The spatial history of São Paulo’s Brasilândia neighborhood reveals broader truths about the city. From its origins in the early twentieth century through the 1985 Black Women’s Collective celebration of the renaming of a public plaza to the city’s plan for its newest metro stop, Andrew Britt’s work shows how African descendants in São Paulo were persistently displaced and persistently present. The racialized space of Brasilandia tells a layered story of Black enslavement, forced migration, urban redevelopment, and Black self-determination, with echoes far beyond São Paulo.
With the United Nations projecting that 68 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, there is almost no aspect of life untouched by the relationship of humans to the built environment. “Layered Metropolis” intends to convey the multifaceted dynamics of the city and the life of city dwellers through a glimpse into the research of a number of SSRC fellows from across our programs. These essays represent a wide range of disciplines, research approaches, historical moments, and geographies that explore spatial politics, technology, policing, and diverse urban communities.
From Brooklyn to Bogotá, social knowledge about access to space and services, who benefits from gentrification, who is erased in the urban landscape, the racial and class implications of proposed changes to a city, or the maintenance of the status quo can reveal the interconnected injustices cemented in the city. Powerful actors, such as the state, can organize and manipulate space to their priorities and needs, whether it’s the promotion of greening practices of Soviet communism or expanding homeownership in Asia. Yet, despite these actors’ designs, built spaces are imbued with multiple meanings and capture the simultaneity of experiences in the city. From architecture to anthropology, the different disciplinary perspectives present in this series investigate the hidden and hierarchical layers of urban landscapes. Deeper understandings of these complexities, many of contributors argue, is essential to addressing them.
The geographies to be explored here show the deep connection of the city to broader political and social concerns, including inequality and insecurity, racialized citizenship, and climate change. “Layered Metropolis” provides an overview of the state and dynamism of urban studies and sheds light on the role of the city in the past, present, and imagined futures.
The creation of, and responses to, Bogotá’s Center of Memory, Peace, and Reconciliation is one example that makes clear the fraught relationship of Colombia’s violent past to its urban future. Federico Pérez shows how city governments, developers, and ordinary people continue to assert their interests—symbolic, historical, and financial—over space in the Colombian capital, whether its demolishing a cemetery or fighting to preserve a working-class neighborhood. These conflicts put in sharp relief the connection between unresolved legacies of civil war and violence and urban space and renewal.
As cities are gentrified by developers and new residents, their work is often cast as saving the city and repopulating an empty city in crisis, despite the fact that those spaces are occupied by longtime residents and workers. This is not a race-neutral discourse. Jessi Quizar’s research on Detroit shows the connection between the discourse around “urban pioneers” to Detroit and settler colonialism. And while Quizar’s work makes this connection eminently clear about white gentrifiers in a majority–African American Detroit, her work forces us to consider the language around gentrification more broadly: who is made visible and who is erased in policies about and discussions of urban development?
The SSRC’s Committee on New York City (1985–1991) aimed to study the social, cultural, political, and economic interactions that happen in urban settings, as well as how these intersections then reverberate beyond it. In this 1986 report, Ira Katznelson explains the Committee’s goals and key themes. He discusses how focusing on New York City would provide an ideal place through which to study different urban dynamics through a range of disciplines. Through its three working groups —The Built Environment, The Dual City, and Metropolitan Dominance—the Committee sought to investigate how cultural, economic, and political forces shape New York City and society at large, from the nineteenth through twentieth centuries.