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 .

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Race, ethnicity, social class: Are most urban neighborhoods homogeneous or heterogeneous?

Many modern cities are segregated by race, class, or other parameters, and mixed neighborhoods seem rare. Most people believe that this is not a good situation, for many reasons. Much effort is devoted to trying to reduce the degree of segregation, and there is much research about how to do this. Some writers suggest that in the distant urban past, there were more mixed neighborhoods, and homogeneous neighborhoods are a modern phenomena. Others suggest that traditional cities always had neighborhoods organized by ethnicity or class or occupation. What is the truth here? What do we know about the extent of social clustering in premodern and nonwestern cities? When people who are alike cluster in neighborhoods, is this because they prefer this arrangement and make decisions to bring it about? Or are they forcibly clustered into ghettos, and then prevented from moving by laws and other top-down practices? Or perhaps such patterns arise as byproducts of other actions and decisions? If we study these things for premodern cities, can we derive any lessons for modern urbanism?

These are some of the questions that motivate a research project I am involved in called "Urban organization through the ages: Neighborhoods, open spaces, and urban life." It is part of a series of transdisciplinary research projects at Arizona State University called "Late Lessons from Early History." One of whose goals of this program is to make comparisons between modern and past societies and try to draw lessons for modern society. If you have followed this blog, you will know one of my main purposes here is to explore connections and comparisons between premodern and modern cities. Not only do I write about both modern and ancient cities, but I often compare them or use examples from both categories to make a point.

Our research project has six principle investigators, representing the disciplines of anthropological archaeology (yours truly), sociology, geography, and political science.Our first joint article was published over the summer:

York, Abigail, Michael E. Smith, Benjamin Stanley, Barbara L. Stark, Juliana Novic, Sharon L. Harlan, George L. Cowgill, and Christopher Boone  (2011)   Ethnic and Class-Based Clustering Through the Ages: A Transdisciplinary Approach to Urban Social Patterns. Urban Studies 48(11):2399-2415.

I'd like to be able to say that we have solved the historical puzzles of urban social clustering and segregation, but alas, we have only made a modest contribution. We describe our transdisciplinary and comparative approach to the problem; we discuss a number of drivers or forces that contribute to social clustering at the neighborhood level, and we give a few examples of how these have played out in different historical and geographical settings. We use the term "clustering" because the word "segregation" has considerable baggage in modern parlance, with implications that limit its application to premodern cities. There was ethnic clustering in many premodern cities, for example, but the dynamics were quite different from modern racial segregation. Clustering is a  more neutral term, better for comparative analysis.

One of our conclusions is that there was no single "traditional" form of social clustering. Many writers over the years have assumed that modern western cities developed out of a prior pattern of traditional cities (sometimes traditional means seems to mean medieval, sometimes early modern, sometimes Classical Greece or Rome). If we can understand the traditional situation and how it changed with modernization, this will help us understand modern cities. But there was never any single "traditional" pattern.

Another conclusion is that patterns of social clustering vary greatly, both within and between urban traditions. There is no such thing as a "typical" medieval European urban pattern; some medieval cities had homogeneous neighborhoods, some had mixed neighborhoods. There was no typical "Aztec" pattern or "Islamic" or "Chinese" pattern. Cities varied in their neighborhood organization within cultures or within urban traditions.

And a third conclusion of our paper is that there are many causes or drivers of clustering, and in any given city several of these are likely to play a role. We organize them into four broad categories, each of which has several individual drivers:
  1. Macro-structural forces (capitalism, globalization, etc.)
  2. The state (laws, policies, actions of governments)
  3. Local regimes and institutions (real estate markets, zoning, local elites)
  4. Bottom-up processes (individual choice, chain migration, neighborhood self-regulation).
Our next job is to refine our scheme and apply it to a greater number and range of case studies, with more systematic and in-depth analysis. Stay tuned.