Date of Degree
Bianca C. Williams
John L. Jackson Jr.
American Studies | Human Geography | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Urban, Community and Regional Planning | Urban Studies and Planning
Harlem, Black Urbanism, Spatial Justice, Anti-Black Racism, Urban Racial-State, Anti-Black Spatial Imaginary
The racial capitalist development of the U.S. metropolitan landscape has been shaped by the involuntary displacement and dispersal of Black communities. From the dispossession of the Half-Free Negro Lots around the Fresh Collect pond in the seventeenth century to the clearing of Seneca Village to build Central Park in the nineteenth century to the turn of the twentieth-century police-facilitated “race riot” in the Tenderloin district of Manhattan, which fueled the move to Harlem, the four-hundred year history of Black Manhattan alone provides substantial evidence of this and is in no way unique in this regard. Incomplete, yet ongoing, is what is taking place in Harlem. Harlem is arguably the most famous Black urban community in the world, yet it is being subjected to displacement and dispersal through several urban development processes—most notably gentrification. Consequently, this dissertation takes as a premise that there is an anti-Black spatial order informing this four-hundred year history of racial capitalist urbanism. Nevertheless, could these processes of displacement and dispersal, in places such as Harlem, have been different? I suggest that one way to understand the limits to the spatial politics of Black urban communities is to look to alternative development plans created in Black Harlem’s history with, by, and for the low income/capital residents who are its majority. This dissertation does this by examining three neighborhood development plans produced for and with Black Harlemites by The Architects Renewal Committee in Harlem (ARCH) in the late 1960s in collaboration with grassroots organizations in the area. The suppression of these alternative plans makes them past-futures. Framing them as past-futures requires an analysis of the creation, suppression, and afterlife of these plans in the Harlem landscape. Furthermore, this dissertation frames these past-futures of Harlem as artifacts of some Black Harlemites’ demands for spatial justice, that is a right to space as well as to inhabit and access socially valued resources justly distributed across space. These past-futures of Harlem are the product of the refusal of an anti-Black spatial imaginary by ARCH and its clients. However, having to simultaneously oppose and appeal to the institutions and organizations of an urban racial state to transform official urban planning’s anti-Black spatial imaginary made the projects vulnerable to suppression and co-optation. Yet the critical engagement in this dissertation with these alternative plans as past-futures of Harlem articulating a demand for spatial justice and refusing the anti-Black spatial order allows for interrogating the limits to spatial justice under urban political-economic structures that produce and sustain racial inequality and inequity. This dissertation does this with the hope that it may encourage the reader to imagine and/ retrieve visions and methods for spatial justice, as part of an overall racial justice, beyond established powers.
Ruffin, Dane C., "Past-Futures of Harlem: Black Urban Space at the Limits of Spatial Justice" (2022). CUNY Academic Works.