Category Archives: Newsletter

2020 Lynd Award: Lessons Learned: A Perspective from Golden Pond

Barrett Lee
Pennsylvania State University

Being named the 2020 recipient of the Robert and Helen Lynd Award for Lifetime Achievement has been both gratifying and humbling, given the distinguished honorees who preceded me. I was taken by surprise when Kevin Gotham (the Lynd committee chair) first passed along the news last spring. That initial reaction quickly gave way to an appreciation of the award as a collective rather than solo accomplishment. From my undergraduate days to the present, I’ve had the good fortune to learn from and work with many talented and inspiring students, mentors, colleagues, and collaborators.

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What to Expect at City & Community

Richard E. Ocejo
John Jay College and the Graduate Center, CUNY

It is an absolute honor to be the next Editor-in-Chief at City & Community. The journal began publication around when I started graduate school, so there hasn’t been a time when I haven’t known of its existence. Whether from reading its pages, contributing as an author, or assigning its pieces in my courses, it has played an indispensable role in my career. And now getting to run City & Community at this stage in its history, build on the efforts of so many great Editors and scholars, and take it to another level is a dream come true.

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Teaching Urban Sociology in a Time of Mass Uprisings for Racial Justice and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Colleen E. Wynn
Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of Indianapolis

According to the US Census Bureau, the majority of Americans live in urban areas. And, as urban sociologists, we’ve known cities matter for a long time, but more and more we’re seeing the rest of society take note. Cities played a major role as the location and backdrop for the mass uprisings for racial justice we saw earlier this year, especially mid-sized cities in the South and Midwest that are often included but not highlighted in our scholarly work. George Floyd’s brutal murder by police in Minneapolis helped to spark the mass uprisings we saw earlier this year and the current civil rights movement, as did Breonna Taylor’s murder in her home by Louisville Metro Police in my hometown of Louisville. In Indianapolis, where I live and teach, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police shot and killed Dreasjon Reed and McHale Rose, two incidents which have not received as much national attention but have locally mobilized many activists. These are, of course, only a few cases. Activists and organizers across the country mobilized around these cases, as well as many others that have not received nearly as much national attention. 

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Message from Communications Team

2020 represented a significant change from how CUSS has managed communications to its members. This process began under our past chairs Miriam Greenberg and Rachel Dwyer. We have now shifted our focus away from a traditional PDF newsletter to a combination of email, our website (comurb.org), Facebook, and Twitter (@ComUrbASA). For instance, current chair Japonica Brown-Saracino has been sending out a monthly digest of section updates and announcements via the listserve. This digest is also posted on our Comurb.org and tweeted out by members of our team. While we are relying more on social media to get information out, we will be collecting items from the past year and posting a PDF. That way we can continue to have an archive of traditional newsletters, even as technology continues to evolve. It also continues the great work of Bill Holt, our newsletter letter editor since 2001.

As we move forward, we welcome suggestions as to how we can better serve CUSS members. This includes using the website to highlight the great work – advocacy, scholarship, and teaching – that is done by you all. We would love to post short essays or editorial-style pieces on Comurb.org. If you are interested, pitch us your ideas.

  • Albert Fu <afu@kutztown.edu>
  • Kyle Galindez <kgalinde@ucsc.edu>
  • Lora Phillips <laphillips216@gmail.com>
  • Steven Schmidt <stvnschmidt@gmail.com>

Chair’s Message

Japonica Brown-Saracino
Boston University
Summer 2020, Vol. 33, No. 2

Under ordinary circumstances, many of us would be preparing for travel to San Francisco.  We would be looking forward to gathering together, in person, at our sessions, business meeting, roundtables, and for a reception at the Tenderloin Museum.    I am certain that I am not alone in regretting the missed opportunity to engage with one another at our sessions, as well as to talk more informally in a variety of conference settings – from the book exhibit, to the crowded hallways where we would ordinarily gather between panels.

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Interview with 2019 Graduate Student Paper Award winner, Zachary Hyde

Zachary Hyde, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of British Columbia, was the winner of the 2019 Graduate Student Paper Award. Zach’s innovative research agenda brings work in relational economic sociology to bear on longstanding questions in urban sociology. We reached out to ask him to discuss his research, and we’re including his responses below. Thanks to Zach for participating in our interview series!

What were the main findings of your paper?

My paper “Giving Back to Get Ahead” focuses on the popular urban policy of density bonusing, where private development companies provide affordable housing and other social services in exchange for extra density. The main finding of the paper is that density bonusing forms a paradox, whereby “giving back” social services simultaneously increases developer profits. Through contributing services developers enhance their symbolic capital via gift-giving, which can be traded in for economic advantages in future dealings with local governments.

What motivated you to study this particular research topic?

I originally became interested in studying developers through my research on gentrification. I had been looking at social enterprise businesses, which mix profit-making with social service objectives, in the context of low-income neighborhoods. I began to notice that developers were making similar arguments about “socially conscious” mixed-income development, and this was tied to their increasing involvement in affordable housing provision. I wanted to know how these policies of density-for-social benefits were being implemented and understood by different actors in the field of urban development.

I carried out a study focusing on one particular developer that was becoming well-known for negotiating rezoning for social benefits throughout Canada. I studied this developer operating in two cities, Toronto and Vancouver, both with a similar approach to densification, but with different political structures. Based on this approach, these findings can speak to other cases, like New York City, where density bonusing has become central to Mayor DeBlasio’s Housing New York plan since 2014. The Lincoln Institute for Land Policy recently launched a large-scale study of “land-value capture,” which included density bonusing, suggesting that more and more local governments are turning to this policy framework.

What theoretical debates interest you the most, and how do you see your research contributing to them?

My main interest is in the processes through which neoliberalism achieves legitimacy. In my dissertation I contribute to a number of debates related to this overarching topic, for example, by illustrating how non-market exchange, such as reciprocity, obfuscates the privatization of the welfare state. I also unpack the contradictions of progressive, yet growth-oriented, urban politics, or progressive growth machines.

More broadly, I am also interested in combining the concepts and ideas of economic sociology and urban sociology. While there has been some great work in this direction by scholars such as Frederick Wherry, Deborah Becher and Josh Pacewitz, there is still a lot of room for productive interface between the two fields. For example, in my paper I draw on Jens Beckert’s recent framework of imagined futures, which highlights the way capitalism relies on fictional expectations about the future, to explain how developers justify increases in density. Finally, I’ve been working on developing a new framework for economic sociology based on the work of Karl Polanyi.

What surprises occurred as you conducted your fieldwork?

A surprising finding during my research in Toronto was the developer’s reliance on community outreach workers, many of whom were young geography and urban planning graduate students from local universities. These part-time employees were often well-versed in critical urban theory and felt conflicted about their position working for a development firm. However, they also played an important role in providing developers with legitimacy, as they were able to effectively reframe community opposition to new developments as self-interested actions by homeowners. This led me to think about the pathways through which urban knowledge, generated in the academy, makes its way into on-the-ground tensions around development.

What are some future directions for this project?

My latest research project extends my interest in housing and the politics of density by focusing on the resurgence of private rental housing in North American cities, and how this contributes to urban inequality. My plan is to focus on four large cities across Canada and the US, which are sites of two intersecting patterns: state-led incentives for the development of rental housing in the face of housing crises, and the rising acquisition of existing and newly-built rentals by real estate holding corporations and pension funds. This will continue my interest in the symbolic systems of housing by exploring how long-standing associations between rentals and affordability are being used to justify profit-oriented development by the state and the private sector.

 

Interview with Harvey Molotch, Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award Winner (2019)

The CUSS newsletter team reached out to the 2019 Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award Winner, Harvey Molotch, to reflect on his career and his trajectory as an urban sociologist. Dr. Molotch is Professor Emeritus at NYU and UC Santa Barbara and is a prominent figure in urban sociology and our section. We’re including his responses below:

What initially brought you to urban sociology? 

I’ve always had a thing for land and buildings. Children play with blocks; I kept at it. When growing up in Baltimore I liked watching things go up, including houses and especially movie theaters. From family scuttlebutt I learned that a part of making things happen was connections – that’s what gets zoning, building permits, and even permission to have a neon sign. Don’t be shocked, dear reader, but there were bribes.

When I got to urban social science, my Baltimore was not in it. Crime was certainly there but largely sequestered as criminology. Urban science was about concentric circles, demography, and exotic street corner life. I yearned for the developers, the fixers, and the crooks – and their linkages with the more ordinary folks trying to make their way through the thicket. A lot of my life has been to follow up on that.

What has been the most exciting moment of your career?

I was giving a paper at the ASA, circa 1970, in a session called “Radical Sociology.” We were plenty hyped up. It was a full-house in the “Imperial Ballroom” of the Hilton. My paper was called “Oil in Santa Barbara and Power in America” and my big line, which the journal was to edit out: “When the oil hit the water, the shit hit the fan.” It went over big, including with the august Talcott Parsons, rollicking in his seat at my insolence. I doubt he could foresee the demise of his structural functionalism and the rise of the intellectual left that was blowing in the (air conditioned) wind. I got it.

I always taught Sociology One, exciting again and again. It was great to teach our greatest hits, which also included, in my version, wonderful stuff from anthropology, history, political science and even economics. I was a heavy user of slides, video, and music; I loved being there as the students saw the light.

What do you think are the most pressing issues for urban scholars to study today?

Changes in land use, whether through growth or contraction, have specific impacts on wealth distribution, social lives, and the natural environment. We need to understand and publicize these effects – this is a special role for urban studies as opposed to sociology more generally.

I don’t think we fully resolved the problem of the “urban object” – what is distinctive to the urban as opposed to the social and economic more generally. Too often, in my view, urban sociology means whatever goes on in cities. But since cities are the commonplace of life, this delimits very little. The urban matters, not by declaration but by clear display of how taking it up clarifies larger realms of thought and politics.

The danger is that without meaningful framing, the urban aspect can be a sloganeering substitute for confronting larger social issues of inequality, health, and  racism. High-rise public housing filled a need for sure, but it was hardly a panacea; the switch to low-rise is equally misguided as general solution. We need intellectual tactics to prevent our beloved “urban” from being misapplied.

For me, a good point of entry is to ask, in effect, “how did that get there and that way or through what process did it cease to be.” The concrete of the city, its shape and form, can be our entry point for the recursive loop between the social, the artifactual, and the natural. In short, the city, in this sense, can be method. It is a way into culture, political economy and comparative analyses.

One critical obsolescence of our prior paradigms is the collective effect of climate change. In grappling with this wicked problem, we need to think about how our urbanism as a way of life is a destroyer. We need to learn the ways particular settlement configuration exacerbate earth impact. We need to figure out how to repudiate the value-free development doctrines, world-wide, that lead to catastrophe. Going green needs some red – with approaches that are positive, practical, and that leverage potential for human solidarity. The downside of recycling is its ineffectiveness; the upside is its display of mass participation for a common cause. How can that “instinct” be bottled but made significant rather than trivial.

What advice would you give to new researchers?

Coming into sociology at a time of plentiful jobs, my own pleasurable enthusiasm was likely historically exceptional. That said, I can declare that I really did follow my fascinations and try to make myself useful. I did see some less fortunate colleagues stuck in the rut of strategizing; it made their work less interesting for themselves and probably didn’t help their careers much either. What to do? Curiosity is really all we have that has at least the potential to pay off both on and off the job. It is a reason to get up in the morning.

Cities face a lot of challenges today. What advice would you give to residents and activists who are concerned about issues in their neighborhoods?

It is discouraging to witness how much urban activism goes not to progressive agendas but to those based in fear of those agendas. Ironically, change is made horrible because there’s such a weak safety net, even for the middle-class. Some of the resulting anxiety clutters public discourse with resentment against newcomers and hostility toward those driven, like the homeless and the ill, to repugnant life strategies. We all know that miseries at the level of appearances — even public elimination at the extreme — come from the deeper realms. Urbanists have a direct line to those appearances as well as means to know their source. We have the job, as a consistent matter, to convincingly explain these extreme local troubles as traceable to policies and politics that do people in.

 

 

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2019 Lynd Award: My Mission as a Social Researcher: How I Remember It

Anne Shlay
Georgia State University
2020 Winter, Vol 33, No 1

At 20, I fell in love with the Russians, namely Russian literature.  The passion of Bolshevik poets whose public readings of their work drew the masses excited me.  I cherished the Russian literary thaw that produced the novels of post Stalinist writers and was heart-broken when they were silenced after the fall of Khrushchev.  I studied the Russian language in the hope that I could read Dr. Zhivago in the original.  Yet the inspiration of what became my life’s work came from Dostoyevsky, a writer from the 19th century.

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Editor’s Note (Summer 2019)

William Holt
Birmingham-Southern College
CUSS Newsletter, Vol 31, No 3

This edition of the CUSS Newsletter marks the end of my almost 20 years of serving as an editor. In 2001 I responded to a call for an editor  from then-Chair Barrett Lee. He contacted me on what seemed to be a typical Tuesday morning that I was to be co-editor with  Jennifer Stoloff at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

      However, that Tuesday was anything but ordinary. On WCBS the announcers were complaining about how poorly the Giants played in the previous evening’s Monday Night Football Game. Then, during the weather report, the announcer mentioned that there appeared to be a small plane near the  World Trade Center. By the time I walked from my research job with the Yale Medical School to Lindsey-Chittenden Hall to teach Sociological Imagination, the introductory course, to a large lecture hall of undergraduates,  things had changed drastically. The  musicology professor who taught before my class always ran late. So, when I walked into the auditorium,  he had on the overhead with live tv coverages showing the maps of Washington, D.C. I had developed for the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) of the Monumental Core area between the White House and U.S. Capitol.  Secret Service agents ran through the building pulling then-undergraduate Barbara Bush out of L-C. Yale officials asked us to send the undergraduates back to their  residential colleges. They asked us to  volunteer to go over to Yale-New Haven Hospital, a designated center in case of a major disaster  in New York, to assist with triage for what they thought would be incoming  victims. Within hours Yale officials sent us  home since no one would be  arriving for treatments.  We had no idea how significant that day would be on so many levels.

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