The questions of urban investment and disinvestment are not just about built form and financial flows. Accumulation and dispossession are embodied encounters with power, capital, space, and place; as are the ways they are known, recorded, reimagined, and reworked. These material social practices permeate and shape people’s geographical imaginations collectively and individually, creating a way of thinking, seeing, and being in time and space that fuses past, present, and future. The geographical imagination shimmers with possibilities of futures undetermined and unknowable, but also retraces regret and resentment as much as creation and belonging.
Looking at two disinvested and now gentrifying US cities—the Bronx and Detroit—Cindi Katz’s project aspires to shake loose a specifically geographical imagination of urban knowledge and politics, spurred by a ‘topographical consciousness’ of embodied memory and history and the everyday work (and play) of making habitable worlds. The Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute (DGEI) was a radical project of knowledge production and exchange in the late 1960s. Commonly associated with the geographer Bill Bunge, its accomplishments, perils, and potentials had largely faded from disciplinary memory until the mid-1990s, and were particularly recharged with the reissue of one of its key texts, Fitzgerald: Geography of a Revolution in 2011. Gwendolyn Warren, a young African American school leaver, was co-director of the DGEI and noted as such in various documents produced by and revisiting the project, but most of the commemorative attention and credit went to Bunge, a white professional geographer.
This lecture will focus on the ways the project and its afterlives have been excavated and examined to rework and reimagine Geography as a discipline and field of practice in recent years, and how the recent involvement of Ms. Warren with this excavation has altered that project and with it the contours of radical participatory research. Biography and history intertwine in the Bronx, New York where Katz was born and lived her early childhood, where her parents grew up, and where her father built houses as white flight accelerated and the Bronx began to ‘burn.’ Reminiscence and recollection will be fused and juxtaposed with documentation of disinvestment and some recent responses to gentrification and the over-policing that has accompanied it particularly in the South Bronx.
Drawing on history, biography, theatre, field research, and academic documents, this lecture will focuses on what can be gleaned through various individuals’ embodied knowledge of these sedimented historical geographies, of exploring and making a community of memory in place, and of activating alternative geographical imaginations. Working across discrepant and simultaneous time-spaces, the lecture will take in the fierce place attachments, ruins, absences, and ambitions of the Bronx and Detroit; radical productions of geographical knowledge in both places; and trace the effects of accumulation by dispossession and how they might be countered by a new imagination and praxis of renewal.