In the preface of his City of Rhetoric, David Fleming outlines the course he will take in his book regarding the relationship between public discourse and built environments in the United States. I have noticed that Fleming structures his argument three parts. The first part of his argument in the preface is the rejection of implicit judgement of his topic. He establishes that his work is unique in this part. In the second part of his argument, Fleming introduces the perspectives he uses to come to his conclusions and gives historical examples, thereby convincing his audience to read further into his piece. The last part of the preface, however, indirectly makes the claim that if we can change the environment around us, we can change the politics it produces.
Fleming does make clear that he doesn’t wish to take a traditional work of view, but a commentary on existing built environments and how the influence public discourse. Fleming states that his book is a “verbal portrait of contemporary civic life in the United States” (xi). He emphasizes this because he feels it is important to communicate to his audience the uniqueness of his perspective. By offering this “verbal portrait,” he isn’t trying to explain deep historical trends rooted in sociological studies. Instead, Fleming reaffirms that he is offering commentary on existing trends of community development and political activity. Fleming states that, with his book, he will attempt to “crack open the visible world of our local lives and find within it a specifically political rationale” (xi). Once again, he is making clear to his audience what his purpose is and why his perspective is unique from other people who have contributed to similar conversations.
Subsequently, Fleming introduces the tools and techniques he wishes to explore the relationship between discourse and environments. In order to achieve his goal, Fleming says he will bring together “three traditions of thought not usually linked: political philosophy, urban design, and rhetorical theory” (xii). The mixture of these three perspectives when trying to understand the effect place has on discourse contributes new material to existing conversations in each of the three traditions individually. Fleming then develops this part of the preface by offering historical examples regarding how actors like ancient Greeks, the founders of democracy, utilized principles of urban planning to promote democracy. With the various examples Fleming offers, he builds trust within his audience because readers will then start to trust there is indeed a relationship between space and discourse. This helps to draw attention to Fleming’s argument in the rest of his book.
As the preface comes to a close, Fleming suggests that if we can understand these relationships, we can actively reshape them to influence the politics of our environment. Fleming makes sure to emphasize the importance of studying the relationship between public discourse and the built environment. Fleming states, “if we continue to design our landscape so that we need not have contact with people who are different from us, we should not be surprised when the political life that results is impoverished” (xiv). By saying so, he is suggesting that the opposite approach will have an adverse affect. To elaborate, Fleming is hinting that if we design our landscape to have us in contact with people that may be different than us, we may see a revitalization in public discourse and a surge in political participation.
In “Underpinning and Shoring of Historic Howard Theatre in Washington, DC,” Englert and Eddy suggest that the restoration of the Howard Theatre was an intense process that inevitably brought to light major construction challenges. This source is primarily an analysis on the different construction techniques used to restore the Howard Theatre to its current state, but it also provides insight into architectural choices made for the theatre itself. Englert and Eddy, in their report, emphasize the need to maintain the exterior appearance of the Howard Theatre as it was built originally. The interior of the Howard Theatre would preserve some of its original architectural designs, but would accommodate newer technology. In doing so, Englert and Eddy illustrate the deliberate decisions made to bring the Howard Theatre into the twenty-first century.
This source is arguable one of the most unique in my collection. There is little commentary about socioeconomic and demographic differences relating to either Shaw or the Howard Theatre, which some may interpret as a negative characteristic. However, I believe the lack of commentary and the reporting of construction challenges allow for me to make connections regarding Shaw’s socioeconomic and demographic shifts myself. This source also allows me to think about how Howard Theatre came to be a nightclub for some people while also serving as a place one might go to if they wished to listen to opera. This connects especially well with my analysis of the theatre’s website because I will be able to draw relationships between the various services of the theatre to its architecture.
In the journal publication “The Back-to-the-City Movement: Neighbourhood Redevelopment and Processes of Political and Cultural Displacement,” Derek Hyra adds nuance to the process of gentrification in Shaw. Hyra acknowledge on one hand, the influx of younger affluent residents in Shaw may result in an improved quality of life. He suggests that newer residents may demand better infrastructure repairs and political participation. On the other hand, Hyra also acknowledges that there may be differing perspectives among community residents. Younger affluent residents want to make Shaw a center of revitalization with the neighborhood earning a title of being “new and improved.” Older residents are often pushed to the side and are displaced from their homes, churches, and other community centers. The role of the Howard Theatre in Shaw, however, continues to serve as a place where primarily older residents are able to attend despite the changes around them.
I especially like the analysis that Hyra provides connecting the influx of young white affluent residence to possibly unforeseen social implications. I admired the way the source brought to light two different narratives regarding gentrification and how one might look at it. The source illuminated what newer residence may view their role as, which is essentially as saviors of the neighborhood. The source also illuminates that older residents may view the same phenomenon as a narrative to eventually evict them from their home and destroy their culture. Both views, in my opinion, are equally valid and I believe I can find a way to incorporate them into my larger essay.
In Capital Dilemma: Growth and Inequality in Washington, D.C., Derek Hyra gives insight on the greater dilemma of gentrification in Washington. This publication is a book with several chapters dedicated to different dimensions of gentrification and its effect on the District’s race relations. The book reinforces “the reality that the District of Columbia is a much more vibrant, vital, and changing urban center than tourist postcard scenes of munificent parks and public spaces might suggest” (322). Hyra explains this by thoroughly deconstructing demographic changes by asking questions like, “Who is supposed to be here? Who is actually here?” He also explores the concept of economic inequality in D.C. by investigating the evolving economic employment structures and its effect on hiring patterns in socioeconomically depressed areas. His findings lead him to suggest that, no matter how turbulent changes may seem, they actively change the identity of a neighborhood or region. However, Hyra does not endorse viewing such changes passively and encourages residents to take an active role in shaping their communities using the successes and failures of Washington as guides.
In my opinion, this source is especially important for me to understand and put into conversation with my other sources. This is the case because the source enables me to connect the Howard Theatre, buildings I’ve seen around the theatre, and my interactions with Shaw into broader context. My field research on the Howard Theatre has been extremely specific to this point, and while I understood fragments of a larger narrative, this book clearly puts my experiences into perspective.
Robert Samuels of the Washington Post, in his article “Aged out of the District,” makes the argument that the District of Columbia is actively trying to invite millennials to stay by making neighborhoods more desirable to live in. In this article, Samuels does acknowledge that, with the rising cost of housing and other services, the millennials that can afford to live in D.C. are usually single and affluent. However, he says that the rapid increase of housing costs may inadvertently be pushing even those single millennials out. They are more likely to stay in the District in the short term and in knowing they are only there for a small amount of time, they don’t bother making meaningful connections with long-time residents. Furthermore, the District has been getting so expensive to live in that these millennials are second-guessing their decision to start families. In perspective, however, this does not fare well especially for older residents who may be low- or fixed-income. Then, it is needless to say that community development in the District of Columbia is simply vicious.
Many of my other sources allude to how affluent white millennials are moving to D.C. neighborhoods like Shaw because it’s simply the “next big thing.” Businesses are starting up, crime rates are being reduced, nicer brunch places boasting watered-down ethnic foods are being built. A dream come true until one looks at the repercussions. The truth is, rising costs have inadvertently led to rise of homelessness in D.C. This is a concept that my other sources allude to but have never named. In relation to my other sources, this source can potentially highlight the aftermath of city-sponsored development projects. I can then connect this source and contextualize it with the demographics of who now attends Howard Theatre, or maybe who does not.
According to this Washington Post article written by Debbi Wilgoren, it is entirely possible to align the interests of real estate developers and long-time residents of Shaw. To do this, Wilgoren introduces the ongoing conflict of residents being forced out of their neighborhood due to community development and then a proposal drafted by an advocacy group. In one instance, she quotes a single mother, Anika Trahan, who says, “We cannot afford to stay.” Through the advocacy group Manna, Wilgoren explains that consensus between residents and developers can indeed be achieved. She explains Manna has proposed to have developers: 1) Increase available affordable housing, 2) Offer below-market rents for existing businesses, and 3) Recruit more Shaw residents for jobs created as a result of projects. The success of this proposal is astounding. As Wilgoren states, “Manna officials said the proposal, developed over 18 months, has the support of several advisory neighborhood commissioners, Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham (D), various churches and nonprofit organizations in the neighborhood and five private developers interested in building there.” Ultimately, this proves that the success of developers doesn’t always have to be at the expense of residents.
This source is will be an essential piece in concert with my other sources because it offers a perspective that would otherwise be unheard. Many of my sources describe a deliberate scheme to systematically oppress the residents of Shaw through gentrification while using the history of the Howard Theatre as a lens. There is truth to this. However, this Washington Post article suggests that there is a possibility to hinder that scheme, to bring about progress that isn’t at the expense of others.
In Lance Freeman’s book titled There Goes the Hood : Views of Gentrification from the Ground Up, the central argument is that there is no one view of gentrification any more valid than another. The concept of gentrification, like many concepts, may be interpreted differently by different people. What I admire about this book is that it heavily relies on interviews with a plethora of people. I have been used to the concept of gentrification being a indirectly violent phenomenon, but as an interviewee states in Chapter 4 titled, “Making Sense of Gentrification,” “I think gentrification is good in certain respects in that it brings things to a neighborhood what it really never had. Like an all-black neighborhood never had as much police protection as their white counterpart. So it brings that. Plus it brings investment” (98). That’s a view not many of my previous sources are willing to explain.
To use such a source would allow me to truly map the complexity of urban development and its relationship to gentrification. No matter how false or true a claim may be, it must be supported. Although I wholeheartedly believe that “urban development” is a gilded term for gentrification, this source allows me to expand on what people may think if they view the opposite. It allows me to further my credibility because I will have a balance of opinion.
Huning, Sandra, and Nina Schuster. “‘Social Mixing’ or ‘Gentrification’? Contradictory Perspectives on Urban Change in the Berlin District of Neukölln.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 39, no. 4, July 2015, pp. 738–755.
In Sandra Huning’s and Nina Schuster’s ‘Social Mixing’ or ‘Gentrification’? Contradictory Perspectives on Urban Change in the Berlin District of Neukölln, the central argument suggests that terms like “social mixing” and “gentrification” not only describe the transformation of a place, but are embedded in its transformation. The argument is developed by viewing the Berlin district of Neukölln as a lense to explore this phenomenon. As Huning and Schuster state, social mixing refers to “the ideal of social mixing refers to hegemonic middle-class values of individual achievement, capacity and lifestyle and thereby stabilizes existing power relations.” They suggest that the term gentrification describes the same phenomenon, but from a different perspective. Huning and Schuster describe gentrifications as a means to “protest against the loss of affordable housing and the displacement of poor residents.” Both views have weight to them and both are equally valid.
To use this source in conversation with my other sources is to surface complexity in the issue regarding gentrification. Development, social mixing, and gentrification are all connected, yet unique in their way of describing the same phenomenon. After reviewing this source, I plan to further the argument presented by understanding how it relates to Neukölln and applying it to the Howard Theatre. Shaw has transformed into a mixed community, which allows me greater agency to truly explore the diversity of perspectives it holds.
Ley, David, and Cory Dobson. “Are There Limits to Gentrification? The Contexts of Impeded Gentrification in Vancouver.” Urban Studies, vol. 45, no. 12, Nov. 2008, pp. 2471–2498.
In their Are There Limits to Gentrification? The Contexts of Impeded Gentrification in Vancouver,David Ley and Cory Dobson analyze the positive and negative consequences of gentrification. They acknowledge both sides to how one may approach gentrification. On one hand they acknowledge that with gentrification comes development and investment. Yet, Ley and Dobson both understand that, “Districts with impeded gentrification would have a minimal stock of older or newer residential properties with architectural character; they would have limited access to environmental amenities or desirable cultural institutions, but could well be near working industrial sites; and generally they would be lower-income and often immigrant neighbourhoods, including districts of deep poverty, some distance from existing élite areas” (2475). Because of the intensity of such a phenomenon, they also suggest that activism is bound to occur to reverse these trends. Ley and Dobson elaborate, “Sustained neighbourhood mobilisation has led to a distinctive local moral culture that accepts the right to the city for poor people” (2494). By making such a statement, Ley’s and Dobson’s publication ultimately suggests that there will always be pushback by local residents against the forces of gentrification disguised as urban development, and that this is a trend worth exploring.
Initially, I viewed the process of gentrification as one with an endgame. The endgame was to pretend to preserve an area’s culture, but ultimately substitute it for another. A complete takeover. However, Ley and Dobson offer a convincing argument. As long as there is perceived injustice, there will be some resistance. This makes me curious as to how Shaw is reacting to “development” in the area. It makes me want to explore the ways in which Shaw has resisted, how it has resisted, and how effective was it. The publication has offered me a new platform to explore my built environment.
David Fleming, in the afterword of his book titled The City of Rhetoric, argues that if we wish to see any advancement in American society, we must no longer neglect the important relationship between a given space and socioeconomic trends. This chapter is unique in the sense that he begins by providing historical and political examples that many Americans are aware of. He references political bills, statistical data, and publicized orations. To clarify his argument, he remaps the arguments he developed throughout the course of the book. This way, we understand the relevance of what seemed like arbitrary detail in the part before. Finally, he stresses the relationship between space and socioeconomic issues is not coincidental. Before we can understand the complexity of the world we live in, we must examine our built environments. If we can understand the rhetoric of our built environments, we can prevent the further fragmentation of our society.
Fleming begins his argument by listing examples of major events that the American public has experienced, and this solidifies the connection between his work and the real world. For instance, Fleming begins this chapter with a quote from the U.S. Housing Act of 1949 which reads, “The Congress declares that the general welfare and security of the Nation and the health and living standards of its people require . . . the realization as soon as feasible of the goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family” (211). This allows Fleming a platform to introduce other historical examples of the American government addressing public planning, and their failure to address it well. He references how the Bush administration circa 2006 failed to uphold the standards set by the 1949 Housing Act and how hurricane Katrina revealed that the American government had tried to mask worsening socioeconomic trends as indicators of progress. To Fleming’s readers, such examples draw the connection between theory and practice. For lack of better terms, it simply becomes real.
To reinforce this concept, Fleming revisits and reflects on the examples he had explained in depth throughout his novel. He recalls the shortcomings of Cabrini Green, Chicago’s suburbia, and unforgiving high rises. After acknowledging them, David Fleming begins to answer the proverbial question, “So what?” And to that, he answers that design, by nature, is natural and countervailing to large-scale political and economic forces. Design is organic, and to force design to work differently and to separate people, the design is flawed. To further the concept of a relationship between a built environment and larger economic, social, and political issues, he appeals to a widely accepted cause–global warming. Fleming argues ironically, “dense, centered cities— as “un-natural” as they often seem to us— may be our best hope in fighting global warming and, ultimately, saving Earth as a habitable planet” (215). He references this because, one way or another, he is trying to convince his readers why these concepts are important. If one reason isn’t enough to convince his readers, then this might.
The overall message of Fleming’s afterword inspires a sense of activism. It is short, concise, and despondent. Fleming recognizes the fragmentation and polarization of American society is only increasing, and that he doesn’t have much hope even in newer generations to reverse this trend. However, Fleming isn’t entirely convinced there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Although he expects there is no point in placing the burden upon future generations to essentially reverse a trend that has been developing for centuries, he claims that the minds of youth are still malleable. I admire the way Fleming ends this last chapter. Fleming states, “Perhaps if young people experience, even just within the walls of a high school or college classroom, what it can be like to be members of a strong public, they will grow up and demand such publics in the ‘real world’” (214). And how are these “strong republics” formed? Well, the first step is to understand our built environment.
In the eighth chapter of City of Rhetoric titled “Toward a New Sociospatial Dialectic,” David Fleming argues that space affects a given person’s behavior in relation to their environment because there is a clear link between environment and opportunity. To make this claim, Fleming splices this chapter into two parts. The first part of the chapter focuses on what was previously said. It reinforces previous concepts Fleming has introduced such as the relationship between suburbia and a feeling of bland conformity, or an urban jungle that by nature breeds hostility and paranoia. The second part, however, explains why certain spaces are allocated to certain types of people, whether they be separated by race, class, or both.
Fleming makes an interesting choice to reinforce the previous examples he has introduced mainly in Part Two of his publication. He revisits the examples in his previous chapters from Cabrini Green to 1230 North Burling Street. He revisits why the structures in Cabrini Green were overrun by gang activity while 1230 North Burling Street witnessed the creation a relatively executive board. Not only does he summarize the points he makes in these chapters, he explains why this matters. The first part of this chapter is essentially a summary of Part Two because Fleming is preparing to explain why it matters. So why does it matter? Fleming then argues that it matters because how engaged citizens are in their surroundings ultimately defines the success or failure of a commonplace.
Citizen engagement, however, is only one aspect to Fleming’s argument. He develops it further by contextualizing it into a broader conversation regarding the relationship between environment and opportunity. Essentially, Fleming explains the success or failure of his aforementioned examples in relation to how easily citizens of a given area were able to interact with one another. In the latter half of the chapter, Fleming suggests that the architecture of an environment deliberately either unifies or separates people. It may also encourage individuality of conformity within them. These effects, in concert with an individual’s demographic characteristics, determines how much opportunity that person has in relation to their environment. Once this is determined, we can begin to understand their level of involvement in their environment.
By making this argument, Fleming indirectly asserts that by changing the structure of one’s environment, we can influence the way people behave for better or for worse. By design, we can create a more or less inclusive environment for the people that live there. Although Fleming acknowledges that human beings are too complex to directly influence for specific outcomes, the deliberate restructuring of an environment can distribute influence and voice more equally among people. In doing so, we create what Fleming says a “strong republic.” Of course, this ties back to the quote Fleming introduces in the beginning of the chapter by George Eliot in Middlemarch. The quote reads:
“For there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it.”
The quote only reinforces the notion that what we do is characterized by where we are.
In City of Rhetoric, David Fleming explores the relationship between demographic characteristics and urban planning. This relationship is explored through “PART TWO: Designing the Twenty-first Century Public Sphere” and is elaborated on throughout four chapters, each of which are specific cases. Prior to beginning his argument, Fleming makes the decision to display several pages worth of photographs of buildings in different locations. At first, these photographs are confusing because the only indicators of what they are or why they’re there are their captions. There is no other given explanation other than the sources that Fleming had obtained them from.
In the first chapter of this part, “Ghetto: Chicago, 1995,” Fleming pulls a quote from another figure. In this case, the quote is by Richard Wright in Native Son and it reads,
“Why they make us live in one corner of the city?”
This quote is especially telling because it serves as a lens through which to view the ghettos of Chicago. Throughout this chapter, he explains several instances in which architecture inadvertently shapes the way people behave. For example, multistory buildings keep parents from watching their children play on streets below and the abandonment of the grid street system prevents people from being able to navigate with ease. Fleming also makes a point that, whether or not these planning issues are intended, even though they may likely be, they have an adverse effect on the people in that location. Fleming also suggests that this is why as soon as people enter ghettos, regardless of whether or not they live there, an automatic understanding is to distrust others. He argues that this distrust fosters the increase in crime and the necessity of someone being able to mind their own business.
The remaining three chapters in this part of the book make similar styles of argument in uniquely separate settings. The other settings Fleming talks about are suburbs, cities, and the most interesting, home. Each chapter, like the first, is also introduced with a quote that serve as a means through which to view these locations from. It’s also interesting that one of the places he had included was home. When Fleming defines home, he defines it as a community, as an area, as somewhere to come back to and problems to come back to as well. Home is what people have made it, and Fleming has successfully established the relationship between demographic characteristics and location.
Not only do we affect places, but places affect us.