Urban Development through the Prism of Race

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 12:30
Location: Hörsaal 31 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Christopher MELE, University at Buffalo, USA
This paper revisits the intersection between race and class, specifically as it applies to the political economy of urban development in the United States in the so-called era of racial, ethnic, and class neutrality or inclusiveness. While race relations clearly intersect with those of class, the paper shows the intentional separation of the two and the wielding of discourses about race (but not class) operate as a strategic means for local elites and governments to shape metropolitan change. The driving force of upscale urban development in U.S. cities, particularly, centers squarely on class divisions but urban development is imagined, worked out, legitimated and reconciled in an urban politics that relies on the deployment of racialized discourses of colorblindness, inclusivity and diversity. This is not to deny or downplay the significance of racial division and animus to urban development but rather to argue the opposite: the preoccupation with race so clearly resonates in the American mindset that it serves as a reliable ideological means to influence the political economic development of the city. Drawing on case studies, the question is whether this racialized strategy of urban development is unique to the U.S. The paper also examines how minorities are placed in the position of combatting socioeconomic and spatial inequalities, including displacement, on racial terms set by white elites. This tactic of filtering the uneven production of metropolitan space through the prism of race leads to an ongoing and everyday situation of double-exploitation, in which urban minorities struggle to overcome the political economic costs of gentrification and other forms of urban development but also confront racial discourses that depict development as contributing to racial diversity and enhancing inclusiveness. This double-bind has lasting implications for local organized efforts at effective collective action to address and mobilize against the costs of urban development.