Sunday, August 28, 2011

Neighborhoods in semi-urban settlements

Pilgrim housing in Mecca
NOTE, added 2015: This paper is now published.

New, rapidly growing places can reveal the patterns and processes of urbanization, sometimes more clearly than traditional cities. I have a group of students working right now on neighborhood organization in what we are calling "semi-urban settlements." This category describes newly-formed residential places, typically with a special purpose, that have rapidly grown into large settlements. If these settlements exhibit neighborhood organization (and it appears that most or all of them do), this would support the notion that neighborhoods are a fundamental component of human settlement.

A second level of analysis focuses on neighborhood dynamics. Are neighborhoods in semi-urban settlements homogeneous or heterogeneous in terms of various social parameters? That is, do they have clustered ethnic or religious groups? Are they formed by the bottom-up actions of residents acting on their own, or are they formed by the top-down actions of authorities who plan and administer these places? And once established, is life in these places more influenced by bottom-up or top-down forces? We hope to find some answers to these questions.

Black Rock City, home of Burnng Man
So what semi-urban places are we including in our sample? Here is our current list (subject to modification):

Periodic settlements:
  • Pilgrimage sites. Where do all those pilgrims stay when they arrive at their destination for several days of worship or relaxation? There is a big literature on pilgrimages as processes, but very litle on the temporary housing in the destination city.
  • Festivals. Burning Man and other annual events bring large numbers of people together for short, intense periods of interaction and activity. Black Rock City, the annual settlement for Burning Man, does have neighborhoods (see my paper on the archaeological study of neighborhoods), but what about other festivals?
  • 19th century camp meeting
  • Camp meetings. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of people were drawn to temporary cities in the woods in nineteenth century America. Did they organize themselves into neighborhoods?

Large-scale contemporary camps:
  • Refugee camps. The creation of spatially separate neighborhoods is part of the design standards for refugee camps, partly for
    Chinese disaster camp
    reasons of logistics and partly to keep hostile ethnic and national groups apart.
  • Disaster camps. Less is known about whether neighborhoods are found in disaster camps or not.
Temporary concentrations of nomads:
RV "neighborhoods" at Quartzsite ?
  • Plains Indian aggregation sites.What happens when nomadic peoples gather in once place for some time? For example, when the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho gathered at Libble Bighorn to oppose Custer's force, did they arrange themselves into "neighborhoods" by tribal group?
  • Winter RV campsites. RV sites like Quartzsite are the modern equivalent of Plains Indian nomadic aggregation sites. Can these patterns at Quartzsite in Arizona be considered neighborhood-like social units?
Japanese internment camp, Arizona
Practical settlements (see "the city as practical machine")
  • Company towns. Whether 19th-20th century industrial towns (like Pullman in Chicago), or ancient Egyptian workers villages, specialized production-oriented settlements share a number of spatial and social characteristics. Do those characteristics include neighborhood organization?
  • Military camps. As a specialized settlements, established by authorities for some kind of practical task, military camps have some similarity to company towns. Do they have neighborhoods?
  • Internment camps. When large groups of people are forcibly settled in a restricted location that has been built for that purpose, do they form neighborhood-like groups? We will look at the data from Japanese internment camps in the western United States during World War II.
We may also include informal settlements (squatters settlements) and some other settlement types in our project.We think that by investigating neighborhood dynamics at these varied kinds of "semi-urban" places, we can achieve two ends. First, we may illuminate aspects of the social and spatial organization of these settlements. Second, we hope that these cases will help us understand urban neighborhood dynamics in general. Part of the impetus for this study is to explore some of the themes of our recent joint article .

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