My research examines the relationship between particular forms of urban development and the visibility of homelessness in cities. Situated in New York City but with global implications, this work centers the shift in development priorities toward what I call ecological development, where projects such as green infrastructure implementation, waterfront revitalization, and linear park creation take precedence in the city’s overall development agenda. I then ask how such a shift impacts the lives of homeless people through the frame of visuality, understanding that urban development and the visibility of homelessness are inextricably connected. Through studying this intersection, I am able to speak back more broadly to how urban envioronmental governance both alters and preserves the visibility of difference–particularly race, gender, sexuality, and disability–in public space.
Within this broader agenda, I have several particular research projects ongoing:
- The visuality of homelessness. Homelessness often invokes a visual trope–primarily propogated through photography–that suggests homeless people as either dangerous, indicative of urban blight (and therefore the need for development), or pitiable urban subjects. Picture the Homeless pushes back against this narrative by demonstrating that homeless people themselves can control their visual narrative, and in doing so can push forward policy changes that pinpoint the true cause of homelessness: the commodification of housing and land. My research in this area has resulted in an article in Environment and Planning D on an anti-homeless photography campaign, and a piece co-authored with PTH members on the Society and Space open site.
- Anti-homeless policing and ecological development. Development and the policing of homelessness share an intimate relationship. Drawing on 311 data and internal police documents, juxtaposed against a spatial analysis of trends and patterns in the city’s green development agenda, I write about the shift from policing “encampments” to “homeless hotspots” in New York City (under review after ‘revise and resubmit’ at Housing Studies). In collaboration with my colleague Jessie Speer, I have written on homeless memorists’ theories of this relationship in Capitalism Nature Socialism.
- Plazas as ecological development. In my dissertation, I focus on a case study of New York City’s plaza program as a prime example of ecological development. Similar to other manifestations of ecological development, plazas reorganize urban space through the use of green infrastructure such as horticultural instalations and the implementation of activities understood as healthy and sustainable, such as exercise classes and farmers’ markets. But plazas also involve removing infrastructure that may be more useful to homeless people–and others who spend many hours in public space–such as shelter from the elements and public restrooms. Through a close ethnographic engagement and many supplemental interviews and workshops, this phase of my research aims to fully understand the role that environmental logics and planning play in the reorganizing of public space in the city.
My research has been generously supported by funding from the Association of American Geographers, the Social Science Research Council, the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, and the Department of Geography, Environment and Society and College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota.