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Alternative Spaces/Transformative Places

Democratizing Unruliness in an Age of Austerity


Joshua D. Atkinson and Clayton Rosati

Alternative Spaces/Transformative Places addresses the rise of unruly spaces in society, as well as communicative strategies that citizens and activists may use to democratize them. With the widespread use of austerity measures by governments and cities, unruly spaces are an increasing fixture in our modern world. Cities such as Flint and Detroit in Michigan, Berlin in Germany, and even regions of rural America, have all been damaged by the neoliberal policies that have left cityscapes and physical environments altered and unrecognizable. We now understand that unruliness has become a constant in contemporary globalized society.

As such austerity has degraded infrastructure, depleted local economies, and poisoned neighborhoods, we feel citizens must be empowered to reclaim such unruly spaces themselves. The book explores different strategies for the democratization of such spaces in urban environments, and the potential and problems of each. Such strategies can create alternative perceptions and alter pathways through those spaces—even connect communities hidden from one another.

Students and scholars of urban communication and community activism, as well as human geography, will find the concepts and strategies explored in this book useful. The discussions related to austerity measures provide context for many contemporary neighborhoods and communities that have come to be neglected, while the chapters concerning unruly spaces provide explanations for the difficulty with such neglected or degraded environments. Finally, the illustration of different communicative strategies for the democratization of unruly spaces will demonstrate the possibilities for empowerment within communities that face such problems.

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Crisis, Austerity, & the Pleasures of Cruelty

In late–2011, Steven J. Baum PC, a legal “foreclosure mill” operating in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY, issued a public apology. Not long before, an employee had leaked photos from the firm’s previous year’s Halloween party featuring other employees dressed in costumes mocking foreclosure victims, foreclosure rights attorneys, and a judge critical of their unscrupulous practices. In a 2012 legal settlement, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman noted that the Baum Firm “cut corners in order to maximize the number of its foreclosure filings and its profits” (New York State Attorney General, 2012a). According to Schneiderman, “From at least 2007 through sometime in 2009, Baum Firm attorneys repeatedly verified complaints in foreclosure actions stating, among other things, that the plaintiff was ‘the owner and holder of the note and mortgage being foreclosed,’ when, in many securitized loan cases, the Baum Firm did not have documentary proof that the plaintiff was the owner and holder of the note and mortgage” (New York State Attorney General, 2012a). In other words, the firm had been taking advantage of the massive housing crisis by collecting fees from huge banks and foreclosing on homes under false, shaky, or incomplete rights to do so. But there was no soul-searching by Baum PC employees.

One of the most noteworthy pieces of the Halloween carnival of contempt for those evicted by the crisis was its construction of a “shantytown” within which the costumed...

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