A Tsunami of Homes

Gentrification-By-Subdivision in Transnationalized South Phoenix

Since 2001 South Phoenix has been on a rollercoaster ride from disinvestment to reinvestment and back. Substandard housing stock in this historically redlined Latino and African American barrio/ghetto thwarts the house-lust of the prototypical gentrifier as does its distinctive ethnic and immigrant spatial-cultural aesthetic. Instead, boomtown ingenuity by the city’s Real Estate Industrial Complex delivered gentrification-by- subdivision, unleashing a veritable tsunami of new homes built on farmland interspersed amid the older neighborhoods. “AVAILABLE” signs enticed developers and intrepid settlers into this emergent urban frontier located but a stone’s throw from the CBD. Instead of wholesale displacement of existing poorer ethnic and migrant communities, a flood of well- heeled white Anglos moved into new gated subdivisions next door, often unaware that the too-good-to-pass-up deal they’d landed was part of public-private efforts to discipline and colonize an area long disdained in the city’s dominant urban imaginary. New residents diluted the deeper color of the older communities, and complex right-to-the-city struggles ensued between “old” South Phoenix and the bucolically re-christened South Mountain Village. Before these could be worked out, recession burst the housing bubble and an inundation of foreclosures brought plummeting home values and devastated residential integrity to South Phoenix’s bubble-era subdivisions. Will this abandonment render the new developments as desolate as the abandoned citrus orchards that during the boom years sprouted only “AVAILABLE” signs, awaiting a developer primed to make a killing on the next “Citrus Groves” subdivision? Perhaps its central location may forestall its becoming another of Arizona’s newly minted ghost towns on the sprawl-city’s fringe. But can re-devastated South Phoenix be reclaimed without resorting anew to racial minoritization?

Kristin Koptiuch is usually found considering how to practice anthropology as much performance art as social science. Fieldwork in Cairo prepared her for Middle East studies, but the urbanism she absorbed in that megacity detoured her focus to global urbanism and transnational migration. In her efforts to comprehend the un-urban urbanism of Phoenix where she’s lived for two decades, Koptiuch adopts a cinematic gaze to map in cool ways the (trans)formative urbanism of this sprawling, sizzling-but-it’s-a-dry-heat edge city. She’s a fan of digital humanities for enhancing fun and critical thinking in research and teaching. But she also loves “being there”; she voyaged around the world on a ship when she taught on Semester at Sea in 2006, and has scarcely stopped traveling since. Anchored by visual imagery, abstractions steeped in social theory become concrete and engaging to Arizona State University students in her learning-from-the-city and migration courses. Check out details at kristinkoptiuch.com or connect at koptiuch@asu.edu.

Posted in Friday Photos

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