Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

foreclosure=enclosure. rent control=anti-gentrification. transportation+cheap broadband = restoration of the commons

Over the last thirty years, credit markets, migration patterns, gentrification, and community settlement have increasingly driven a wedge between individuals and their territory. The foreclosure crisis deracinates thousands of people from their homes, while elsewhere entire subdivisions are bulldozed. Across the nation, a neoconservative revolution lobbies for tollroads and public housing, fighting down proposals for city-wide wifi. The white gentrification of the center city drives ethnic minorities to new suburbs on the city's edge. Everywhere, the growing power of class interest in a credit-driven economy has centralized the elite control of the city while deracinating the connection of working-class people to the territory around them.

Nowhere are these trends more clear in than in the Rust Belt, where the loss of industry has given rise to the nation's highest rates of foreclosure, eviction, homelessness, and unemployment.

The international evaporation of credit and the foreclosure crisis is pushing the poor out of Rust Belt cities at a higher rate than ever before. On 2009, I learned from my friend Valdis Krebs how the international evaporation of credit was spiraling into the targeted eviction of folks in poor neighborhoods, forcing out ethnic homeowners from the neighborhoods of Flint, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. The result of these policies was that the Foreclosure Crisis of 2008 took houses away from minority homeowners, dismantling neighborhoods. Few community gardens serve these populations.

On the other side of these ghettos are zones of privilege, filled with murals, farmers' markets, and community gardens. Their isolation, however, means that community is but a facade for most of them. In our last tour we saw parades that no one attended, "community" gardens that fed but one family, and towns "revitalized" by artists where it was impossible to find food.

At the same time, the crisis in the Rust Belt has prompted the formation of a new generation of radical organizing. There, emergent counter-movements have begun to assert the right of people to form a relationship with territory. In the upper midwest, courts have begun to uphold the rights of squatters. Progressives have begun a new back-to-the-land movement in cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh. Time banks, land banks, and local currencies comprise a new movement towards regional autonomy. In May of 2010, the NYT reported on the wealth of abandoned property in the Rust Belt, and how back-to-the-land punk squatters in Buffalo are changing land law to protect squatters' rights. The swarm of radical movements suggests the revaluation of the relationship between people and their territory.

Much of this activism remains difficult to interpret. How secure are the new radical developments, and how do they scale?

Issues about regional autonomy necessarily the great questions of political economy. Should cities like post-Katrina New Orleans or Flint, MI be cut off, left to drown in their own economic failures? Insufficient infrastructure compounds the problems of economic depression, the digital divide, and political participation by leaving swaths of a nation in ruins. How the radical movements of the Rust Belt navigate these problems says much about the shape of social justice to come.

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