Urban Communication Reader IV

Cities as Communicative Change Agents

by erin daina mcclellan (Volume editor) Yongjun Shin (Volume editor) Curry Chandler (Volume editor)
Textbook XVI, 338 Pages

Table Of Content

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We would like to acknowledge the gracious and long-term support of the Urban Communication Foundation in helping us to grow ideas and careers that made this volume possible. We would especially like to acknowledge the support of both Gary Gumpert and Susan Drucker, without whom our careers would not be the same.

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Introduction: Cities as Communicative Change Agents



Today, the world is facing climate change, wealth inequality, housing crises, food shortages, mass migration, and now a global health pandemic. Cities are at the heart of both these problems and their solutions. Urban communication scholars are well-poised to examine the change initiatives that are both caused and inspired by such complex problems. This volume provides a collection of urban communication research focused on how examining change through the lens of communication provides unique processual understandings of cities as dynamic sites formed through the interplay between concrete cases and conceptual ideas. The first section, Change through Institutional Intervention, addresses how diverse societal institutions—including policy, regulation, planning, and voluntary arts—interplay with changes in our urban communities. The second section, Change in Place and through Space, explores various ways in which spaces and places are able to transform through communicative practice, specifically focusing on how space and place provide unique frames for communicating change and influencing interaction in cities. The third section, Change through Participation and Engagement, collectively draws attention to the ways that public participation and engagement are utilized in cities in ways that enhance the communication both within and about them, focusing specifically on how this happens globally in teaching and learning environments, community planning partnerships, industrial site redevelopment projects, and approaches to food sovereignty in urban agricultural initiatives.

Keywords: urban communication, cities, communicative change, institutional intervention, urban place and space, participation, engagement

Change is a defining aspect of the urban condition. As cities face unique challenges, they attempt to evolve, adapt, and lead the world into an uncertain future, especially as the age of artificial intelligence and other digital technologies attempt to make cities more “efficient.” A 2017 article in The ←1 | 2→Economist online reflects that “cities may occupy just 2 per cent of the earth’s land surface, but they are home to more than half of the world’s population and generate 80 percent of all economic output” and further predicts that “by 2045, an extra 2 billion people will live in urban areas.” The inevitable increase in demographic, ideological, and socio-cultural diversity that accompanies urban growth is similarly worthy of our attention. More than 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci designed an “ideal city” (see Alonso, 2019) that attempted to reshape how we think and act in cities so as to prevent another outbreak of the plague. Today, cities are coping with a global health pandemic, persistent threats of climate change, wealth inequality, housing crises, food shortages, and the continued challenges of mass migration. Cities are both at the heart of these problems and a key to implementing solutions.

Urban communication research is dedicated to contemporary issues while simultaneously engaging in a breadth of social, political, and psychological theory, media history and public sphere theory. Works by Henri Lefebvre (1991), Michel de Certeau (1984), Antonio Gramsci (1999), and others have provided a communicative focus on cities that enabled urban communication research to further utilize contributions by Lewis Mumford (1956), Richard Sennett (1994), Jürgen Habermas (1981), and Jane Jacobs (1961) to engage in focused examinations of the uniqueness of cities and their impacts. By finding the threads that weave Lefebvre’s insights about space and place with Jacobs’ notion of new urbanism, contemporary urban communication scholarship examines both how we communicate and analyzes what we communicate such that urban scholars, urban planners, and urban residents alike can find insight and relevancy in its work. Urban communication research, thus, continues to lie at the heart of both formal and informal calls for urban change. Urban communication scholars are well-poised to examine both these change initiatives and the crises such changes continue to present.

Specifically, we see cities as embedded and necessary communicative change agents in addressing these crises. Lewis, Schmisseur, Stephens, and Wier (2006) identify three roles of change agents: (1) promoting communication and participation, (2) facilitating the change process, and (3) creating a vision. This volume provides a collection of urban communication research that historically examines, presently analyzes, and creatively imagines the future of cities as change agents. By focusing on urban change through the lens of communication, processual understandings of cities as dynamic sites formed through the interplay between both concrete cases and conceptual ideas can be further explored. Theorists of urban communication draw attention to the discursive and material texts that shape urban spaces and aim to transform communicative practices and interaction, and practitioners of urban ←2 | 3→communication often focus on implementing communication approaches to organizing, evaluating, and/or creating programs and policies to guide the way that cities function in everyday life. Urban communication scholars have examined discourses of neighborhood transition (Makagon, 2010), the impact of new technologies on urban sociality (Gumpert & Drucker, 2001), and changing conceptions of public space (Carragee, 2007), to name a few. An urban communication paradigm provides an ideal mode for addressing the symbolic dimensions of urban life and invites us to (re)consider the means by which city dwellers and global communities can participate in the discourses that shape their environments.

We see this fourth volume of the Urban Communication Reader to offer both academics and practitioners an opportunity to (re)consider how the field of urban communication centrally anchors a breadth of disciplinary interests that inform how cities act as change agents. We invite practitioners of urban change to implement urban communication research as they design and implement strategies, policies, programs, and visions of change in the specific cities where they work. And we invite urban communication scholars to use this format to inform larger discourses and scholarship about how we understand cities historically, presently, and into the future. By including scholarship from functional, critical, and cultural approaches to research, in addition to balancing work that emphasizes specific urban change with case studies and on-the-ground work that (re)considers how we have, can, and/or should approach urban change, this volume will illustrate the various ways that urban communication scholarship plays a pivotal role in identifying both problems and solutions related to cities as communicative change agents. The chapters in this volume are grouped into three themes: Change through Institutional Intervention, Change in Place and through Space, and Change through Participation and Engagement.

The first section, change through institutional intervention, addresses how diverse societal institutions—including policy, regulation, planning, and even voluntary arts—interplay with changes in our urban communities. Regarding urban planning, Pittsburgh’s urban parks and Atlanta’s urban renewal project have been investigated as a crucial institutional intervention in urban communities. Also, in terms of urban policy and regulation, while an urban policy in Madison, WI, has been assessed with the theoretical framework of social capital and urban politics, New York City’s regulation on commercial/political advertising on mass transit has been addressed based on First Amendment rights. On the other hand, the voluntary interventions by non-governmental institutions such as non-government organizations in Delhi, India, have been discussed as change agents’ projects.

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The First chapter, “Planning for Change: The Rhetorical (Re)invention of Urban Parks,” tackles how themes of sustainability, urban identity and livability, and future cities are rhetorically figured in urban park planning by analyzing the 2000 Pittsburgh’s Regional Parks Master Plan and Regional Parks Master Plan 2012 Update from a critical rhetorical perspective. Haynal argues that the Parks Master Plan, as a “living” document, reflects the changing needs that arise in its planners’ pursuit of creating a parks system suitable for developing Pittsburgh as a sustainable city of the future. While urban parks are valuable symbols for promoting sustainable capital, environmental, and equitable development of competitive cities, many contemporary urban parks exhibit signs of degradation from decades of use, misuse and neglect, necessitating significant restoration planning to restore these vital green commons.

The Second chapter, “Styling Sustainable Atlanta: Touring the BeltLine and Public Performances of Concordance,” deals with an extensive urban renewal project that involves building a twenty-two mile light rail loop integrated with parks, trails, and mixed-use development around Atlanta’s urban core. Tulloch identifies rhetorical maneuvers performed by the BeltLine (its sites, materials, and proponents) by participating and critiquing well-attended and publicized tours of the project. Based upon rhetorical theories of “disruptive” and “interruptive” visual-material performances, he argues that touring the BeltLine is a visual-material performance of concordance, involving complex arrangements of particular bodies, fragmented sites, and divergent temporal contexts, contiguous in rhetorical figurations of community, unified space, and shared passage through time. Touring the BeltLine sutures the fragmentation and heterogeneity of urban space. The case study illustrates how institutions and developers can manage forms of public participation to minimize dissent and project consent to urban renewal.

The Third chapter, “Social Capital and Social Change in Urban Politics: Understanding a Local Policy Case from an Urban Communication Perspective,” investigates how a local low-income housing policy has been developed and implemented by various stakeholders through a case study of Madison’s inclusionary-zoning ordinance. The historical case study demonstrates that public policy can be a political product which needs collective efforts for actualization and implementation, rather than merely a technical, administrative solution for public needs and urban issues. Based on the evidence of the efficacy for the core stakeholders’ collective networking and policy opposition, Shin explains, inductively, that the political process of policy creation and implementation with the concept of social capital in the context of politics.

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The Fourth chapter, “ ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Beg’ or Advertise: The First Amendment Implications of Advertising and Panhandling on the New York City Mass Transit System,” explores the impact of legal rulings and transit regulations in fashioning policies which attempt to weigh governmental interests against First Amendment rights on the New York City mass transit system. Hacker-Daniels argues that the formulation of reasonable policies regarding commercial/political advertising and panhandling on New York City’s mass transit has been peripatetic and elusive at best, for dilemmas have arisen in light of the inability of either the courts or regulatory agencies to provide stable and consistent applications of First Amendment principles commensurate with the mission statements and regulatory tenets of the MTA. She uncovers that a plan is offered for balancing governmental interests and First Amendment rights against a backdrop of a particularly tenuous period of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

And, finally, in the Fifth chapter, “From Margins to Mainstream: The Changing Street Art Scenario in Delhi,” Jauhari demonstrates how street art development is engaging the citizens and government agencies by conveying the message through it and fostering the future of street art concerning the upcoming urban (re)developments within the city of Delhi. As street art in urban areas is an effective visual communication medium and contributes to a sense of belonging, along with adding a unique character to the urban space, the author argues the intervention of the non-government organizations (NGOs) as “agents of change” in Delhi’s street art scenario. Jauhari argues that street art that was earlier considered as an act of vandalism is now witnessed beyond the building facades and boundary walls, widely accepted and celebrated not only by the citizens but also by various government organizations, which are commissioning artists to work on the government buildings. Jauhari emphasizes that these works of art not just aesthetically rejuvenate the urban space but also, in many cases, communicate the current urban, social, economic, political, and environmental issues that plague the society and the city.

The second section of this volume explores various ways in which spaces and places are changed and transformed through communicative practice, as well as how space and place function as media for communicating change and influencing interaction. The specific cases of urban change taken up in these chapters offer a compelling testament to the fact that the seemingly solid and static material features of our built environments are subject to vagaries of flux and transition. Each of these contributions approaches issues of urban transformation through a uniquely communicative lens, demonstrating ways in which changes in space and place are entangled with cultural, symbolic, ←5 | 6→and narrative processes. The chapters in this section offer an international application of urban communication scholarship to cities around the world, indicating both the particular experiences of emplaced communities as well as global themes of urban change.

Beginning with Chapter 6, “The ‘Tweeting’ Discourse of Balconies and Porches in the City: Identity Politics, Public Speaking and Social Change,” Aronis highlights the communicative roles that architectural features fulfill within urban communities. Aronis draws on situated examples of political messages being presented on porches and balconies to demonstrate how these oft-overlooked aspects of the built environment function as technologies of display and serve as salient spaces for the expression of identity. Synthesizing a variety of perspectives on communication from areas such as media theory, public sphere studies, and urban sociology, the author considers the ways in which these urban forms contribute to the circulation of public discourse and serve as agents for social change. For Aronis, balconies and porches warrant special attention for the study of urban communication as liminal spaces that mediate between the public and the private, as well as communicate through both material and symbolic elements.

Issues of liminality and hybridity reappear in Chapter 7, “Gentrification of Lavale: Changing Spatiality and the Making of a Rural-Urban Complex,” where Arora, Jotwani, and Mane examine emplaced experiences of community transition in a village in India. The village of Lavale is situated in an ecologically diverse region undergoing rapid urban development, where rural farming communities coexist alongside technologized and privatized enclaves. Against this backdrop of spatial transformation, the study focuses on the means by which residents of Lavale navigate shifting boundaries and negotiate fluctuating social arrangements. The authors identify multiple levels of hybrid spatialities operating at conjunctions such as urban and rural, development and environment, and insider/outsider status. This study engages with many salient issues associated with the global phenomenon of gentrification while attending to the particular challenges facing residents of Lavale in regards to experiences of belonging and the strains of social stratification. In so doing, the chapter presents a nuanced account of a particular community and also directly speaks to the concerns of residents navigating urban change in cities around the world.

Chapter 8, “Talking to Urban People: An Exploration of Farmers’ Social Media Storytelling Strategies,” also challenges geographic and conceptual distinctions between the urban and the rural. In this contribution, authors Kang and Thompson investigate how farmers in the United States use social media to foster dialogue between farming communities and broader publics, ←6 | 7→and to reduce the rural-urban divide. As with the preceding chapter, this study interrogates the urban-rural continuum and explores the myriad interdependencies between metropolitan and agrarian communities. Through in-depth interviews with farmer bloggers, the authors examine how these farmers use social media to engage urban publics on issues of agriculture and food production. By highlighting social media storytelling strategies, the authors foreground the role of communicative practices and technologies in building and maintaining rural-urban networks at the local, regional, and national levels. This study focuses in particular on how farmers promote transparency, maintain accountability, and establish trust with the urban populations who benefit from their food production. Kang and Thompson indicate multiple communicative threads imbricated with rural-urban networks, as well as how the storytelling tactics provided by social media may be employed for grassroots advocacy.

Communicative practices of storytelling in and through the built environment offer a point of connection with Chapter 9, “Baseball Fields of Care: Urban Sportscapes, Neighborhood Change, and the Gentrification of Commemorative Space,” in which Chandler considers how spaces of sports performance and commemoration contribute to notions of community and shared history at scales ranging from the neighborhood to the nation state. Rooted in a U.S. context, the chapter focuses on baseball as a uniquely privileged sport and pastime tightly intertwined with ideals of national consciousness and American identity. Chandler approaches urban ballparks as salient sites of material rhetoric and the commemoration of public memory. The author is particularly concerned with how the legacies of professional baseball’s racial segregation are evident in sports stadia, and ways in which this history connects to development patterns in U.S. cities. The chapter combines historical analysis and field observations from three ballparks in Pittsburgh, PA with theoretical perspectives from urban communication, human geography, and the rhetoric of space and place. Chandler advocates an ethics of care in attending to vernacular histories of urban change, and suggests that the communicative aspects of sportscapes may contribute to building affective bonds of community.

Lastly, urban spaces of leisure and recreation are also featured in Chapter 10, “Playing Outside: The Transformation of Children’s’ Urban Play.” In this chapter Drucker and Gumpert survey a rich variety of games that have developed from play in urban environments, examine the multifaceted ways in which urban play has changed over time, and consider the contemporary state of children’s outside play in city spaces. The authors highlight the crucial function of creative play in a child’s development of ←7 | 8→social integration, behavioral patterns, and communication skills. As such, approaches to the design and regulation of play spaces pose profound implications for the development of social skills that will shape a child’s adult life. Urban environments provide diverse and stimulating spaces for play, while also offering potential dangers from dense vehicle traffic and the presence of unfamiliar others. Concerns over child safety and potential litigation have resulted in the proliferation of rules and regulations structuring play. Technological developments and emerging media forms have further altered patterns of recreation and produced new modes of indoor play. Drucker and Gumpert call attention to the symbiotic relationship between environments of play and the development of communicative capacities, and ask readers to consider whether there is a place for risk in our urban play spaces.

The third section of this volume is a collection of scholarship that aims to draw our attention to how public participation and engagement are utilized in cities in ways that enhance communication both within and about them. This group of chapters focuses on how vibrant cities are well-poised to change and evolve alongside myriad complexities that global growth involves. From large-scale planning projects and specific rhetorical investigations of urban life in Scandinavia to networks of (agri)cultural cooperatives in South America to place-based approaches to higher education in the rapidly growing western United States, this section seeks to examine the various forces that act upon a city–through outside forces and inside pressures alike–as it grows and develops.

In Chapter 11, “Using Critical Pedagogy to (Re)Consider the City through the Murmur Project,” mcclellan and Ivey reflect upon how we teach and learn (about) urban communication beyond the classroom. By naming and discussing three central tenets of critical pedagogy, the authors advocate for instructors to adopt critical pedagogy as a way to invite students to engage their cities while simultaneously calling for a more purposeful approach to connecting learning in the world with learning in the classroom. Using a case study called the “Murmur Project,” the authors illustrate how (re)considering a city in various ways—rather than through a single perspective or set of experiences—can make visible what is otherwise not immediately recognizable to everyone. Much like a heart “murmur,” large-scale change is often most impactful when the original force behind it is habitually echoed far beyond the original point of change. The authors argue that taking a critical approach to teaching and learning [about] urban communication invites all of us to (re)consider how we account for various perspectives, experiences, and understandings of urban life, especially focusing on how these accounts are more and/or less visible within and between communities.

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In Chapter 12, “Changing Place Identity by Visual Design? A Rhetorical Field Study of a Post-Industrial Place Development Project,” the importance of civic engagement during a post-industrial urban transition is discussed in relation to the processes by which the project is engaged. Specifically focusing on a place-development project in Larvik, Norway, Jørgensen demonstrates how place identity can be examined from a rhetorical perspective in ways that reveal new (re)considerations for urban redevelopment projects, especially those seeking to transition post-industrial environments into dynamic contemporary urban environments. Looking to Kenneth Burke for inspiration, Jørgensen provides both theoretical and methodological insight into how we might use a “nexus of exclusion” that invites us to (re)consider the limitations of urban branding initiatives for long-term sustainable change.

In Chapter 13, “Between Visions and Realities: Testing Shared Governance in Adaptive Reuse of Industrial Heritage,” Swensen focuses on the ways that the adaptive reuse of redundant industrial sites have become a focus of policy in many former industrial towns. By focusing on a Norwegian perspective of two specific urban (re)development projects, Swensen focuses on how balancing the adaptive reuse of old structures with new visions for future development can embrace both architectural form and accommodate the ever-increasing population of fast-growing cities. By examining citizen involvement associated with sustainable regeneration processes, different methods of participant involvement are discussed in relation to planning processes more generally but also as inherently connected to the motivations behind local user participation in what are often decade-long transitions from industrial heritage sites to sustainable communities.

And finally, in Chapter 14, “Urban Agriculture in the City of Cali, Colombia, and Communication for Social Change,” Solón and Rivera invite us into a world led by citizens who promote alternative relationships with food. By specifically examining five organizational discourses, the authors identify various communication strategies and urban agriculture practices that they claim establish a “radical rupture with the current hegemonic agribusiness mode.” By focusing on the testimonies and experiences of members of a local collective food sovereignty project, the authors invite us to (re)consider how people maintain various connections with food. By drawing our attention to how changing the relationships embedded in the process of food production and distribution can have an effect on a local and global scale, Solón and Rivera ask that we consider how agroecological, rather than agro-industrial, approaches to urban agricultural cooperatives may help establish more sustainable and equitable relationships to food production and distribution.

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This collection of chapters offers a global reflection on how urban communication scholarship continues to engage cities across the world in ways that seek to impact change in purposeful and well-informed ways. By highlighting the role of communication in policy and practices of governance, planning and playing in place and space, and harnessing the power of public participation and engagement, this volume invites its readers to apply what they learn about, (re)consider, and/or discover in the chapters included here to their own cities. The global landscape requires that urban environments adapt and evolve, perhaps now more than ever. As global health pandemics, local policy, and urban growth and development strategies continue to change over time, communication remains central to how we engage, assess, and imagine our shared unknown future. Given this important connection between urban communication and the people who engage it all over the world, we are especially proud of the international cohort that have come together in this volume to share their studies of urban communication from so many different perspectives and across such diverse urban environments.


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Gramsci, A. (1999). Selections from Prison Notebooks. Eds. and Trans. Q. Hoare and G. N. Smith. London: ElecBook. Originally published in 1971 by Lawrence & Wishart.

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Lewis, L. K., Schmisseur, A. M., Stephens, K. K., & Weir, K. E. (2006). Advice on communicating during organizational change: The content of popular press books. Journal of Business Communication, 43(2), 113–137.

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Makagon, D. (2010). Bring on the shock troops: Artists and gentrification in the popular press. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 7(1), 26–52.

Mumford, L. (1956). The transformations of man. New York: Harper and Row.

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Section 1: Change through Institutional Intervention

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1. Planning for Change: The Rhetorical (Re)invention of Urban Parks



Urban parks are valuable symbols for promoting sustainable capital, environmental, and equitable development of competitive cities. However, many contemporary urban parks exhibit signs of degradation from decades of use, misuse and neglect, necessitating significant urban planning initiatives to restore these vital green commons. The documents written and designed by urban planners to envision park restoration reflect plans for change through institutional intervention. Looking at the post-industrial city of Pittsburgh, in this chapter I conduct a critical rhetorical analysis of the 2000 Pittsburgh’s Regional Parks Master Plan and Regional Parks Master Plan 2012 Update to analyze how themes of sustainability, urban identity and livability, and future cities are rhetorically figured in urban park planning. As a “living” document, designed to be updated over time, I argue that the Parks Master Plan reflects how changing institutional needs impact urban planners’ pursuit of creating a parks system suitable for developing Pittsburgh as a sustainable city of the future.

Keywords: city planning, institutional intervention, parks, planning documents, Pittsburgh, post-industrial, public space, sustainability, urban studies, rhetorical criticism, spatial representation

The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies, and aesthetic values we desire. The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources; it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city Harvey. (1973, p. 315)

Changing visions of cities are enacted through what David Harvey (1973) identifies as the “urban process” (p. 323), bringing with them ever-changing processes of urban planning. Urban planners, through their power to shape “the processes of urbanization,” are responsible for (re)imagining how cityscapes ←15 | 16→can and should be made and remade for meeting the needs of the present and future communities they serve (Harvey, 1973, p. 315). Increasingly, it is understood that the livability of future cities cannot be envisioned separate from the task of pursuing sustainable development. Global challenges from climate change to population growth threaten the livability of cities, tasking urban institutions with developing new sustainable solutions that address the changing needs of urban environments. As part of this initiative for pursuing urban livability, numerous development projects have sought to protect “a variety of natural landscapes interwoven with urban development,” with parks as perhaps the most essential of public urban green space (Hayden, 1996, p. 63).

In this chapter, I consider how change through institutional intervention is enacted in planning documents produced with the aim of establishing a sustainable parks system in the post-industrial City of Pittsburgh at the turn of the twenty-first century. To do so, I conduct a critical rhetorical analysis of the 2000 Pittsburgh’s Regional Parks Master Plan (PRPMP) and Regional Parks Master Plan 2012 Update (RPMPU). Collectively referred to as the Parks Master Plan, these documents illustrate how the public-private partnership between the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy envisioned a “new ethic of stewardship” in their comprehensive planning for the sustainable restoration of the city’s regional parks system (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. 1). I argue that as a “living” document, the Parks Master Plan is responsive to changing needs that arise in its planners’ pursuit of creating a parks system suitable for advancing a sustainable City of Pittsburgh.

A group of concerned citizens came together in 1995 to address the deteriorating conditions of Pittsburgh’s four historic regional parks—Frick, Highland, Riverview, and Schenley. They conducted a formal historic landscape survey from 1995 to 1996, revealing that the majority of the city’s parks were identified as in “poor” condition. Steps toward the restoration of the parks system began with the citizen-founded Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (PPC) in December 1996. While attention to restore the parks began as a citizen-driven movement, support to improve conditions of the parks was made possible through the establishment of a formal public-private partnership between the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the City of Pittsburgh in 1998. In 2000, they hired several landscape design firms to cooperatively prepare a Master Plan for Pittsburgh’s regional parks that would “provide a foundation for a new way of thinking about these precious landscapes, rooted in an ethic of stewardship which focuses on the necessary resources and energies needed to preserve, restore, and enhance Frick, ←16 | 17→Highland, Riverview and Schenley Parks” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. i). Published in 2000, the PRPMP is a reflection of the institutional ideology of the City of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy regarding the city’s parks. The aim of the PRPMP was to “foster a total park experience that addresses the natural, cultural and educational opportunities that great parks can provide” while at the same time “preserving the parks historical legacy and sustaining their ecological integrity” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. i). The decidedly “daunting” task of restoring the parks was set to unfold over a 20-year period and estimated to cost over $100 million in public and private funds toward system-wide strategies and capital improvement projects (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. 5).

Like cities, which must adapt to changing social needs across time, parks also experience change, both natural and unnatural in nature. As quite literally living environments, parks are subject to change with or without planned human intervention, responsive not only to human-constructed landscaping and development, but also to invasive species, a lack of management and landscaping, weather, and intense overuse or misuse. In this sense, they are never finished, but always in a state of becoming. The PRPMP declared, “in the same way that the Regional Parks function as democratic social spaces that sustain city life, so too the master plan had to reflect a broad consensus of public opinion and user needs.” To account for the changing needs of both the city and the park, the Master Plan was designed to be a “living document” that aimed to be responsive to changing needs of the parks, the city, and its people, over time (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. iii).

In 2010, the City of Pittsburgh began a separate urban development initiative aimed at establishing a plan for total comprehensive reform of the city called PlanPGH. It introduced the City’s vision to “address the needs of its citizens, environment, urban form, and civic functions over the next 25 years,” including the early development of numerous sub-plans such as OnePGH, PreservePGH, and OpenSpacePGH (City of, 2012, p. 5). Part of this initiative included a formal request that the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy provide an updated Parks Master Plan to reflect the changing goals of comprehensive urban reform, animating the “living” nature of the original Parks Master Plan and the updated Master Plan was published in 2012. The document was introduced as building upon PlanPGH, and its OpenSpacePGH component in particular, as “both efforts are founded upon a city-wide strategy that reinforces the desired direction toward an integrated system of open-space connectivity throughout the city” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2012, p. 9). Importantly, comprehensive city planning initiatives were cited as facilitating security and support for continued park restoration that was both responsive to and enabled ←17 | 18→by local and global livable city initiatives. Sustainable development, increased capital projects, investment in PlanPGH, and general public interest in health and wellness, contributed to the public-private partnership declaration that, “this is a perfect time to leverage that momentum into another decade of successful park system improvements” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2012, p. 10). Now almost 20 years since the concerned citizen-initiated momentum for change in Pittsburgh’s parks system first began, the PPC has raised and invested more than $100 million into Pittsburgh’s park system, gaining national and international attention as a leader in sustainable urban park management.

Planning for Institutional Intervention

In these Parks Master Plan planning documents, Pittsburgh’s urban planning institutions find a space for symbolically reimagining the potential future of the city and its people. I begin by providing a theoretical background for understanding parks as communicative spaces, planning for institutional intervention, and designing for public urban space. From there, I turn my attention the Parks Master Plan, to analyze how the planning documents reflect institutional ideals of creating a sustainable parks system, conceptualize urban identity and livability, and the role of parks as capital development for the future city.

Parks as Communicative Spaces

It is well established that parks are valuable communicative spaces for urban denizens (Gumpert & Drucker, 2008). Gary Gumpert and Susan Drucker’s (2008) work on the communicative city recognizes the value of parks for providing relief from sprawling urban density. They have further identified the inventive possibilities for parks utilization as public spaces for community members. These vital public “commons” (Calthorpe, 2011, p. 57) can promote social interaction, the exchange of ideas, and contribute to public understanding of a region’s identity and character (Carragee, 2007).

Margaret LaWare (2013) notes how parks can “foster attachment to place” (p. 14) and “create sense of ‘place’ ” (p. 17) for the publics that engage with them. Mark T. Vail’s examination of how Memphis, Tennessee citizens opposed the proposed name change of (Nathaniel Bedford) Forrest Park reveals how “the ability to control and contour how contested public sites are rhetorically and materially remembered, forgotten, and reconstituted over time can have substantial consequences for communities” (2012, p. 422). ←18 | 19→Vail’s case illustrates how even representations, such as naming practices, can carry significant consequences for civic enactment and participation in space.

Official planning documents for urban environments critically manage and mediate the world between imagined representations and empirical reality. In their comparative study of Chicago’s Millennium Park and Detroit’s Hart Plaza, Victoria J. Gallagher, Kenneth Zagacki, and Kelly Norris Martin (2013) illustrate how material enactments can “promote or restrict connectedness” (p. 37) amongst urban inhabitants as well as their understanding of citizenship. It is this potential for developing community, identity, and connection in parks that clearly illustrates their valuable role in the communicative city.

To change currently presumed unlivable cities into livable cities fit for sustainable urbanization, increased attention has been given to creating and nurturing urban green spaces. In her study of two parks located in Ames, Iowa, LaWare (2013) explains how parks can be considered as manifestations of sustainability, understood to be critical components of livable cities “in both material and symbolic forms, and as spaces where the importance of sustainability and environmental awareness can be communicated to a wider public” (p. 14). With parks’ potential for promoting or restricting urban inhabitant’s connectedness with the natural environment, careful planning for parks reveals their power to radically shape the future of urban sustainability culture. Parks are, however, far from natural places. While they are composed of many natural elements, they are highly designed and carefully curated and managed sites. Parks, then, are key contemporary sites of enactment for the development and promotion of livable cities through their reimagining as sustainable green infrastructure, which is illustrated and animated in contemporary urban planning initiatives.

Planning for Institutional Intervention

Planning documents visually and textually represent the possibilities for the transformation of space. Henri Lefebvre (1991) explains that conceptualized space, like planning documents, reflect the visions of those including planners, urbanists, or social engineers that shape the “dominant space in any society” (p. 39), making them significant objects for understanding change through institutional intervention. Designed space is infused with power of their creators, illustrating, both textually and visually, what kind of city spaces civic institutions desire. As such, planning documents become powerful tools for urban change agents in envisioning how cities might evolve, adapt, and ←19 | 20→lead the world into an uncertain future though envisioning sustainable development practices.

Using rhetorical texts, images, and designs, urban planners endow space with meaning and intent, meant to persuade their audiences to accept their proposed vision through fostering attachment to the proposed future changes to place, reflecting how place is designed in the image of its creators (Harvey, 1973; Pojani & Stead, 2015). As Peter Meadway (1996) explains, “the made world is drawn, talked, and written into existence as much as it is physically fabricated” (p. 479). Once acted upon, the rhetorical constructions of space found in planning documents “impact residents’ material well-being and access to basic resources” that are felt in nuanced happenings of everyday life (Triece, 2018, p. 615). Examining rhetoric of planning reveals how places are not endowed with natural or neutral meanings; rather, those with power define dominant uses and meanings for the creation of place (Cresswell, 2004; Pojani & Stead, 2015).

The institutions who have the power to design and shape the creation of place invoke different signs and symbols in planning documents to imagine possibilities for sense-of-place. These signs and symbols function as “interpretants,” eliciting mental connections for understanding place by encouraging or discouraging various features such as sustainable landscaping decisions or creation of spaces for social gathering or recreation usage (Meadway, 1996, p. 477). Practices of written design both “motivate and shape action” (Meadway, 1996, p. 473) and also “shape and constrain action by specifying what must or can be done” (p. 474). Planning documents thus play a significant role in impacting those who participate in the material construction of place, from directing the landscaping and construction companies that engage in the formal breaking of ground, to enabling or constraining the urban inhabitants whose spatial practices reveal possibilities for public engagement in place. Planning documents in turn reflect knowledge for desired ways of understanding how space are made visible as official visual and written records used by institutions for the production of space.

Examining institutional discourse in planning documents reveals how the production of space is used in service of imagining stable place-based boundaries through practices of spatial representation. Michel de Certeau (1984) explains that the labeling of place halts change through the encouragement of concrete, stable boundaries for the configuration of space. In contrast with place, de Certeau understands space as subject to openness and invention. Timothy Cresswell (2004) expounds upon the complicatedness of examining place as a fixed, stable entity, noting however that, “the word ‘place’ hides many differences,” standing for “both an object” and also “a ←20 | 21→way of looking” that further change with audience (p. 15). In this way, planning documents are places as objects produced by urban planners, as well as places where institutions offer specific ways of looking at the places that planning documents aspire to create.

When considered as representations of space, planning documents can powerfully control for spatial practices that shape engagement with and in place, as well as imagine how representational spaces are enabled or constrained. Henri Lefebvre (1991) identifies such “representations of space,” as “tied to the relations of production and to the ‘order’ which those relations impose, and hence to knowledge, to signs, to codes, and to ‘frontal’ relations” (p. 33). However, even as urban planning documents may be centrally read as representations of space, Lefebvre (1991) reminds us that literary spaces are imbued with their own spatial practices through means of production, and also operate as representational spaces, projecting the imaginings of their creators. In his examination of architecture and writing, Peter Meadway (1996) identifies that by producing representations of space through writing, “we construct not only meanings but reality, via our representations of it” (p. 477). These written representations of place play powerful roles in revealing how governing institutions imagine space when making decisions about material intervention in space and place. Spatial representation attempts to fix space through stabilization of time, however, critics like Ernesto Laclau (1990) and Doreen Massey (2005) illustrate how space is dislocated, resulting in a crisis of representation. Massey explains, that “space itself, the space of the world, far from being equivalent to representation, must be unrepresentable in the latter, mimetic, sense” (2005, p. 28).

Place is also generated in periods of development stasis, both inviting and foreclosing different renderings of how space or place could be imagined. Peter Medway (1996) characterizes planning documents as “writing that affects the made or culturally modified world” (p. 474). The places that are imagined in these “virtual artifacts” represent more than human-constructed space; they legitimize imagined and/or actual needs and desires of the communities they impact (Medway, 1996). At the same time, they include the subjective desires and intentions of the planners and commissioners who influence how places are not only imagined, but also will be, carrying significant consequences for relevant communities.

In imaging future representations of past places, planning documents can be understood as a palimpsest, seen in their symbolic iterations of place, as well as in their role shaping material changes to place and space (Huyssen, 2003; Massey, 2005). As Dorina Pojani and Dominic Stead (2015) identify, planning processes necessarily involve complex negotiating of the past, ←21 | 22→present, and future for different audiences and different contexts across time, where “the complex interplay of these diverse rhetorics can be characterized as a flow of competing discourse and imagery” (p. 582) that aim to promote material change in the future. Once urban planning decisions have been established, approved, funded, and enacted, documentation and development hold the power to erase, write over, uncover, unclutter, destroy, shield, protect, resurrect, or otherwise impact place and space. Theorizing planning documents as in-between spaces that materially and symbolically represent the envisioned enactments of their creators reveals the power of change agents to decide what will remain of the past and present in the future.

Planning documents directly link symbolicity with materiality by creating specific means for enacting change to place, thus lending to their power to “motivate and shape action” (Meadway, 1996, p. 474). In examining the move from symbolicity to materiality in the Museum Park of the North Carolina Museum of Art, Kenneth Zagacki and Victoria Gallagher highlight the significance of a shift from “examining representations” to “examining enactments” to consider the impact of material existence (2009, p. 172). As a living document, however, the expectation for the PRPMP representations to change over time demonstrates its responsiveness to the potential and actual enactments of its symbolic plans. Through imagining new and ever-changing possibilities for sense-of-place and place-based practices of urban institutions and inhabitants, planning for desired changes to the environment envisions future hypothetical spaces of “something that does not currently exist but will or might exist” (Meadway, 1996, p. 479). The ever-changing and ever-unfinished nature of the Master Plan as a living document reveals how “the overarching objective of rhetoric in planning and design is in reaching some kind of ideal document, (‘utopia’), that is, the creation of city-regions that are ecologically healthy, economically vital, aesthetically pleasing, socially just and politically democratic” (Pojani & Stead, 2015). In this way, the Parks Master Plan is admirably read for its ability to consistently reimagine the sustainability and livability of the City of Pittsburgh.

Designing for Public Urban Space

Parks are significant public spaces for civic enactment in the communicative city. Examining planning documents can reveal how civic institutions understand urban inhabitants, themselves, and their environment, including conceptions of livability and sustainability. Planning documents also illustrate how institutional bodies can rebrand and reimagine the city as a whole through designing for public urban space. Examining park design in ←22 | 23→particular further illuminates how vital public space is imagined and reimagined by institutional bodies before changes are made to the material environment, providing insight as to how and why is public space changed, for whom, and to what end.

Designing for public urban space shapes landscapes for civic engagement. The symbolic designing of place shapes decisions made for material development, use, and reception of those sites as imagined future places, carrying significant implications for how sustainability might be imagined in planning for urban parks. Planning documents for parks are representations of both imagined and yet to be (re)developed material forms of sustainability in urban green space. They are infused with power of their creators, illustrating, both textually and visually, what kind of city spaces civic institutions desire. Once acted upon, these rhetorical constructions of space “impact residents’ material well-being and access to basic resources” that are felt in nuanced happenings of everyday life (Triece, 2018, p. 615).

Planning documents are an important medium for illustrating how civic institutions imagine spatial arrangement of the urban environment as responsive to sustainability needs of the city. Sustainability rhetoric is prominently featured in urban planning documents, both through direct invocation and through indirect modes of persuasion. That sustainability has since “become a ‘buzz’ word for public discussions that seek growth without negative environmental consequences,” suggests the importance of critically examining how its influence on planners is illustrated in the planning documents institutions use to create change in place and space (Jeffres, 2010, p. 101). Aidan Davison (2008) notes, however, how despite being well intentioned, “sustainability is a preoccupation that simultaneously engages powers of reason, belief, and feeling, messing up any neat separation of descriptive and normative claims” (p. 191). Planning professionals like landscape, architect, or urban designers, then, are tasked with producing textual and visual representations that translate the desires of their clients for sustainable production into plans for material transformation of space and place (Ackerman & Oates, 1996).

The ambiguity of sustainability extends to consideration of what makes for sustainable design or production. This lends to the term’s consideration as “symbolic discourse rather than actioned agenda” that justifies selective action or inaction on behalf of publics (de Burgh-Woodman & King, 2012, p. 146). In the popularly cited Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, The World Commission on Environment and Development explains, “sustainable development is development that that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations, 1987, p. 43). This definition is recognized as an approach ←23 | 24→that “emphasized the social, economic and political context of ‘development’ ” (Agyeman, Bullard, & Evans, 2002, p. 80). The International Union for Conservation of Nature affirmed the World Commission approach to sustainability a few years later, in their publication, Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Sustainable Living, where they identify that the aim of sustainable development ought to be “to improve the quality of life while living within the carrying capacity of ecosystems” (Munro, 1991, p. 1), which has become another one of the most cited definitions of sustainability. As Julian Agyeman, Robert D. Bullard, and Bob Evans (2002) note, however, neither of these definitions understands sustainability specifically in the context of justice or equity, which has gained traction amongst recent conceptualizations of sustainability in the environmental justice movement. Consequentially, debates over sustainability are now increasingly codified into legal policy and planning as a means of establishing standards of livability, particularly as rising population density places increased demands on the carrying capacity of urban ecosystems.

Institutionally desirable communities, characters, and modes of engagement with place are also imagined in planning documents. Urban planning documents can act as tools that enable those with power to construct and deploy strategies for maintenance of a neo-liberal city through their use for imagining new ways to manage city space (Harvey, 2007; Tuan, 1991). In their study of Cleveland urban planning documents, Mary E. Triece (2018) illustrates how as “socially produced spatial representations that serve specific interests” (p. 615), rhetoric of urban planning can rely on neo-liberal racism or antiracialism sentiments that become configured via spatial arrangements to give the appearance of urban space that is racially diverse but not racist. In examining architectural writing, John Ackerman and Scott Oates (1996) note that, “as with all discourse, when a design is wrought, a space is created where someone speaks, someone is silenced, and someone is empowered or disenfranchised to act” (p. 86). Ackerman and Oates (1996) also identify, however, that many possibilities exist for “architectural design that both reproduced institutional power and had the capacity to rewrite cultural space, to break it open for wider participation” (p. 86), suggesting the radical potential for urban planning to produce change.

As seen, planning documents are inventive, rhetorical tools with which change agents like urban planners and civic institutions use to imagine and implement new visions of ideal urban living. In this next section, I conduct a critical reading of the Pittsburgh’s Regional Parks Master Plan (2000) and the Regional Parks Master Plan 2012 Update (2012) to reveal how urban planning officials, landscape architects, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, ←24 | 25→the City of Pittsburgh, and local communities are reflected as together imagining a new sense of place in Pittsburgh’s parks aimed at establishing a more livable and sustainable city. My rhetorical analysis reveals how institutional visions for changing space are conceptualized before they are enacted, illuminating cultural visions that predate, prescribe, and produce material change. Further, it reveals how change to place is ongoing, particularly seen in the Regional Parks Master Plan 2012 Update that, as a “living document,” aims to be responsive to changing needs over time throughout development.

A Sustainable Parks System

The twenty-first century ushered in a new era of livability in Pittsburgh, in which the city became a hub for sustainable and green technological design, development, innovation, and leadership. From its LEED Platinum and Living Building certified Center for Sustainable Landscapes and Frick Environmental Center, to its recently achieved ranking in the top 25 US city parks system by the Trust for Public Land’s 7th annual ParkScore index, the city is in the midst of radical sustainability changes. Rhetoric of these sustainable social, economic, and political advances are understood as ensuring continued growth of the city’s capital development. At the same time, sustainable city development is promised to better the lives of all people of a city. With a landscape once described as “hell with the lid taken off,” Pittsburgh is now widely promoted as a one of the nation’s “most livable cities” thanks to immense changes in policy planning for social, economic, and ecological matters (CBS Pittsburgh, 2019; Parton, 1868).

The revitalization of Pittsburgh’s parks system plays a vital role in advancing a green image of Pittsburgh as a sustainable, most livable city. The PRPMP defines its purpose as providing “a foundation for a new way of thinking about these precious landscapes,” through a process that is “rooted in an ethic of stewardship which focuses on the necessary resources and energies needed to preserve, restore, and enhance Frick, Highland, Riverview, and Schenley Parks” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. i). Through attention to the region’s use, history, and ecology, the PPC and City of Pittsburgh, seek to “create a foundation for a sustainable future” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. i). In this way, the planning document, the landscape, and the people of the city are seen as together essential to the construction of place.

With sustainability often invoked as essential for the well-being of present and future generations, my examination of the Master Plan illustrates how sustainability also understood through narratives of the past. To develop a good ethic of stewardship, rhetoric of the Parks Master Plan reveals institutional ←25 | 26→intentions for developing a parks system that will encourage the contemporary public to treat the parks as their creators did. There is an assumption by the planners that since their creation, something in the parks has been lost. They argue that,

In order to insure that the Parks are maintained in a manner that will sustain them for the second century of their life as Pittsburgh’s principal public spaces, we must create public consensus for their stewardship. We must begin again to think of these parks as their creators did—as precious, valued landscapes that are assets to the community. Therefore, the primary goal of this master planning effort is in the establishment of a renewed ethic of stewardship for the citizens of Pittsburgh region, which will focus the necessary resources and energies on rebuilding our parks and preserving them for the future. (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. 5)

Decline in Pittsburgh’s parks system is understood as reflecting the lack of stewardship following economic, geographic, and cultural barriers that accompanied the decline of industrialization. Importantly, narrative of decline necessarily follows narratives that reinforce the impressive, prominent, success of early Pittsburgh. Parks are described as “a core value of life in Pittsburgh,” reflective of the foresight of late nineteenth and early twentieth century civic leaders, “toward economic growth and competitiveness, public health and well-being, and the simple pleasures of shared space and community spirit” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2012, p. 5). The PRPMP’s “new ethic of stewardship” for restoring the parks emphasizes the significance of the park’s history in envisioning its future. Here, stewardship is understood as “based on the responsibility to maintain and care for the needs and possessions of others” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. 6), and at the same time, balancing “the demands of current uses while preserving the parks historic legacy and sustaining their ecological integrity” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. i). This understanding of citizens as responsible for ethical stewardship is contrasted with bad stewardship of the mid-twentieth century, where the parks experienced deterioration and decline. Rooted in the historic integration of “parks and green space into the urban fabric of industrial cities” (City of Pittsburgh, 2013, p. 11), new planning initiatives reimagine the role of parks and green space in the once steel city as leading the city into the post-industrial future.

The Master Plan creators are careful to recognize, however, that Pittsburgh was “not alone” in their poor stewardship, finding justification for park decline as reinforced by the decline in park preservation found across the nation (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. 5). Despite its many unique challenges, the PRPMP makes clear that, “like many park systems, Pittsburgh parks fell into a cycle of decreasing funds, a decline in the skilled labor force, ←26 | 27→an emphasis placed on suburbanization and the priority of needs other than parks” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. 13), separating the parks decline from other issues of decline unique to the city. Reinvention of parks is intimately connected with Pittsburgh’s broader economic and cultural reinvention following the collapse of the steel industry. Notably, the institutional change agents were not alone in their parks’ revitalization efforts. “What was found in studying restoration efforts from other cities was that the most successful of them balanced the demands of current uses while preserving the parks historic legacy while maintaining their ecological integrity. Thus, the primary objective of this master plan became balancing use, history, and ecology within each park” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. 7). By framing their restoration plans into broader national narratives of sustainable revitalization efforts, the writers of the Master Plan project Pittsburgh to parallel the decline and later rise of parks seen in other “great cities” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2012, p. 21). The move to restore the parks is framed as coming at a time that is aligned with the actions of other cities, establishing the significance of Pittsburgh’s ethic of stewardship as not only new, but reinforced by promise of other great cities also forging public-private alliances investing in their parks.

Urban Identity and Livability

The numerous firms commissioned to produce the Parks Master Plan for the City of Pittsburgh and PPC identified sustainability as a key factor in influencing the need for restoration of the parks, responding to a critical moment of change in the city’s urban identity.

This master plan comes at a time of intense interest in Pittsburgh on issues of sustainability, green development and the need to capitalize on ‘green assets’ of the landscape setting of the city. Preservation of open spaces and green hillsides, expansion of greenways and trail systems, wetland and waterway restoration and a new focus on the opportunities of the three rivers all combine with this plan to argue for a larger view of the City’s ‘green infrastructure.’ The opportunity must be seized to establish a Green Web that extends throughout the City that will establish an interconnected Parks System. (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. 4)

This description gives great attention to the need to establish a sustainable economy and environment. Identifying the current moment for sustainability as “[coming] at a time of intense interest” compels readers to develop a shared sense of urgency for change (Pittsburgh Parks, 2000, p. 4). This change is made compelling through the plan’s highlighting the economic value of park restoration by calling on the public to capitalize on the environmental landscape. Through seizing the opportunity for preservation, expansion, and ←27 | 28→restoration, the parks became believable as a crucial component of the city’s sustainability initiative. Describing the parks as a “Green Web” of urban infrastructure suggests the significance of the park as literal veins that pump life into the city, framing them as crucial for greater city operations. Further, the restoration plan’s framing of the parks as constructing a “green web” of the city demonstrate their value in sustaining a relationship between urban green spaces and community engagement.

In the time since the 2000 Master Plan was released, a fifth regional park, Emerald View Park, was adopted in 2007, and former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl encouraged the Parks Conservancy to expand their restoration project to include other city parks beyond the four regional parks detailed in the original plans. Whereas the 2000 Master Plan sub-title framed the document as providing “a new ethic of stewardship,” the 2012 document sub-title was updated and retitled as the “Regional Parks Master Plan 2012 Update: Envisioning the Historic Regional Parks as cornerstones of a vibrant parks and open space system for a sustainable 21st century.” This shifted planning rhetoric from what was—a plan contained to responsibility only for the four historic regional parks—to what could be—imagining an expanded and expanding parks system of the future that only begins with the historic regional parks, but grows to include neighborhood parks, boulevards, waterways, and other spaces of nature in the city.

The 2012 update demonstrates the city’s commitment to conceiving of the planning document as, indeed, “living.” Importantly, the changes to the Parks Master Plan include a shift from understanding sustainability as primarily emphasizing social, economic, and political changes, to include a greater emphasis on equitable development. The updated document further describes the relationship between the parks and the city by incorporating the city’s new OpenSpacePGH vision, which defines the city by:

. . . Our parks, greenways, and reclaimed urban wilderness. These lands serve as our common green space, weaving together all Pittsburghers and our neighborhoods through a system of green that advances stewardship, equity, and our economy. We care for our system to provide access to natural and historical assets, opportunities to be active and healthy, and places to play and celebrate. (City of, 2013, p. 13)

This vision of the parks makes clear the connection between environmental sustainability and greater economic and cultural sustainability of the city and its inhabitants. The idea of reclaiming urban wilderness recalls debates of the late nineteenth century over the establishment of the first national parks and the preservation of “wilderness as an idea that transpires out of and in opposition to the rapacious pillaging of the planet by industrialism” (DeLuca, 2010, ←28 | 29→p. 485). Drawing upon the concept of the parks as a “green web” described in the earlier plan, the parks’ value is made stronger in its weaving together the literal and metaphorical systems of the city.

As green webs, the parks constitute physical infrastructural components that enable and constrain movement in the city. The parks are framed as being an integral component of an overlapping systems movement and connection, identified as the blue (water)—green (land cover)—gray (circulation and infrastructure) system. The 2012 RPMPU shifts from the idea of balancing use, history, and ecology, to instead take a more holistic approach to parks in the city. The holistic update addresses a range of values from environmental stewardship and historic preservation to excellent maintenance and community support in an effort to advance a more equitable approach to sustainable development. Here, planning documents imagine the parks as becoming infrastructural fabric of the city, where movement and interconnectivity is understood through a web of parks, solidifying the desired frame of Pittsburgh as a city “in parks.” The Parks System is envisioned as an interconnected web that connects regional parks not only to one another, but also to the three rivers, the city and its neighborhoods. In doing so, it is imagined as offering aesthetic, recreational, and environmental benefits to all communities, contributing to the establishment of a complete regional sustainability plan for movement and engagement.

A strong linkage is made between a sustainable parks system and a high quality of life for Pittsburgh inhabitants. Framed as “the green web,” regional parks, their trails, and smaller neighborhood parks, are described as desirable places in making Pittsburgh a livable city by young professionals moving into the area. Not only does that incentivize the restoration of parks in order to retain new economic industry, but it also invites new opportunities “to capture the imagination of the people of Pittsburgh, and the political, business, and philanthropic communities in creating an integrated park system” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2012, p. 10). Investment in the restoration of the parks means an investment in broader social and economic systems.

The numerous values described in favor of changing urban parks reveals their importance as crucial cultural infrastructure of the city, impacting various livability factors. Planning documents frame parks as providing cultural infrastructure, qualified by the understanding that “the American majority now living in metropolitan areas need places of renewal in the experience of nature. Civic leaders increasingly understand that parks are necessities, rather than ‘amenities’ ” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2012, p. 14). The framing of parks as not merely as tools of leisure, but as urban necessities signifies their value to the city. Recurring narratives of the desirability of green space for offering ←29 | 30→“places of renewal in the experience of nature” recall earlier metaphors of parks as lungs of the city that provided breathing spaces from the smoggy, polluted industrial air in the late nineteenth century (Pittsburgh Parks, 2012, p. 14). The significance of parks for greater city initiatives is made clear the declaration that “green space becomes the economic driver as it weaves together housing, commercial development, transportation, the arts, and community services” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2012, p. 9–10). As I have demonstrated, the PPC and City of Pittsburgh’s use of a Master Plan to imagine the restoration of a city’s historic parks illustrates how planning documents play a vital role for changing the course of urban development in pursuit of developing a sustainable city.

Capital Development of the Future City

Finally, the Parks Master Plan should be considered for how it contributes to broader city planning narratives that envision possibilities for the future of the city. Examining rhetoric of urban planners reveals a commitment to understanding how an open-space system is critical to civic identity and livability. In the final iteration of OpenSpacePGH, public involvement findings revealed,

Throughout the community engagement process, one finding remained consistent: Pittsburgh’s park and open space system is considered critical to the civic identity of the city and its individual neighborhoods, and to the overall quality of life for its residents. City Residents value their open space system, appreciate the opportunities presented by available land, understand financial constraints associated with providing recreation and open space opportunities, and, most of all, desire an equitable, sustainable, and memorable park and open space system. (City of Pittsburgh, 2013, p. 68)

The 2012 Update confirms OpenSpacePGH’s understanding of parks as essential public spaces for civic enactment. Planners explained that the parks are understood as “an essential part of the city’s economic and cultural infrastructure,” in line with popular accounts of sustainable development as linked with economic growth (Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, 2012, p. 14). Linking parks with economic growth, the Update continues, “parks offer cities both a tremendous return on investment and a competitive edge. City parks and open spaces strengthen our communities, and make our cities and neighborhoods more attractive places to live and work” (Pittsburgh Parks, 2012, p. 14). To allow the parks to continue to deteriorate would threaten not only the decline of environmental well-being, but of community and economic well-being as well.

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A different component of the comprehensive PlanPGH, PreservePGH, focused on the future of Pittsburgh’s culture and history as vital institutional resources, invoking the parks in particular as important sites for conducting that work. The City of Pittsburgh noted how cultural and historical features of Pittsburgh are “valuable, non-replaceable assets that contribute to a unique and distinct sense of place” (City of, 2012, p. 6). Identifying culture and history as assets of the city, PreservePGH outlined how preservation of the past contributes to developing a comprehensive plan for the attractiveness, economic growth potential, and living and working environments of Pittsburgh’s future. In this way, attention to how parks are planned for helps illustrate how parks can create “spaces of attention” (Zagacki & Gallagher, 2009, p. 186) that emphasize Pittsburgh’s history and culture through a focus on “interpretative elements” that might “convey information about Pittsburgh’s history through signs and other visual displays (monuments, murals, and public art) and forms of modern media, particularly in parks, along trails, and in other public gathering areas” that “can bring history alive and increase the appreciation of local heritage” (City of Pittsburgh, 2012, p. 125). By characterizing parks as valued components for understanding how Pittsburgh’s natural environment holds cultural and historic significance, PreservePGH situates future park development as creating space for publics to “interpret and experience the rich history of Pittsburgh,” (City of Pittsburgh, 2012, p. 127) understood to help educate potential new environmentally ethical stewards of the parks system.

Public events and workshops, like Walks in the Woods, invited members of the Pittsburgh community to become active participants in shaping planning initiatives for the parks. By offered feedback and observations that informed how planners designed the Master Plan, collaborative and public facing planning initiatives complicate planning documents as passive or static objects. It is from those series of meetups that one participant’s declaration that “Pittsburgh is a city within parks” became a central conceptualization for the future of the parks (Pittsburgh Parks, 2012, p. 12). Concerns expressed by publics that are included in the planning document suggest themes of access, aesthetics, mobility, neighborhood connectivity, safety, historic restoration, environmental improvement, environmental improvement, safety, and historic restoration are most dominant. There are detailed concerns that highlight specific monuments, intersections, and plazas for individual parks, for example, the unattractiveness of Riverview’s pool, the difficulty of crossing Commercial Avenue in Frick Park, the potentiality for Lake Carnegie as a destination location in Highland Park, or the inaccessibility of Hawkins monument in Schenley Park.

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An examination of community input taken into consideration as part of planning development identified continued uneven distribution of quality parks, reflecting issues of inequality and disparity in Pittsburgh dating back to its parks’ inception, which began over a century ago. A focus on green space as an economic driver for increasing land value, decenters the accompanying gentrification and inequitable parks development across the city’s 165 parks. The “green premium” associated with properties near Pittsburgh’s large regional parks reveals an economic system that encourages a strong relationship between quality park maintenance and high property value that forecloses possibilities for equitable distribution of a quality park system to all communities. One study in OpenSpacePGH reported how “overall, neighborhood and community parks located within census block groups that are predominantly African-American, and/or that have a high density of low-income households scored lower in quality” than the regional parks, which are located near neighborhoods with “some of the highest incomes and home values in the city” (City of Pittsburgh, p. 75). This system of inequitable parks development is further reinforced through financial arrangements, as neighborhoods are eligible for receiving economic support from the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD) funding that provide the primary support for the city’s Regional Parks.


In this chapter, I have demonstrated how planning documents are used in service of institutional intervention to change Pittsburgh’s urban parks system. In doing so, I illustrate some of the ways in which planning discourse “becomes mobilized to legitimate creation of and control over physical space” by the public-private partnership of the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy in developing a Parks Master Plan for Pittsburgh (McKerrow, 1989, p. 9). A critical reading of the Parks Master Plan illustrates how rhetoric of a sustainable parks system is understood through attention to the framing of parks as vital assets for capital development and investment in the future sustainable city of Pittsburgh. It also illustrates how contemporary notions of good stewardship and sustainability are framed through a lens that emphasizes the historic creation of the parks. Urban inhabitants are reimagined as environmental stewards of the land, who will together revitalize the post-industrial city, bringing the city and its people into the future.

Pittsburgh’s parks were originally established as imagined sites for relief from the hardship of industrial labor conditions, fresh air for revitalization, and grounds for community engagement. In the post-industrial era, parks are ←32 | 33→still imagined to be vital spaces for public use, however, also offer Pittsburgh a different type of persuasive communicative capital as green infrastructure of the city that plays a key role in publicly demonstrating the city’s commitment to future sustainable development. New plans for the future of Pittsburgh figure the city’s four historic regional parks as a prominent part of that sustainable transformation, revealing the institutional desire to promote stronger connections between the urban and natural environment (Allen, 2019). In doing so, the city’s institutional planners aspire to create a balanced system of sustainable environmental, economic, and equitable growth through their envisioned changes to their green public space to maintain the neoliberal city.

Began in the year 2000, the 20-year restoration project outlined in the Parks Master Plan has come to a close, having successfully initiated 17 major improvement projects around the City of Pittsburgh’s parks, including the development of the LEED Platinum and Living Building certified Frick Environmental Center, the renovation of August Wilson Park in the Hill District, and the ecological restoration of Four Mile Run and Panther Hollow Watersheds. These major projects relied on the close partnership of the government and community to advance sustainable change for the city’s parks though consideration for the environment, historic design, and needs of the region.

By framing the audiences’ lens for understanding sustainability through centering the parks’ creators as the first ethical stewards of the park, the planning documents risk overlooking the many complexities of earlier iterations of parks development. The assumption that a return to stewardship practices of the past will ensure an ethical orientation toward the environment for the future dangerously ignores the radically unsustainable conditions into which the parks system arose to begin with. Parks were often sustained with donations from industrial philanthropists like Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie, who greatly contributed to the immense pollution of the city. While framed as breathing grounds for the city’s laboring class, the predominant park users were wealthy visitors; long labor hours and living further away from the expensive property surrounding the historic regional parks reflected the inequity of access. These and other forgotten narratives of the past productively illustrate how easy it is for institutions to reimagine the past in service of imagining the future well-being of a city and its people.

The case made in the Master Plan for restoring Pittsburgh’s historic city parks supports dominant narratives of capitalizing on sustainable development as important for achieving social, economic, and ecological needs of a people and place. As green infrastructure, the revitalized parks system can ←33 | 34→mobilize city space for increased community and neighborhood engagement, provide the city with an economic return on its restoration investment by offering a competitive edge, and has potential to positively change civic behavior through advancing an ethic of sustainable environmental stewardship. At the same time, it is important to critically consider the relationship between sustainable development and equitable and just development. Even positive sustainable development is not free from increasing risks of green gentrification and inequitable development, complicating even well-intentioned restoration projects. As the Master Plan recognizes, minority and marginalized groups who have the greatest need for and are some of the heaviest users of parks often live closest to the city’s poorest parks systems. The changes found in planners’ discourse across the development of the Parks Master Plan, however, reveal the beneficial value of envisioning planning documents as living documents. In their responsiveness and invitation to experience change, the Parks Master Plan illuminates Ackerman and Oates’ (1996) suggestion that institutional design has potential to rewrite cultural space for wider participation, care, and equity in sustainability initiatives.

The institutional planners’ conceptualization of the Parks Master Plan as a living space, illustrating the radical potential for planning documents as productive sites for imagining and shaping urban change continues to be seen beyond its lifespan. While now at an end, the 20-year Master Plan, which began under the leadership of Meg Cleever, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy first President, laid the foundation for a new series of Parks Listening Tours that began in 2018 under the new leadership of Jayne Miller. As a community outreach initiative, the Listening Tour has already connected with over 10,000 of the city’s residents via digital surveying and face-to-face community meetings and events, reflecting the latest effort in a newly developing Parks Plan for continuing to promote change in Pittsburgh’s parks aimed at equitable and just transformation of the city through its parks.

Looking to the future, diverse and far reaching urban planning initiatives support new frames of cities as not only a “sustainable” or “most livable” city, but also “smart,” “resilient,” “healthy,” “just,” and “biophilic” point to the power of urban planning documents as significant tools for urban institutional change agents. In each of these, and other imagined frames of the future of the city, preserving and restoring the city’s green infrastructure are increasingly invoked as integral to constructing new narratives surrounding a city’s political, social, and economic needs. Read together, these “stories about memory, hopes, fears, and desires constitute the foundation of urban planning” (Pojani and Stead, 2015) that carry urban planners and change ←34 | 35→agents from constructing imagined representations of place to their material engagement.


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2. Styling Sustainable Atlanta: Touring the BeltLine and Public Performances of Concordance



Communicative planning has been presented as an alternative to top-down development, directed by the exclusive needs of government and private developers. Despite more inclusive public participation, development is uneven and some benefit more than others from the changing city. The Atlanta BeltLine has embraced principles of communicative planning and is one of the largest redevelopment projects underway in the United States. The BeltLine is an extensive urban renewal project that involves building a twenty-two mile light rail loop integrated with parks, trails, and mixed-use development around Atlanta’s urban core. I identify rhetorical maneuvers performed by the BeltLine (its sites, materials and proponents) by participating and critiquing well-attended and publicized tours of the project. I build upon rhetorical theories of “disruptive” (Blair & Michel, 2000) and “interruptive” (Aiello, 2011) visual-material performances. I argue touring the BeltLine is a visual-material performance of concordance, involving complex arrangements of particular bodies, fragmented sites, and divergent temporal contexts, contiguous in rhetorical figurations of community, unified space, and shared passage through time. Touring the BeltLine sutures the fragmentation and heterogeneity of urban space. The case study illustrates how institutions and developers can manage forms of public participation to minimize dissent and project consent to urban renewal.

Keywords: urban renewal, Atlanta, BeltLine, concordance, material performances, touring, rhetoric, style, figures, communicative planning

There has been a “communicative turn” in urban planning over the past several decades (Healey, 1996, 2003; Innes, 1995, 2004). Communicative approaches to urban planning are presented as an alternative to top-down development, directed by the exclusive needs of city governments and private ←37 | 38→developers. There has also been increased recognition in the field of communication studies of the ways in which the city is “a site for communication and an artifact of communication” (Drucker & Gumpert, 2016, p. 1371). Communication scholars have developed new methods, such as the communication audit, to assess the character of communication in cities (Jeffres, 2008). Communication scholars have also used existing communication theory to ground the practice of communicative planning. For example, Villanueva et al. (2017) utilized communication infrastructure theory (CIT) to gather and integrate residents’ and community stakeholders’ visions for their neighborhood in urban planning. The concept of the “communicative city,” is foundational for evaluating the quality of communication in urban environments. Hamelink (2008) claims, “The communicative city is a fundamental human right.” Residents are entitled to a city that “invites people to impart, seek, receive, and exchange information, ideas and opinions [. . .] in an ambiance where their autonomy, security, and freedom is optimally guaranteed” (p. 298). Scholars of communicative planning and urban communication share an ideal normative assumption that inclusive participation and open dialogue between community members and stakeholders can help planners better accommodate the needs of diverse residents.

I share aspirations for the communicative city, particularly granted the pragmatic function of power, the state, and political economy to restrain polyvocal, inclusive, and equitable communication. Despite the communicative turn in urban planning, development is uneven and there are some who benefit more than others from the changing city. I participate in and critique official public tours of one of the largest redevelopment projects currently underway in the United States, which has embraced principles of communicative planning. My analysis illustrates some of the ways institutions manage forms of public participation to minimize dissent and project consent to urban renewal.

The BeltLine is an extensive urban renewal project that involves building a 22-mile light rail loop, connecting 45 neighborhoods, and integrated with parks, trails, and mixed-use development around Atlanta’s urban core. The project, in its preliminary phases, has been labeled America’s “most ambitious smart growth project” (Benfield, 2011) and characterized as a “wonderland” (Nayer, 2016).

Architectural renderings of the BeltLine present an idyllic image of urban space, depicting inhabitants strolling leisurely along tree-lined paths meandering through modern mixed-use developments. Rapid and emission free public transportation encircles and links the dispersed neighborhoods of Atlanta. The sky is blue and the green landscape is unblemished. The ←38 | 39→BeltLine is an attractive panacea for many living in Atlanta, a city plagued by congested roadways, poor air quality, and lacking substantial green space. The BeltLine project is paramount to (re)invention and stylization of “Sustainable Atlanta.”

Despite the BeltLine’s utopian vision, the project is a location of intense social discord. Different subject formations perceive and navigate the BeltLine project in radically different ways. For homeless and urban poor displaced by the project, the BeltLine’s vision of space is far from the urban retreat appealing to privileged residents of affluent neighborhoods (Wheatley, 2013). Real estate developers have sought to build big-box retail locations along the BeltLine corridor, more interested in profit than the community-oriented development advocated for by residents and affordable-housing activists (Bradford, 2012).

I seek to apprehend the rhetorical maneuvers performed by the BeltLine (its sites, materials, and proponents) to constitute an imagined order of urban space and invite consent to the project. I participate in and critique well-attended and publicized tours of the BeltLine. The BeltLine offers guided tours weekly (Official Atlanta Beltline Tours, 2019). Indicative of their popularity, tours require a reservation, filling months in advance. Touring has become a subject of interest for rhetoricians (Clark, 2004; Pezzullo, 2007). I build off those methodological approaches, applying “rhetorical field methods” by combining tools of textual analysis with in situ performance perspectives, to enable a better understanding of the “living rhetorics” of urban renewal (Middleton, Senda-Cook, & Endres, 2011).

I argue the BeltLine tour is a visual-material performance of concordance, involving complex arrangements of bodies, fragmented sites, and divergent temporal contexts, made contiguous in rhetorical figurations of community, unified space, and shared passage through time. I rely upon figures of speech and tropes as a framework to explain imposition of a legible order on urban space and to deconstruct BeltLine rhetoric. Figures have traditionally been defined as “any device or pattern of language in which meaning is enhanced or changed” (Lanham, 1991, p. 178). Figures of speech have become increasingly recognized as more than mere ornamentation, but fundamental to structures of language (Richards, 1936), ideology (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980), and collective identity (Laclau, 2008). Matched with increased interest in rhetorical spaces and places, scholars have begun to draw connections between figures, material and spatial discourses (McAlister, 2011; Sutton, 2012). Donna Haraway (1997) has defined figures as geometric and spatial concepts, granting them particular significance as “performative images” and “condensed maps of contestable worlds” (p. 11). According to Haraway all ←39 | 40→material-semiotic process are figurative, “we inhabit and are inhabited by such figures that map universes of knowledge, practice and power” (p. 11). Interpreted within the context of this essay, space is arranged and perceived figuratively.

Space cannot be apprehended through traditional rhetorical concepts alone. Textualizing space risks diminishing it to the representational (Lefebvre, 2007). The corporeal emphasis of performance studies helps supplement textual rhetorical methods to further explicate the corporeal and affective dimensions of space. My argument builds upon theories of “disruptive” (Blair & Michel, 2000) and “interruptive” (Aiello, 2011) visual-material performances. While I am interested in symbolism and representations of urban space, the notion of visual-material performances forefronts what a particular arrangement of space does materially, how it functions as a performative construct influencing the movement of bodies and subjectivity formation. For example, Blair and Michel (2000) argued the rhetorical power of the Civil Rights Memorial entails a “disruptive material performance,” analogous to tactics of the civil rights movement, disordering public space as pedestrians are forced to encounter and circumvent the memorial. Aiello (2011) described a different visual-material performance in her analysis of urban renewal in Bologna, Italy. Aiello contends the urban enclave is an “interruptive performance,” as visual-material structures incorporate cosmopolitan stylistic references distinct from established urban aesthetics, privileging a globalist subject over the local community. Unlike these jarring “disruptive” and “interruptive” performances, performances of concordance connect and constitute a sense of affiliation.

Urban renewal is a complex struggle and cannot be essentially reduced to dominant ideology. Government bureaucrats, corporations, and real estate developers cannot unilaterally impose a new order of urban space. Powerful institutions and vested interests must at least make inclusive gestures to a range of public interests and social groups. Condit’s (1994) theory of concordance is useful for understanding contemporary processes of consent formation. Concordance is a modification of Gramsci’s theory of hegemony to account for divergent practices of consent formation in the contexts of 21st century capitalism, new technologies, and multiculturalism. Concordance is polyvocal and policy must strive to incorporate competing interests, but is not necessarily harmonious, fair or equitable. In the end the interests of corporations or real estate developers might garner greater influence in urban planning processes, but nonetheless planners and developers must consider various public interests and organizations. Notions of concordance help explain how the BeltLine rhetorically negotiates tensions between the ←40 | 41→heterogeneity and fragmentation of urban space and the conformity implicit in acquiescence to the large-scale urban renewal project. The BeltLine’s visual-material performance of concordance sutures the fragmentation and heterogeneity of contemporary urban space to instantiate order and project unified public consent to renewal. Touring the BeltLine provides a model to understand how planners and developers strategically communicate with publics to manage difference and minimize dissent surrounding large-scale urban renewal projects.

I begin this chapter by contextualizing (re)invention of Atlanta as a sustainable city. Then I situate my analysis methodologically, relying upon post-modern notions of relational space, the canon of style, and figures of speech. I continue with my case study, interrogating figures of urban space projected and reinforced in touring the BeltLine. By way of conclusion, I attend to ironic contradictions of the BeltLine’s style and figurations, begetting cleavages for critical reflection and ongoing transformations of urban space.

(Re)inventing Atlanta: From “Gate City of the South” to “Sustainable Atlanta”

Atlanta’s most enduring characteristic is change, persistent (re)invention of the city. Charles Ruthieser traced the “imagineering” of Atlanta, made and remade through forms of boosterism that has come to be known as the “Atlanta Spirit” (Rutheiser, 1996). Cycles of reinvention have led Atlanta to experiment with new strategies of urban planning and development. By tracing the history of urban planning in Atlanta, shifting visions of the ideal city can be observed.

Initial growth of Atlanta’s urban space corresponds with emergence of the railroad in the 19th century. Guides and early histories, published as part of an effort to publicize the city, emphasized the significance of Atlanta’s emergence as a pivotal railroad hub. For example, J.S. Wilson’s (1871) Atlanta as It Is emphasized the significant position of Atlanta within the railroad system.

Atlanta is nearly in the centre of the Southern States and nearly equidistant from New York and New Orleans, having daily communication with almost every important city in the United States by a system of railroads crossing here, and thus making the city a great centre of trade and highway travel. (p. 15)

Atlanta is lauded the “Gate City of the South” and recognized as one of the first major inland cities in the United States, an important feat and innovation that should not be understated. The development of cities had traditionally been bound by their geographical proximity to the coast and water ←41 | 42→passages. Despite destruction of Atlanta’s railroad infrastructure during the Civil War, arrangement of Atlanta as a railroad center continues to thrive and is sustained during the Reconstruction Era and Gilded Age. Nonetheless, image of Atlanta as “Gate City of the South” is brief. By the end of the 19th century unforeseen consequences of the arrangement begin to emerge. Put simply, trains of the period were dirty and loud. The convergence of railroad tracks produced what was characterized as a “Sewer of Smoke” (as cited in Hoffman, 1968, p. 55). Railroad infrastructure is rearticulated as a public nuisance and danger hindering growth and development in Atlanta. Leaders and planners initiated a fundamental transformation of Atlanta’s urban space by obscuring its railroad infrastructure through the construction of viaducts creating a new street level.

Between 1860 and 1890, during the Reconstruction Era and Gilded Age, waves of migration from rural areas led to a substantial increase of Atlanta’s African American population, rising from 20.3 to 42.9 percent (Bayor, 1996, p. 7). During this period single-class and single-race neighborhoods were rare. Proximity to work superseded class or racial identification and it was common for African Americans and whites to live nearby each other. Atlanta’s residential patterns were heterogeneous. There were racial concentrations in certain areas and property owners were aware of proximities to other races, but rigid and codified forms of segregation wouldn’t emerge until later, with drafting of ordinances and restrictive covenants in Atlanta’s elite park neighborhoods. In the summer of 1906 race riots evinced tenuous race relations in urban space. Newspapers sensationalized crimes allegedly committed by African American men against white women, finally provoking indiscriminate violence and explosive clashes between whites and African Americans (Bauerlein, 2001). The riots often served as a warrant to implement zoning policies codifying patterns of segregation.

Coupled with the rapid increase of home ownership in the 20th century was the establishment of more formal residential segregation patterns. Low income and public housing was segregated, while white and wealthy subdivisions instituted restrictive covenants to exclude African Americans. By now the folding of planning and race become especially prominent. Anxiety and desire to manage biracial interactions penetrated urban planning. For example, the Metropolitan Planning Commissions’ (MPC) “Up Ahead Plan: A Regional Land Use Plan for Metropolitan Atlanta,” (1952) detailed a new long-term strategy for the growth and development of the city, which entailed the clearance of African American neighborhoods and the creation of seven “Negro expansion areas” on the periphery of the urban core. By the 1960s Atlanta is nationally recognized as “the city too busy to hate.” While publicly ←42 | 43→projecting a progressive image of race relations, Atlanta’s urban space became rigidly segregated with planning practices benefiting whites and marginalizing Atlanta’s African American population.

By the 1970s increased attention to the interplay between urban development and globalization brought the concept of the global city to the forefront. (Re)invention of Atlanta as an international city becomes particularly salient in the early 1970s, with plans to expand Hartsfield International Airport terminals and increase international routes. Building international transportation infrastructure was coupled with Chamber of Commerce campaigns touting Atlanta as “the world’s next great city,” disseminated in publications with international audiences, such as the Economist and Financial Times of London (White & Crimmins, 1978). Atlanta’s boosterism is particularly impressive during this leap to the global city, just as the concept was beginning to take hold and before countless other cities would strive to attain the moniker. By 1990, and the surprising winning bid to host the 1996 Centennial Olympics, desire to insert Atlanta in a global imaginary reaches a pinnacle. Reinvention of Atlanta as a global city generated an entire complex of sites to reinforce its new cosmopolitan image, including: Centennial Olympic Park, the CNN Center, and the World of Coca-Cola. As part of this development plan entire sections of Atlanta’s urban core were cleared, removing “blighted area[s] that would be nearly inescapable during the Olympics” (Roughton Jr., 1993, p. A1). Clearance and construction of Centennial Olympic Park created a focal point for Olympic visitors and mediated representations, but also opened a “post-Olympic playing field for downtown redevelopment” (Rutheiser, 1996, p. 268). Keating (2001), in his book Atlanta: Race, Class, and Urban Expansion, derided the Olympic related renewal projects, stating “Not only do these aesthetic improvements seem trivial when compared with serious infrastructure needs, they seem trivial in themselves, when viewed as efforts at revitalization” (p. 158). Residential visions of the global city are squelched and superseded by a vision of the global city guided by private interests and tourist consumption.

Just as Atlanta’s image as global city was being burnished, the idea of sustainable development begins to emerge. A 1983 report issued by the World Commission on Environment and Development, often referred to as the Brundtland Commission, articulated the commonly accepted definition of sustainable development. According to the Commission, sustainable development “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (cited in Slavin, 2011, p. 6). In 1993 the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) formed to develop standards for sustainable building, recognized as Leadership in Energy and ←43 | 44→Environmental Design (LEED). Between 1996 and 2009, the number of cities participating in Local Governments for Sustainability rose from 47 to over 600, affirming the new focus on sustainability in urban planning and governance (Slavin, 2011, p. 8). Since the initial development of LEED building standards nearly 45, 000 projects have been certified and registered in North America, further demonstrating the exponential growth of “green” and sustainable building (Knox, 2013).

As interest in the sustainable city was beginning to flourish, Atlanta came to epitomize the unintended consequences of sprawl and automobility, with Metro Atlantans having the longest average daily commute in the nation, at an average of 34-miles per day (Bullard, Johnson, & Torres, 2000). Atlanta frequently violated federal clean air standards. In 2013 Atlanta finally became compliant with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 1997 ground level ozone concentration, or smog limit, but still infringes the more stringent standards established in 2008 (Norder, 2014). Atlanta has also faced challenges with water pollution. In 1999 the EPA and Department of Justice charged Atlanta with violating the Clean Water Act. Extraordinarily high levels of contaminants were found in waterways and attributed to the Atlanta’s poor sewer system. Atlanta was required to make improvements to its sewer system and forced to pay the largest Clean Water Act penalty in history. In addition, according to the EPA’s toxic release inventory (TRI), facilities in Atlanta release millions of pounds of toxins into the environment annually, leading Forbes in 2009 to designate Atlanta the “most toxic city in the country” (Levy, 2009, para. 1). The range of environmental threats has significant consequences for the well-being of Atlanta’s population. A broad field of research has repeatedly demonstrated significant correlations between high air pollution levels and health effects (Greenwald, 2011). Research also persistently demonstrates minorities and the poor in Atlanta are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards, including air and water pollution, industrial toxins and hazardous waste (Green Law, 2012).

Mayor Shirley Franklin announced the Sustainable Atlanta Initiative in 2008, under increasing public visibility and scrutiny of Atlanta’s environmental problems. The initiative involved studying best practices in other cities. An advisory board and sustainability office was created to implement the best practices and recommendations of Sustainable Atlanta. Reinvention as a sustainable city has resulted in a proliferation of LEED building projects. In 2014 Atlanta was ranked third, among the 25 large metropolitan areas in the United States, by the EPA for the most Energy-Star designated buildings (Seward, 2014). Atlanta was also a pilot city participating in the Obama Administration’s “Better Buildings” challenge, which sought to ←44 | 45→reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings by 20 percent by 2020 (Stafford, 2012, p. 15A).

The widest reaching project associated with reinvention of Atlanta as a sustainable city is the BeltLine project. The BeltLine was originally developed in a Georgia Institute of Technology master’s thesis drafted in 1999. Ryan Gravel, a student of architecture, had spent a year in Paris and grown accustomed to the ease of mobility afforded by a developed public transportation system and walkable cityscape. Gravel saw the consequences of inadequate public transportation and urban sprawl in Atlanta from a new perspective upon his return. Gravel went to work reimagining Atlanta by connecting unused railroad infrastructure surrounding the urban core to form the basis of a new transportation scape. Gravel shelved his thesis upon graduating, but was eventually urged by friends and colleagues at an architecture firm to share his idea with elected officials. By 2005, after a series of feasibility studies, the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership was formed to oversee the project. The overall vision is grand and all encompassing. Aside from 22-miles of rail transit encircling Atlanta’s urban core, BeltLine plans include the construction of: 33-miles of multi-use urban trails; the largest outdoor public art exhibition in the South, with over 450 installations and performances; 5,600 units of affordable housing; 1,300 acres of new green space; and 1,100 acres of environmental cleanup. The BeltLine Partnership estimates $10 billion in economic development and the creation of over 30,000 permanent jobs upon completion of the project (Atlanta BeltLine, 2019).

The scope of the BeltLine project is wide-ranging, addressing issues from sustainability to affordable housing and transportation equity. Generating public consent to the project involves fostering recognition that the city is changeable, while cultivating a collective imagination of what the city might become. From “Gate City of the South” to “Sustainable Atlanta,” persistent (re)invention of the city is best understood through relational conceptualizations of space.

Style and the City: Relational Space and Figurative Arrangements

The spatial turn refers to an important restructuring of thought, reasserting the significance of space and geography across the humanities (Soja, 1989). Critical theorists of the 19th century, such as Marx, neglected the possible insight of spatial and geographic imaginations. While time and history were richly conceived as variable, dynamic, politically contingent and socially constructed, space and geography were characterized as passive, stable, and ←45 | 46→knowable (objective and extra-ideological) material structures. The spatial turn emerges from criticism of the temporalcentrism of Modernity, developing most prominently in 20th century French social theory.

Relational conceptualizations, with space viewed as an ongoing social construct and instrumental in the production of power, thus emerged as the sine qua non of the spatial turn (Murdoch, 2006). The relational view broadly conceives space as: always under construction; a social product of interrelations, constituted through interaction; and a sphere of multiplicity where distinct trajectories coexist (Massey, 2005). Undetermined and fluctuating connections between subjects, domains of knowledge, and other sites, are part of the expansive apparatus helping to explain shifting configurations of space. Provisional closure of space, order and the formation of distinct places, are viewed as tentative stabilizations of relations. Relational space is fluid, always in the process of becoming. Relational space is a site of antagonism and openness. Where new relations may be formed, novel spaces may also be forged.

The spatial turn invigorated and repositioned the study of space as more generally relevant across the humanities. Harvey acknowledges this broader import, remarking “relational conceptions of space-time bring us to the point where mathematics, poetry, and music converge if not merge” (Harvey, 2007, p. 124). Impact of the spatial turn in communication studies is apparent in a proliferation of spatial metaphors (boundaries, centers, margins, borderlands, and territories), but is most visibly pronounced in attention to “rhetorical memory places” (Dickinson, Blair, & Ott, 2010, p. 24).

Rhetorical scholarship in the 1990s would inaugurate close attention to rhetorical memory places. Debate surrounding the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial is a watershed moment in the field of rhetorical studies (Blair, Jeppeson, & Pucci Jr., 1991; Foss, 1986; Ehrenhaus, 1988). Several years later Dickinson (1997) would trace an enduring connection between rhetoric and place via the canon of memory, further amassing attention to rhetorical memory places. These initial contributions are a significant part of the effort to augment the tradition’s narrow concentration upon oratory to include “a fuller range of rhetorical transactions” (Sloan et al., 1971, p. 225). In the context of ongoing debates about the proper domain of rhetoric and what constitutes a rhetorical text, focusing on the overt public address of memorials and explicating lineage within the traditional rhetorical canon of memory created defensible bases to justify the unconventional analyses and expanded scope of rhetorical studies.

In analyses of rhetorical memory places the representation of historical narratives and social struggle over collective memories are often the ←46 | 47→prominent focus, with less balanced consideration of the social production of space. In other words, analysis of publics’ social construction of the past takes precedence over the social production of space. Most dangerously, place is reduced to a surface for inscription of the past, while attention to the liveliness and contingency of space is subsidiary.

Critically engaging the openness, incompleteness, and relationality of space is methodologically challenging. Greater efforts can be made to methodologically integrate relational conceptualizations of space into the practice of communication scholars. The task of integrating notions of relational space into rhetorical analysis requires inquiry into how sites are always connected, reciprocally and ecologically impact multiple others. As a multisite, with the BeltLine meandering through forty-five neighborhoods, the relationality, heterogeneity, and multiplicity of urban space is exacerbated. Because the BeltLine and urban renewal involve significant reconfigurations, the openness and unfinished production of space is brought to the forefront.

I’d like to suggest BeltLine rhetoric is best understood in terms of the canon of style, as the grounds upon which social and cultural worlds are increasingly organized (Brummett, 2008). In some instances style has been deemed inconsequential ornamentation and castigated for exceeding the normative ideal of rationality. However, the canon of style presents a fitting approach for rhetorical analysis of materiality because of its well-established associations with everyday life, as well as its integration with sensuous and aesthetic embodied experiences. Style is dispersed across many domains of everyday life. Style can be used to characterize buildings and urban landscapes, as well as the way someone strides across a room or constructs a sentence.

Style does engender social and political outcomes. Rhetoricians have begun to reconceive style as organizing large-scale patterns and systems, social and political formations (Brummett, 2008). Postmodern revisions of style have also emphasized the socially unifying (and divisive) rhetorical power of style. According to Vivian (2002), “Social life is shaped by the aesthetic patterns of cohesion and dispersion, of inclusion and exclusion, according to which specific groups participate in a common sentiment, a shared social or political style” (p. 241). These revisions suggest style and aesthetic patterns may energize social relations and organize the formation of public affiliations.

Examination of “Sustainable Atlanta” and the BeltLine project presents an opportunity to investigate how urban style influences perception of the city and social relations. In addition, attention to style enables consideration of figurations through which a given urban style is engendered, maintained, ←47 | 48→or transformed. Figures and tropes heuristically describe (and render comprehensible) complex “relationships among phenomena in the world of experience” (D’ Angelo, 1987, p. 33–34). Complex geographies and relationships of space are figuratively abstracted and comprehended. According to Lefebvre, human understanding and abstraction of space “embraces surfaces and volumes bound by links of mutual implication and characterized by more or less complex geometries that can be represented by figures” (Lefebvre, 2007, p. 294–295). Figures and tropes represent the capacity of the imagination to (re)organize perceptions of space. Figures of speech are “a work of construction” through which “sensations are combined [. . .] into recognizable and nameable objects” (Bartfield, 1988, p. 24). More than mere ornamentation, tropes are viewed as “equipment for living” (Burke, 1941, p. 254) and form grids of intelligibility to understand the infinitely complicated physical and social environments of urban space.

Figures, for example the four master tropes (metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony), can be used to strategically construct and critically deconstruct meaning in space. To deconstruct space, critical inhabitants can move repeatedly between figurative and material dimensions. Each trope supplies a specific strategy for prefiguring the field of experience to make space legible as a functionally unified whole. I categorize different components of argument and note the presence of figures, as if conducting textual analysis. For example, you may consider how tropes, metaphors of the “organic city,” are leveraged in the arguments of elites to justify renewal (Gibson, 2003). Tropes of space also entail repetitive arrangements of space or common “figurations” of materiality. Taken for granted spatial figurations represent dominant ways of thinking and forms of social acquiescence (McAlister, 2011).

On the BeltLine I use a digital camera, snapping pictures to assist in accounting for recordable realities. I take notes and scribble. I seek contours of rhetorical significance in the array of smells, visual, tactile, and aural characteristics. I note intensities that move me. I engage self reflexively, drawing upon my experiences as a resident of Atlanta, participant-observer, activist, reader of books, newspapers, and archival sources. I integrate analysis, theory, photographs and field notes to assist in (re)performing the moment in space/time.

Touring the BeltLine: “Where Atlanta Comes Together”

The BeltLine tour is perplexing in its complex connection of fragmented sites throughout Atlanta. The touring subject’s attention is constantly invited to alternate between narration of the guide, maps, artist renditions, and the ←48 | 49→material structures of urban space. Touring the BeltLine is an embodied act and movement through urban space, interwoven with symbolic and figurative movements. The touring materials fluctuate between metaphoric perspective, metonymic connection and reduction, synecdochic representation, and ironic awareness of incongruities between BeltLine representations and lived space. Crable (2000) states, “Through the interweaving of metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony, the inquiry allows its subject matter to emerge through the dialectic of simplicity and complexity” (p. 326). I emphasize the recursive movements from one mode of figurative thinking to another, operating together to restructure perceptions of urban space.

The BeltLine’s slogan, “where Atlanta comes together,” neatly encapsulates the rhetorical maneuvers performed by figures and tours of the BeltLine. The common figures projected and performed throughout the BeltLine tour advance a unified, coherent and connected vision of Atlanta’s urban space and publics, suturing the divisions, disconnectivity, and fragmentation effecting the city and its residents. The visual-material performance of concordance on the BeltLine tour appeals to representations of the whole city, compensating for the dire effects and consequences of urban sprawl, which recent studies have equated with the lowest social and economic mobility in the country (Krugman, 2013).

The BeltLine Is a Metaphorical Image of Space

Figurative arrangement of the BeltLine is detectable before encountering sites and maps of the renewal project. Urban space is bewildering. As Lynch (1960) remarked in his now classic work, The Image of the City, there is always more than “the eye can see, more than the ear can hear, a view waiting to be explored” (p. 1). Perceptual unity evades the subject within urban space, but metaphorical naming and designation of the BeltLine produces an intuitive rhetorical image and comprehensible arrangement of urban space. Metaphor is often described as providing perspective, dealing with resemblances and asserting a certain level of perceptual equivalence. According to Burke (1969) metaphor “brings out the thisness of a that, or the thatness of a this” (p. 503). The BeltLine is a metaphor, posing equivalence between the arrangements of urban space, a sturdy strap circling the waist to support garments, a continuous band of material for conveying materials (i.e. belt), and a length connecting multiple points (line). The BeltLine is also often characterized as Atlanta’s “emerald necklace,” describing the mass of green space associated with the project. Emerald necklaces are a symbol of value, wealth, beauty and adornment. These associations transfer and carry over to perceptions of the ←49 | 50→BeltLine. Alluding to a belt, line, or emerald necklace establishes a particular vision of urban space and the basic form of the BeltLine.

Metaphors provide an intuitive perspective of urban space, but are nonetheless an ironic reduction of the complexity, heterogeneity and fragmentation of lived urban space. Common to metaphorical images of the BeltLine are associations with connectivity (between points along the line) and the uninterrupted circling of a body (belt and necklace). However, the BeltLine has been critiqued for producing an illusion of connectivity. Active rail lines and transfers nearly a half-mile apart interrupt the BeltLine (Wheatley, 2008). Of course, the BeltLine is not a belt, line or emerald necklace and there is incongruity in these basic metaphorical figurations.

Interpellating the BeltLine Tourist

The Beltline tour begins at a transit station in Inman Park. A small charter bus seats roughly 25 tourists. The bus is clean, well maintained, and similar to what you’d expect on a paid tour in any major tourist area. Language to describe the tour and the act of booking a reservation is an interpellation of a tourist, managing expectations and performance. Co-participants and I pull out cameras, peering out the large windows of the bus. Sensual experiences are directed. The tour is a decidedly visual, characteristic of the “tourist gaze” (Urry, 2011). “Ocularcentrism” (Jay, 1988) is problematic, establishing distance, sterilizing urban renewal of the structural racism and obliteration of heterogeneity in practices of “revanchist gentrification” (Smith, 1996). Not much different from touring the ruin of Machu Picchu and envisioning the vibrant structure and social life once there, imaginative work is enhanced by interpellation of the tourist subject and gaze. Different from this historical tourist gaze, however, are visions of the future when touring urban renewal projects. The tour and vision of urban space are carefully crafted to make users into tourists, and to integrate them into subject positions where they are induced into thinking they are encountering the city anew and for the first time, thereby dehistoricizing the experience.

The tour coordinates speed and direction of movement too, disruptive to the fluidity of everyday traffic. The tour runs through commercial areas of Atlanta and the goal oriented movement of laboring bodies on their way to work or running errands is different from the slower and less decisive touring body. The tour’s itinerary, coordination of the senses and movement generates a collective experience of the BeltLine.

Inman Park as the space for commencement of the tour raises compelling issues. Inman Park is a historically wealthy and exclusive subdivision. The ←50 | 51→neighborhood represents a standard set of practices of development in the city of Atlanta. In the late 19th century civil engineer, Joel Hurt, designed Inman Park to imbue “refined domestic life.” Hurt incorporated winding tree-lined streets, parks and playgrounds to make the development appealing. Hurt partnered with the city to install a streetcar line linking Inman Park to downtown. Such practices were replicated in several areas throughout Atlanta and provide a precedent for renewal strategies being deployed by the BeltLine project today. The exclusive nature of these neighborhoods are troubling, park aesthetics become a signifier for privileged white wealth. Neighborhood organizations drafted covenants dictating minimum housing costs and restrictions preventing the influx of “poorer classes,” sustaining practices of segregation (Lands, 2009, p. 52–56). Although not mentioned on the tour, similar concerns have been noted about the BeltLine, its effect on real estate and affordable housing (Immergluck, 2009).

Leaving Inman Park the tour winds through other relatively affluent neighborhoods of Cabbagetown, Grant Park, and Glenwood Park. Sitting on a former industrial site, Glenwood Park is a mixed-use development, blending apartments with cafes and shops. Glenwood Park is presented as a model of the aesthetic and design the BeltLine strives to produce, priming expectations of the form of development that might eventually surround the BeltLine. Beginning the tour in these affluent neighborhoods is a significant rhetorical maneuver central to the particular order of urban space the BeltLine strives to institute. The point of departure and initial sites of attention influence the trajectory and final destination of the tour. The ideal sites of Inman Park and Glenwood Park place the BeltLine and touring subject in a particular context. This visual priming is especially critical as the tour progresses through southwest neighborhoods of Atlanta, where poverty and crime are particularly concentrated. Arresting visually, rows of dilapidated apartments constitute Atlanta’s main source of low-income housing and is in contrast to the neighborhoods already passed.

The tour continues west, through industrial sections of the city, by a mix of abandoned and operating factories, including a toxic battery plant listed on the EPA superfund list and a vacant state-owned farmers market and military base. The BeltLine hopes to redevelop these large tracts. Like the southwestern residential sections, these areas present an aesthetic of urban blight. The western corridor boasts the future site of the West Side Reservoir Park, a former quarry destined to become Atlanta’s largest green space, totaling 300 acres. Emerging from the Reservoir Park tour participants arrive at a nearly finished mixed-use development, West Town, one of the largest planned along the corridor and is presented as an ideal vision of the project.

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As the tour wraps its northern tip, the BeltLine meanders through wealthy neighborhoods typical of northern Atlanta, integrating already existing park spaces.

The tour slowly dips south by Piedmont Park and additional commercial development. On Ponce De Leon Drive, City Hall East, recently vacated by the city, is over 2 million square feet and the largest building in the state of Georgia. The building is being renovated with over 1,500 residential units, restaurants, stores, and offices. The future development is presented as a major hub for the project. Before the tour concludes there are stops at the BeltLine’s largest completed new park, the Old Fourth Ward Park, bordered by several recently constructed apartment complexes. Returning to Inman Park, we pass through one final mixed-use development. The tour concludes, reinforcing its repetitive appeals to the ordered and homogenizing spaces of mixed-use development and leave a lasting impression of the particular vision of urban space privileged by the BeltLine.

The BeltLine Metonymically Links and Reduces Urban Space, Bodies, and Time

Metonymy is a particularly relevant trope to help explain rhetoric of the BeltLine. Burke (1969) described metonymy as the reduction of a “complex realm” and relations, connecting them together into something simpler, more tangible, and concrete (p. 506). The visual-material performance of the BeltLine articulates links between individual and collective bodies, forming a “chain of equivalences” of divergent energies.

The act of touring is metonymic. Disparate bodies, those who have, are, and will tour are linked together in the shared symbolic and material experience. The BeltLine is a coagulation of individual bodies forming an “imagined community” (Anderson, 2006). Ryan Gravel (2010), who initiated the BeltLine project, references this imagined community stating, “Ownership of this project is in the people” (Gravel, 2010, 11:00). Furthermore, as the BeltLine is developed, transit and paths will link bodies in networks within and between neighborhoods. The project also links the collective bodies of environmentalists, historical preservationists, housing advocates, public art organizations, developers and public officials “all at the same table” (Gravel, 2010, 14:50). These partnerships manifest themselves visually, references to them are scattered throughout the BeltLine’s symbolic and material landscape. The metonymy of collective bodies also occurs at national levels, with links between the BeltLine and Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a joint agency formed by Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the ←52 | 53→Department of Transportation and (DOT), and EPA. These forms of metonymic linking are not merely an institutional elaboration, but the figuration and linking of various, at times conflicting publics. This metonymic linking of bodies, figuratively projecting widespread public support, is instrumental in the BeltLine’s visual-material performance of concordance.

Metonymic figurations of the BeltLine also form a network of spatial relations, connecting otherwise fragmented spaces. The BeltLine’s metonymic figuration challenges existing geographical ordering of Atlanta, previously sharply parceled into categories of industrial, residential, commercial and leisure space. These spaces were further delineated based on types of industry, race and class. The BeltLine’s idealization of mixed-use space collapses this order, placing industrial, residential, commercial, and leisure spaces in overlapping assemblages.

In the past Atlanta was widely labeled the “city too busy to hate,” but still is a segregated city. The BeltLine metonymically links the southwest and western corridors historically associated with African-Americans and the urban poor to spaces of white privilege and wealth in the southeast and northern corridors. To the extent the BeltLine comes to fruition, it may (at least figuratively) challenge some of the divisive geographies of Atlanta, further projecting and instantiating a level of concordance in its unification of space. The BeltLine’s linking of 45 neighborhoods of diverse racial and class makeup with, ideologically speaking, more to separate these spaces than to hold them together is an impressive topological feat.

The BeltLine also metonymically links several disparate temporal threads. The BeltLine is inherently connected to Atlanta’s industrial past. Already indicated, the city of Atlanta was spawned as a major railroad hub. As Atlanta grew, rail infrastructure spread throughout the city. With the decline of industrialism many sections were abandoned. The BeltLine today, a figurative projection of the past into the future, resignifies this antiquated industrial infrastructure.

The ideals of historic preservation are tenuously balanced in the BeltLine’s vision of urban renewal. The tour involves an interesting movement through time, oscillating between different temporal moments and performing delicate figurative labor. There are numerous historic sites within close proximity to the BeltLine. The visual gaze on these sites and imagination of their contextual origins are juxtaposed with artistic renditions of what spaces of the BeltLine will look like in the future. Bodies, together presently in space and time, their collective experience imagining the city as it once was and might become garners figurative cohesion.

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Temporal figurations are common in other urban renewal projects, which typically involve linking historical uses of space, with present blight, and (re) imagination for future use. Bending coherent space/time relationships, metonymic figurations of urban renewal are situated in the past, present, and future. Anderson (2006) writes about “empty time” in the construction of a community, constituted in their sense of collective movement through time (p. 23–35). Metonymic figurations of the city’s past, present, and future in the BeltLine tour, weaving together a cohesive temporal order, are another significant aspect of the BeltLine’s visual-material performance of concordance.

Metonymic figurations of unified community, space, and passage through time are fundamental to the BeltLine’s projection of and invitation to consent to the large-scale urban renewal project. But there are significant problems involved with superimposing metonymic figurations onto urban space. Laclau (2005) has examined cases where divergent demands stretch a chain of equivalence too far, with the unity of metonymic links fragile because no equivalence is internalized (p. 217–221). Some have already expressed concerns with the BeltLine’s utopian metonymic arrangements. For example, Konrad (2009) contends although the Beltline has garnered support from many parties, the BeltLine is “not likely to become the panacea for all the cities ills” or “bridge the ideological chasm [. . .] between area actors” (p. 9–10). Too many sites and subjects with incompatible interests could abate support for the BeltLine, falling prey to the stunted development other public transportation systems have faced in Atlanta.

Synecdochic Figuration of the BeltLine: Partial Appeals to the Absent Whole

Paramount to the rhetorical force of touring the BeltLine is instantiation of a partial experience and hierarchical vision of urban space. Synecdoche deals with part/whole relationships, which Burke (1969) associates with representation. One of the rhetorical capacities of synecdoche involves representing a part for the whole or whole for the part. In other words, with synecdoche a part of the social body or space is said to be representative of the whole body or space (or vice versa).

While different subject formations navigate the BeltLine in radically different ways, touring the BeltLine imposes a partial experience and order of urban space. Spaces may privilege one sense or coordinate multisensory titillation (Dickinson & Malone Maugh, 2004; Ott, Aoki, & Dickinson, 2011). Touring the BeltLine institutes forms of corporeal and sensuous synecdoche by privileging the sense of vision and coordinating movement, in contrast ←54 | 55→to full sensuous immersion and unrestrained movement. “Stage-managing” (Bowman, 2006, p. 119) the touring subject’s corporeal engagement with the BeltLine is a rhetorical maneuver producing a partial structure prompting particular responses, while constraining multiplicity and deflecting attention to the absent wholeness of space.

At times the BeltLine becomes a synecdoche for the whole of Atlanta, and this is central to its unifying vision of urban space. More frequently particular parts (sites and sections) become representative of the whole BeltLine. The BeltLine disproportionately emphasizes mixed-use development, like those represented by Glenwood Park. This particular vision of urban space, privileging of mixed-used development, is a synecdochical figuration and becomes a representative vision of what the whole the BeltLine might become. On other occasions green space or real estate development becomes a synecdoche (representative) for the whole of the BeltLine, obscuring other instrumental parts and promises of a public transportation system.

A possibility of these synecdochical figurations involves uneven development of the BeltLine. Certain areas generating greater investment than others may lead part(s) of the BeltLine to eclipse the whole. Uneven geographies are inherent in real estate capitalism and a threat to development of the BeltLine as a whole. Another ominous figuration might be the stabilization of synecdoche, whereby part stands in for the whole as a false universal. For example, Massey (2007) argues articulations of London as a “World City” based on its status as a financial command center often stands for the whole, as opposed to a “World City” based upon cultural diversity (p. 88). Hegemonic figurations recognizing only one agency subordinate the potential of the city’s wider character and threaten inclusive sustainability of the BeltLine project.

The Changing City and Tenuous Materiality of Concordance

Proponents of the BeltLine have adopted a communicative approach to planning, facilitating interaction among the diverse and fluid communities of Atlanta. Weekly tours are just a singular aspect of the BeltLine’s invitation for public engagement. Aside from regular community meetings and study groups, the BeltLine hosts weekly run clubs and free fitness programs, home empowerment workshops designed to help homeowners near the BeltLine, jamboree play days, seasonal festivals, even puppy and lantern parades. The BeltLine has developed extensive partnerships with corporate sponsors, non-profit advocacy groups, and government. BeltLine planners have become deeply embedded “in the fabric of the community, politics, and public decision making” (Innes, 1995, p. 183). Despite deep commitment to public ←55 | 56→participation, the BeltLine will inevitably produce novel forms of exclusion and uneven geographies. Analysis of the BeltLine tour and attention to concordance in this chapter illustrates the ways that planners can manage public participation, to minimize dissent and project consent to the large-scale urban renewal project.

BeltLine figurations craft a comprehensible and unified arrangement of “Sustainable Atlanta” in contrast to the ungraspable discord, fragmentation, and heterogeneity of urban space. The BeltLine’s idealized and unifying figurations should not evade critical interrogation. At worst styles and figurations of urban space are deflective, exclusive, and prevent more representative configurations. Irony is a central trope for critical engagement, bringing to bear the gulf between urban space as it is represented and urban space as it is lived in. Identifying ironic gaps produces self-conscious awareness of the figurative arrangement of the BeltLine, its limits and fragility, disclosing the ongoing contingency and instability of urban space. There are striking and vast discrepancies between the current state of sites and the BeltLine’s stylized renditions of them in the future. In preliminary form, entire sections of the Beltline are disconnected pieces of old railroad. For now figurations fill absence with a vision of what may be.

Worst still, the figurations projected and performed on the tour distract attention to novel inequalities and uneven geographies already emergent from the BeltLine. Research has demonstrated the BeltLine has already galvanized real estate speculation, inflating property values in and around low-income housing supplies. Immergluck (2009), in a study monitoring residential property values in Atlanta, found that the value of properties within one-quarter of a mile of the BeltLine appreciated at substantially higher rates, 30 percent more than similar properties a mile from the BeltLine. The study indicated the rise in real estate value during the period studied, between 2002 and 2005, corresponded with a surge of initial coverage of the BeltLine in local media. The study evinces a relationship between the celebration of the BeltLine in public discourse and real estate speculation.

Broad public consent and support of the BeltLine has also been demonstrated in research. For example, a recent study found 73 percent of residents believed the BeltLine is a good idea. In addition, 70 percent think the project will transform Atlanta according to the projects stated goals (Kirkman, Noonan, & Dunn, 2012). Widespread public enthusiasm is hopeful, but figurations projected and performed by the BeltLine exist amidst other figurations and performances of urban space. Human’s interaction with the objects, infrastructure and arrangements of urban sprawl and automobility has durable influence. The same study affirming public support for the BeltLine found ←56 | 57→that only one of every five respondents surveyed anticipate using the BeltLine transit and parks often. However, nearly half of respondents expect others to use the BeltLine, altering their behavior and transit patterns (Kirkman et al., 2012). The study revealed an interesting paradox. Despite evincing broad support for the BeltLine plan, believing in its potential, and anticipating others will frequently use the facilities, trails, and transportation provided by the BeltLine, few actually anticipated changing their own behavior and transit practices. The power of routines and longstanding cultural investments in homes and automobiles present grave threats to the fruition and outcome of the BeltLine. The figurations projected and performed by touring the BeltLine are particularly flimsy if everyday practices and more sweeping sustainability initiatives are not actually internalized.

Figurations and tours of the BeltLine navigate cultural, political, social and spatial tensions in Atlanta. The BeltLine maintains a precarious balance between pluralistic and often competing political ideologies, while inviting concordance to the special interests and agendas actively shaping the renewal project. I’m concerned about the instantiation of vulgar stylizations of “Sustainable Atlanta” and figurations of the BeltLine: pleasing aesthetic and cosmetic measures constraining more radical approaches proportionate to the urgent environmental challenges facing Atlanta. Government and businesses in Atlanta have found sustainability “pays off” (Coffee & Stafford, 2009, p. 1D) similar to the projection of Atlanta as “the city too busy to hate,” chiefly designed to appeal to national audiences and investors. Rearrangement as “Sustainable Atlanta” and figurations of the BeltLine are well within limits proscribed by commercial and private interests.

If only building more park space and extending trails throughout the city finally ensured urban sustainability. “Sustainable Atlanta” and figurations of the BeltLine are highly visible and stylized rearrangements, but systemic patterns contributing to environmental degradation remain widespread and overlooked. “Sustainable Atlanta” and the BeltLine do not present an immediate solution to the high ozone levels and toxic releases impacting the quality of life and health of already marginalized residents. Stylization of “Sustainable Atlanta” and figuration of the BeltLine is a performative fashioning of self. In the same way green styling and the symbols of environmentalism can be used on packaging, the BeltLine demonstrates they can also be embedded into the landscape to serve rhetorical functions. On the same token, not totally dissimilar from purchasing organic produce at Whole Foods or driving a Prius, leisurely consumption of the BeltLine provides inhabitants a site to refashion and perform sustainable subjectivities. Yet, many of the same residents in Atlanta are unable or unwilling to change other habits and patterns of ←57 | 58→everyday life actually threating sustainability of the city. Most undermining to the stylization of “Sustainable Atlanta,” the dispersed form and structural features of urban sprawl persist and present the greatest threats to the ecological sustainability of the city. The sustainability style and figuration of the BeltLine permits public performances and projections of eco-urbanity, without the collective change in habits or effort necessary to actually make the city more sustainable.

Figurations of the BeltLine confirm the potential for unanticipated moments of reversal and mutability, where space may be altered or the relevance of former configurations garner new significance. Rail infrastructure instrumental in initially spawning and generating growth of Atlanta, later systematically obscured by viaducts creating new street levels, now are essential to the BeltLine’s figuration of urban space. Appropriation and reuse of these former arrangements in BeltLine figurations is a compelling reversal with ironic characteristics, once more asserting the undetermined openness of urban space. The BeltLine has already altered components within the arrangement of Atlanta, by expanding trail and park development throughout the city. However, the BeltLine is a long-term project comprised of several phases extending over two decades. A light rail system encircling the city is the most ambitious contribution of the BeltLine plan with the greatest potential to radically reconfigure the sprawl of Atlanta. Albeit the promise of efficient public transportation is most central to the utopian arrangement of space, the light rail system would be implemented in the final phases of the BeltLine project.

The brief history of Atlanta presented in this chapter reveals the vitality of urban space does not wait for even the best-laid plans. This chapter raises what Matsaganis (2016) labeled “the problematic of change” (p. 1337). It is often not clear “how the city changes over time, and what roles urban community members have in shaping the course of change” (Matsaganis & Gallagher, 2013, p. 3). Does the catalyst for the changing city lie in institutions, in public engagement, or in shifting technological networks and spatial imaginations? When the city is viewed as a relational space of contingency, all of these facets help us to understand the city as an instrument and agent of change. The city is fragmented, restless, and unstable. Institutions and developers toil to unify, fix, and stabilize the city in planning. Considering the finitude of arrangements of the city, it seems more likely that new mobilities and relationships will render the BeltLine plan untenable and perhaps even undesirable well before the project is finished. The changing city may prove too dynamic for a plan of this scope and ambition. If the trends mapped ←58 | 59→in this chapter endure, it seems more likely that a new ideal city will have emerged before the BeltLine is even finished.


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3. Social Capital and Social Change in Urban Politics: Understanding a Local Policy Case from an Urban Communication Perspective



Providing affordable housing for low-and moderate-income households contributes to not only providing decent housing for all Americans, but also promoting socio-economic and ethnic integration. Inclusionary zoning is one regulatory program that municipal or county governments use to address affordable housing for lower-income households. This study reviews the case of Madison, Wisconsin’s affordable-housing efforts and contextualizes how Madison’s inclusionary-zoning ordinance was created and failed. Finally, a historical case study of the policy demonstrates that public policy can be a political product which needs collective efforts for actualization and implementation, rather than merely a technical, administrative solution for public needs and urban issues. Based on the evidence of the efficacy for the core stakeholders’ collective networking and policy opposition, this study attempts to explain, inductively, the political process of policy creation and implementation with the concept of social capital in the context of politics. In the following sections, we will discuss the effects of IZ on U.S. affordable housing and how IZ policies have been passed in the states. Then, Madison’s IZ will be intensively investigated in the context of local politics and with the concept of social capital.

Keywords: affordable housing, community development, housing policy, inclusionary zoning, social capital, urban communication, urban planning, urban politics

Housing profoundly affects both national and local economies as well as individuals’ quality of life because a home’s location, as a major land use, is a determining factor for the economy of cities, transportation, local economic development, and access to opportunities afforded to individual citizens ←65 | 66→(Cullingworth, 2003). Therefore, the housing issue should not be treated merely as an economic investment; rather, housing needs to be discussed as a crucial social issue which is fundamentally involved with reproducing pre-existing social classes and statuses by clustering particular socioeconomic households in specific local areas and perpetuating social relationships among socio-economically homogeneous neighbors (Wigand, 1977). These characteristics make housing an extraordinarily complex matter. As a result, housing policy requires local planning authorities to consider the comprehensive social ramifications of a housing policy on the community. Particularly, from a perspective of urban communication, the housing policies and programs, which mix advantaged and disadvantaged residents, are associated with social mobility (see Galster, 2007; Musterd, Ostendorf, & De Vos, 2003). While the effects are still under debate, the ultimate reasoning of such social mixing is based on the idea that socio-economically mixed residents are more likely to encounter and create diverse interpersonal relationships, which can benefit disadvantageous residents by exposing themselves to more opportunities.

Hence, providing affordable housing for low-and moderate-income households contributes to not only providing decent housing for all Americans, but also to promoting socioeconomic and ethnic integration (Mallach, 1984). Inclusionary zoning (IZ) is one regulatory program that municipal or county governments utilize to address affordable housing for lower-income households. Inclusionary zoning either encourages or requires developers to include a certain percentage of units which will be sold or rented at below-market prices to relatively low-income households, providing affordable housing and enhancing economic community integration. Indeed, as addressed by urban communication scholars, Susan Drucker and Gary Gumpert (1991), zoning ultimately controls public interaction and social relation.

This study reviews the case of Madison, Wisconsin’s affordable-housing efforts and shows how Madison’s inclusionary-zoning ordinance was created and failed from an urban communication perspective, particularly with the theoretical lens of urban politics and social capital. Finally, the case will demonstrate that public policy can be a political product which needs collective efforts for actualization and implementation, rather than merely a technical, administrative solution for public needs and urban issues. In the following sections, we will discuss the effects of IZ on U.S. affordable housing and how IZ policies have been passed in the states. Then, Madison’s IZ will be intensively investigated in the context of local politics and with the concept of social capital.

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Low-Income Housing and Inclusionary Zoning

The difficulties which low-income households confront when finding affordable housing are great: the increased housing cost driven by governments’ high standards for housing quality, the lack of affordable housing, the opposition to public-housing projects, etc. (Cullingworth, 2003). Many administrative efforts have been made to create opportunities for low-income households to live in suburban areas. At the same time, resistance from upper middle-class households has been strong, so government agencies, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, have had to keep changing their policies.


XVI, 338
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2021 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XVI, 338 pp., 12 b/w ill., 7 tables.

Biographical notes

erin daina mcclellan (Volume editor) Yongjun Shin (Volume editor) Curry Chandler (Volume editor)

erin daina mcclellan (Ph.D., University of Colorado at Boulder) is Associate Professor at Boise State University.. Yongjun Shin (Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Madison) is Associate Professor at Bridgewater State University. Curry Chandler (Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh) is a Visiting Instructor at the University of Pittsburgh.


Title: Urban Communication Reader IV