: on the one hand, the gardener state executes large investments in construction, manufacturing, infrastructure, and provision of public services; on the other hand, it acts like a “federal bulldozer” with the power of eminent domain, a sponsor of urban renewal programs that raze whole neighborhoods and displace communities.

Since the rollback of the welfare state in the late 1970s, neoliberal ideologies have held sway over urban politics and social life. This is when the gardener gives way to the hunter, claims Bauman. The hunter embodies a posture of disengagement from collective life and commitments to any political body. The emergence of hunters marks a shift towards a utopia of privatized global consumption, where “mobile gardeners” tend their individual flowerbeds: “The great world-garden has split into innumerable little plots with their own little orders. In a world densely populated with knowledgeable and mobile gardeners, no room seems to be left for the Gardener Supreme, the gardener of gardeners,” notes Bauman (Modernity and the Holocaust 219). As an individual, the metaphoric hunter is a self-centered consumer living in a deregulated world, in relentless pursuit of stimulations and pleasures that are fleeting and far from sustainable. Yet the hunter metaphor does not fully capture the rationality and technologies of the neoliberal state. Therefore, I would concur with sociologist John Urry’s claim about “a return” of the gamekeeper state:

The new global order involves a return to the gamekeeper state and away from that of the gardener. The gamekeeper was concerned with regulating mobilities, with ensuring that there was sufficient stock for hunting in a particular site but not with the detailed cultivation of each animal in each particular place. Animals roamed around and beyond the estate, like the roaming hybrids that currently roam in and across national borders. States are increasingly unable or unwilling to garden their society, only to regulate the conditions of their stock so that on the day of the hunt there is appropriate stock available for the hunter. (Sociology 189)2 ← 11 | 12 →


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (October)
Urban agriculture and social capital Food justice and sustainability Shrinking cities and environmental gentrification Creative class theory Localism and local economies Communitarianism
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2016. 220 S.

Biographical notes

Aneta Dybska (Author)

Aneta Dybska is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of English Studies, University of Warsaw, Poland. She teaches courses in American Studies with a focus on the 19th- and 20th-century culture and social history. Her academic interests include urban civic revival and African American studies.


Title: Regeneration, Citizenship, and Justice in the American City since the 1970s
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222 pages