Friday, February 29, 2008

The Future of the Urban Revolution

In the most recent issue of City & Community, Neil Smith has a stinging critique of Lance Freeman's book, There Goes the 'Hood. Smith, a devout marxian and among the most prolific scholars on gentrification, takes umbrage to the fact that Freeman supports the idea that gentrification might not be a horrible thing. Smith argues that the book is poorly researched and written and takes a few really low blows at Freeman, which include making the claim that Freeman is shilling for his employer, Columbia University by covering up Columbia's expansion plan (which I have discussed here before):

Freeman, who is employed as an urban planner by Columbia University—one of New York City's top five landlords—laughs off Harlem residents’ long-term suspicion about Columbia's encroachment into the neighborhood as an urban myth. He inexplicably omits any mention of Columbia University's plan, unveiled in 2005, to "develop" a huge swath of West Harlem over the objections of many local residents. Freeman "sees" none of this.

The first thing to mention is that it is unfair to hold Freeman accountable for something that was not present in his fieldwork. Freeman's book was published in May 2006. While early signs were evident of the West Harlem expansion, Smith himself acknowledges that the plan was not unveiled until 2005. Because of the length of time it takes to turn fieldwork into a publishable manuscript and a manuscript to a book, there is a good chance that Freeman was done with his fieldwork well before the plan was unveiled.

Perhaps more troubling, however, is the fact that Smith—who works cross-town at the CUNY Graduate Center—is somehow saying that Freeman is a shill for Columbia's expansion plan. That, somehow, because Freeman works for Columbia, he is trying to sweep these inconvenient details under the rug to protect his employer. While Freeman's account is certainly not a pull-no-punches kind of account, to insinuate that Freeman is a mouthpiece for his employer seems to me to be unfair.

While Smith is certainly a confrontational character (see, for instance, his academic debates with David Ley in the late eighties here and here), it seems like this critique was a little bit over the top. Especially for somewhat who has admitted, half-jokingly, to being a "bourgeois marxist" at a talk he gave in Ann Arbor last academic year. At the same lecture, an audience member asked Smith what he thought should be done about the strategy of spatial expansion of global capital. He wasn't sure - the best thing that he could come up with was to attempt to create co-ops in cities so that people could have a democratic stake in their own housing.

This is a noble aim. But, it is also incredibly short-sighted and fails to recognize the complexity of such issues and, particularly how they are tied to race, in the United States. Smith takes a swipe at Freeman here, too:

For Freeman, gentrification scholarship has been hijacked by an untoward focus on class, whereas in his neighborhoods, the issue is race. Once the focus is changed to race, he avers, we can see gentrification in a new register. "From the ground up," gentrification in Clinton Hill and Harlem are certainly mixed, but overall a good thing. Once we see that gentrification in these neighborhoods actually retains their blackness and that class is a minor issue, we can start to love gentrification.

In a typically orthodox marxian way, race is relegated to the "superstructural" niceties that are really class-based. Having read Freeman's book, nowhere does he say that class is not important; he does make the argument, and perhaps takes the argument too far, that class has been privileged in academic debates of gentrification more than race. Freeman, however, does something that Smith refuses to do: he tried to develop the book to be academically rigorous, publicly interesting and to develop real policy solutions that could be implemented. I will take it for granted that Smith, being the true marxist that he is, sees the capitalist state as inevitably interested solely in the demands of the corporate elite. Even so, to argue that the best thing, on a real political level, to confront gentrification is to develop co-ops so that people can feel a stake of control is neither calling the revolution or engaging with the current policy situation. Especially since the history of people owning and controlling their own property in this country is some of the most blatant and disgusting racism ever demonstrated, Bull Conner's dogs notwithstanding.

Smith does reveal some issues with Freeman's book that are worth pointing out. Freeman does not develop his methodological approach very fully. It is difficult to tell from the book how Freeman selected his interviewees. I also noticed that the book was more heavily tilted towards the "black bourgeoisie" more than the working class residents of Clinton Hill and Harlem. At the same time, however, I commend Freeman for trying to engage with a larger audience of academics and activists. And, while he does take a somewhat sanguine view of gentrification, he does not—either in his book or his widley cited academic article—argue that gentrification is an unqualified good that has no costs. He argues that inflating real estate costs due to gentrification pose a serious threat to long-time residents in neighborhoods and that gentrification can destroy the community bonds among those residents.

The real problem for me, however, is the review misses the broader aims of the book. Freeman's proposals are actually in line with a philosophy of fair redevelopment and advocates vigorously for ways to guard against the potential havoc wreaked by gentrification. Besides his policy proposals to regulate rent (and, Freeman is a strong advocate for rent controls), Freeman actually argues that the best way to promote positive urban development is through Alinsky-type organizing. If Smith can't get behind that, or even bother to mention it in his review, I'm not sure how far the marxian notion of the urban revolution is going to get.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

To Ralph Nader

I am sure that this is already making it's way through the tubes, but it was too good not to pass along.

(h/t: Lee Sigelman at The Monkey Cage)

Friday, February 22, 2008

White People Like Gentrification

Or so I'm told:

In general, white people love situations where they can’t lose. While this does account for the majority of their situations, perhaps the safest bet a white person can make is to buy a house in an up-and-coming neighborhood.
They are like a modern day Lewis and Clark, except instead of searching for the ocean, they are searching for old properties to renovate.

In a few years, if more white people start moving in, these initial trailblazers will sell their property for triple what they paid and move into an ultramodern home.

Credibility or money, they can’t lose!

Although written to be funny (and succeeding quite well in this regard), it is scary how close this actually is to the truth for a lot of places. In fact, minus the part about Giuliani booting all the homeless people from public places, this post does a pretty good job summarizing Neil Smith's take on gentrification.

(h/t shakha)

Friday, February 15, 2008

An Item to Take Up at ASA Business Meeting

A little while back, I purchased the ASA Style Guide. Although it is lacking the comprehensiveness of the APA Guide, it is a handy little reference that is written specifically for the journals that I will most likely be sending most of my papers (provided, of course, that I finish them). I thought that some readers might find the following tidbits interesting (ASA 2007)*:

[In Section 5.1:]
(n.) Short for Web log, a blog is a Web page that serves as a publicly accessible personal journal for an individual. Typically updated daily, blogs often reflect the personality of the author.
(v.) To author a Web log. Other forms: Blogger (a person who blogs). Retrieved January 15, 2007 ( (P. 67)

I am quite impressed that, despite the awkwardness of some of their usages, the entire section on "Guidelines for Using Electronic Resources (E-Resources)" is actually quite good an includes a glossary of common terms and citations for all kinds of electronic resources, including blogs.

Of course, as the example, they cite an econ professor! I think that, in addition to ribbons, we should take up the issue of citing a sociologist blogger in the ASA style guide for goodness sake!

American Sociological Association (ASA). 2007. American Sociological Association Style Guide. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association.

* I figured that I should try and use the appropriate citation method since I am, after all, citing the style guide.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lincoln Chafee for Superdelegate

Do you think that there is any way to amend Democratic Party rules to make Lincoln Chafee a superdelegate?

Former GOP senator to endorse Obama

Found in Brooklyn

Is comment really necessary?

Gotta love the neighborhood! h/t Sociological Images: Seeing is Believing. Yes, seeing this is definitely believing.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The "Organization" of the Democratic Convention

I belong to no organized political party...I'm a Democrat!
-Will Rogers

Despite my best efforts to spend my time writing for my dissertation, I find my mind wandering to the Super Tuesday results from yesterday and what it might mean from both a political and sociological perspective come time for the Democratic National Convention in August. Part of this stems from a very contentious thread posted by hilzoy at Obsidian Wings. She argues that yesterday bodes well for Democrats as we approach the general election because there are two good candidates and turnout is incredibly high. No contentious arguments, she claims, will be able to overcome that momentum and give the Republicans the advantage in the general election.

This obviously brought out a good deal of discussion about who would do what if Clinton won the nomination and how she won it. This got be thinking, from an organizational point of view, what does the convention mean, then? How could all of the different scenarios play out and, what—if anything—would we expect from the outcomes. For my own mental clarity, here is what I see as the possibilities[1]:

  1. Scenario 1 (Best Case/Least Likely) Obama Wins Outright: Obama wins outright by a margin comfortable enough that he can a) overcome any disadvantage in superdelagates, b) allow the Michigan and Florida delegations to be seated (assuming all undeclared delegates go to Obama) and c) make Edwards' delegates a non factor. This would be a mandate and, while making for a boring convention (which might be supplied via a labor dispute, anyway), would unite the party and create a strong sense of momentum that will be hard to stop.

  2. Scenario 2: (Almost Best Case/Tied for Least Likely) Clinton Wins Outright: Clinton wins outright by a margin comfortable enough that she can a) overcome any difference in superdelagates, b) allow the Michigan and Florida delegations to be seated and c) make Edwards' delegates a non factor. This would be a mandate and, while making for a boring convention (which might be supplied via a labor dispute, anyway), would unite the party and create a strong sense of momentum that will be hard to stop. The difference between 1 & 2? My candidate didn't win. And, I think that there will be A LOT of anti-Clinton backlash that might help unite the Republicans and swing independent voters. This was made all the more obvious when I talked to two people I know very well who are politically are not extremely far removed from me, but will not vote for Clinton.

  3. Scenario 3 - (Decent Case/Highly Likely) Clinton Wins By Superdelegates: In this scenario, Clinton wins by picking up enough superdelegate votes to overcome the possibility that all of Edwards' delegates go to Obama without the need to seat the delegations from Florida and Michigan. As this scenario plays out, they would probably be seated anyway after it was obvious that Clinton was going to squeak by with the nomination without them and it would be a particularly classy move that could go a long way towards healing hard feelings of "insiders" (i.e. superdelegates) deciding the nomination if Obama personally makes the motion requesting that the two delegations be seated.

  4. Scenario 4 - (Very Bad Case/Very Unlikely): Obama, including Edwards' delegates and superdelegates, wins by enough of a margin that he beats Clinton, but not by enough that he can overcome the seating of the Michigan and Florida delegations. All candidates, including Clinton, honor the fact that these state parties broke the rules and the delegations are not seated and Obama takes a fractured nomination. This is likely to make Clinton's supporters very angry and create animosity in two key swing states between Democratic voters and the Democratic Party.

  5. Scenario 5 - (Worst Case/Somewhat Likely) Clinton "Steals" the Nomination with Michigan and Florida: In the worst of all possible scenarios, Clinton ends up getting the nomination by seating the delegates from Michigan and Florida after losing when the pledged delegates, superdelegates and Edwards' delegates have voted. This will leave a very bad taste in LOTS of people, causing many to refuse to vote, others (mainly independents) to vote Republican and giving the wingnut windbags like Limbaugh all kinds of ammunition against Clinton straight out of the gate.

I am not sure if this is all of the scenarios, feel free to add others. I am interested in an organizational point of view, how these scenarios get negotiated among the participants. From a political point of view, I think that it is going to become very obvious who has power in the Democratic Party and whether there is a foreshadowing of changes in the powerful players in the Party. From a sociological point of view, this presents a very interesting case study of what happens when rules are made by an elite membership in an organization where everyone is presumably fully knowledgeable and what happens when a wider audience then sees how those rules are (or, are not) upheld and what that means for legitimacy of both the organization and the actors themselves.

[1] In case it is not obvious from my past comments, I support Obama in this race.

Internet Priorities

I am sure that it was un-noticeable to most (but not all) readers of this blog that my hiatus over the past month has been especially long. Well, there is a good reason for that. As I both want to finish my dissertation and remain active in the world around me, only a certain amount of time can be devoted to my internet pursuits. A fair share of my self-alloted "internet time" over the past month and a half has been devoted to this project. While not completely finished, is largely done now.

For those who don't know why my name is "Mike3550", you'll be to find out why this is my screen name. For those who do know, I think that you might be interested in the site anyway.