This week’s readings in the Urban Context

My students are looking at poverty and oppression this week in the urban context. Students can pick from:


Flammable: Environmental Suffering in an Argentine Shantytown by Dr. Javier Auyero and Debora Alejandra Swistun:

Surrounded by one of the largest petrochemical compounds in Argentina, a highly polluted river that brings the toxic waste of tanneries and other industries, a hazardous and largely unsupervised waste incinerator, and an unmonitored landfill, Flammable’s soil, air, and water are contaminated with lead, chromium, benzene, and other chemicals. So are its nearly five thousand sickened and frail inhabitants. How do poor people make sense of and cope with toxic pollution? Why do they fail to understand what is objectively a clear and present danger? How are perceptions and misperceptions shared within a community?


Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh

In a review from Reason:

A new book challenges that stereotype of the idle poor and their supposed quiescence before the market economy. In Off the Books, Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh posits that if a transaction occurs in the ghetto and no one writes it down, it still counts as trade. His sprawling study of Chicago’s seedy South Side unearths a lively world of exchange in a supposed economic graveyard.


There Goes the Hood: Views of Gentrification from the Ground Up by Lance Freeman

In this revealing book, Lance Freeman sets out to answer a seemingly simple question: how does gentrification actually affect residents of neighborhoods in transition? To find out, Freeman does what no scholar before him has done. He interviews the indigenous residents of two predominantly black neighborhoods that are in the process of gentrification: Harlem and Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. By listening closely to what people tell him, he creates a more nuanced picture of the impacts of gentrification on the perceptions, attitudes and behaviors of the people who stay in their neighborhoods.


For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities
AbdouMaliq Simone

Among government officials, urban planners, and development workers, Africa’s burgeoning metropolises are frequently understood as failed cities, unable to provide even basic services. Whatever resourcefulness does exist is regarded as only temporary compensation for fundamental failure. In For the City Yet to Come, AbdouMaliq Simone argues that by overlooking all that does work in Africa’s cities, this perspective forecloses opportunities to capitalize on existing informal economies and structures in development efforts within Africa and to apply lessons drawn from them to rapidly growing urban areas around the world. Simone contends that Africa’s cities do work on some level and to the extent that they do, they function largely through fluid, makeshift collective actions running parallel to proliferating decentralized local authorities, small-scale enterprises, and community associations.