Urban “Improvement” As an Instrument of Injustice: Renewal Projects in 1950s New York and 2017 Moscow

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Anna ZHELNINA, CUNY Graduate Center, USA
Homes give people a sense of security. Homes are also vulnerable to political economy and the interests of big capital or state institutions. People can be pushed out of their dwellings when someone with political power decides there is a better (or more profitable) use of this land. What is a home to someone, loaded with meaning and hopes, for someone else is a piece of land that must be put to a better use. Large-scale urban renewal is a classic threat to people’s homes. Urban renewal and resettlement projects are one of the forms of what Porteous and Smith call “domicide” – a “deliberate destruction of home against the will of the home dweller” (Porteous and Smith 2001, 3). In the US in the 1950s, in New York City in particular, “slum clearance” affected neighborhoods that needed improvements but also ones that looked disorderly only to the outside viewer, being efficient communities (Gold 2014, 65). In contemporary Moscow, an impressive project of “renovation,” which follows the similar pattern of bulldozer redevelopment, was announced in 2017. In both cities, resistance to these projects emerged almost immediately, alongside support for renewal and relocation. In both cases, the smaller buildings were to be replaced with high-rises, changing not only where but how people lived, transforming the lifestyles and community networks. This paper will focus on the way residents mobilized in response to the renewal projects, what they were opposing or supporting, how they learned to play the political game, and what they eventually managed to achieve, sometimes correcting the initial plans of the city governments.

Gold, Roberta. 2014. When Tenants Claimed the City: The Struggle for Citizenship in New York City Housing. University of Illinois Press.

Porteous, Douglas, and Sandra E. Smith. 2001. Domicide: The Global Destruction of Home. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP.