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Title: The Unequal Neighborhood: Hardship and Privilege in Northwest Detroit
Authors: Cornelissen, Sharon Jacqueline Christine
Advisors: Duneier, Mitchell
Contributors: Sociology Department
Keywords: Depopulation
Urban decline
Urban farming
Urban revitalization
Subjects: Sociology
African American studies
Urban planning
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: After decades of depopulation, deindustrialization, and disinvestment, the City of Detroit filed for Chapter IX bankruptcy in 2013. National media that once fueled the city’s notoriety as “Murder Capital” began to describe Detroit as place to be. This dissertation shows a changing Detroit from the vantage point of Brightmoor, a poor majority black depopulated neighborhood on the city’s edge. In the last decade, white newcomers had moved in next door to Detroiters. These so-called urban farmers bought houses from five hundred dollars and started gardens, farms, and parks on vacant lots. Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork while I lived and became a homeowner in Brightmoor, this dissertation answers three questions: what life was like in a depopulated poor urban neighborhood, what attracted white middle-class newcomers to move to such a place, and how residents coped with new inequalities in their neighborhood. In my dissertation chapters, I show how Brightmoor residents differently related to almost valueless real estate, to neighborhood stigma, nature and vacant lots, street violence, and national politics. I show how many longtime residents were forced to treat their homes as disposable assets and lost their houses to tax foreclosures. White newcomers, by contrast, turned the constraints of this market into a lifestyle. As middle-class individuals without middle-class careers, they found their vocation and sense of fulfillment amidst Brightmoor’s vacancies. I also show how longtimers and newcomers differently acted on nature returning in the wake of depopulation, and how they navigated public life in distinct styles based on perceptions of neighborhood violence. Finally, I analyze how a national upswing in populist politics, with President Trump’s election, shifted interactions between white and black longtimers. Overall, this dissertation highlights how experienced places, that is, different ways of experiencing the neighborhood, shaped how residents lived in Brightmoor. I argue that to understand unequal cities today, we have to not only look at inequalities between places, but also attend to how past and present inequalities structure residents’ unequal experiences within neighborhoods. In my conclusion, I offer policy recommendations for how we can better help depopulated poor urban neighborhoods and their residents.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Sociology

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