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Title:Reconfiguring racial regimes of ownership: vacancy and the labor of revitalization on Chicago's South Side
Author(s):Zaimi, Rea
Director of Research:Wilson, David; Ribot, Jesse
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Wilson, David; Ribot, Jesse
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Miraftab, Faranak; Birkenholtz, Trevor
Department / Program:Geography & Geographic InfoSci
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
racial capitalism
Abstract:Chicago planners and private institutions attribute vacancy to abandonment by capital and pursue a two-pronged development strategy that, on one front, seeks ways to efficiently revalorize land and, on another, casts vacancy as an opportunity to promote equitable redevelopment through community-centered revitalization. This dissertation finds that these initiatives mobilize conditional property to enroll residents’ unpaid labor in the maintenance of land. To investigate the historical and political-economic basis of this outcome, I pursue three related undertakings. First, I investigate the postwar history of nearly three hundred vacant lots in the South Side Chicago neighborhood of Englewood by analyzing around ten thousand property records including deeds, mortgage and foreclosure documents, land installment contracts, declarations of contract forfeiture, tax deeds, liens, and tax sale records. I find that vacancy results not from disinvestment but from the influx of hyperextractive investment – predatory mortgages, tax debt purchases, and land installment contracts – over the past seven decades. Second, to understand the forces that grant legal sanction and economic feasibility to these forms of predation, I analyze two key nodes in the political economy of housing since the turn of the 20th century: the making of the modern real estate market and the enforcement of municipal housing code. Through archival research, I find that each has been a fulcrum for the articulation of race with property. Further, I demonstrate that this articulation has enabled the differential valuation of land crucial for the production of profit in real estate. My dissertation situates urban vacancy squarely within this profit-driven historical co-production of race and property. Third, I conduct ethnographic research in sites where community-centered vacant land revitalization is implemented, specifically Chicago’s Large Lots program in Englewood, through which the City sells vacant lots to property-owning residents at $1 per parcel but makes ownership conditional on adherence to maintenance ordinances and prohibits the sale of the land in the first five years of ownership. Drawing on participant-observation and interviews with Large Lot owners, I illustrate that the program creates opportunities for residents to shape local land use but also devolves onto them the costs and responsibilities of land maintenance through conditional property. The tenuous forms of ownership engendered in the name of “community empowerment” reinstate racial regimes of ownership on Chicago’s South Side by continuing to position residents in differentiated, conditional, and extractive relations to land. This dissertation’s findings expand our understanding of the racial political economy of land and housing in two ways. First, by foregrounding vacancy’s basis in racial regimes of ownership, this study illuminates the limits of “disinvestment” not only as a discourse animating urban planning practice but also as a concept informing urban scholars’ analysis of socio-spatial inequalities. I advocate analytical engagements with urban decline not simply as a function of the presence or absence of capital, as suggested by the political economy framework of “uneven development,” but as an outcome of the specific processes by which landscapes are differentially devalued so that profit may be continuously extracted from them. Understanding urban socio-spatial inequalities, then, requires analyzing the mechanisms that embed race within the economic, legal, and institutional infrastructures shaping access to land. In this vein, the dissertation expands political economy frameworks’ capacity to address the racial logics that configure the terrain of contemporary land politics. Second, this study reveals that crucial in organizing cities are not only the profit-seeking actions of real estate and finance capital typically emphasized by urban geographers but also residents’ everyday labor of revitalization that subsidizes the creation of commodifiable landscapes.
Issue Date:2020-12-02
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Rea Zaimi
Date Available in IDEALS:2021-03-05
Date Deposited:2020-12

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