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

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Aneta Dybska

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

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Chapter Six Community Gardens, Social Justice, and Environmental Gentrification

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Gardens—even individual plants growing in bits of soil—in deserts, prisons, hospitals, highway medians, vacant lots, refugee camps, rooftops, dumps, wastelands, cracks in the sidewalk: these are examples of what I call defiant gardens, gardens created in extreme or difficult environmental, social, political, economic, or cultural conditions. These gardens represent adaptation to challenging circumstances, but they can also be viewed from other dimensions as sites of assertion and affirmation.

—Kenneth I. Helphand, Defiant Gardens, p. 2

The transnational flows of labor, capital, and production characteristic of the post-industrial era leave their imprint on urban geographies in the Unites States. By the 1980s, as manufacturing job and production relocated to the global South, the once national centers of industry such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago became components of the “global grid of strategic sites which emerges as a new cross-border geography of centrality” (Sassen, “Cities” 258). Marked by differential access to and unequal distribution of collective consumption goods and services, the global cities have their own economies of consumption, including residential and commercial gentrification, that tend to bypass whole neighborhoods or even parts of urban regions. Historian and urban theorist Mike Davis vividly captured the contrasts inherent in the global city in the 1990s:

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