Category Archives: New Orleans

In/Visible Borders: Urban Neighborhoods and Representations of Belonging

I just came across this paper written during my first year of graduate school and thought it deserved to be out in the world. It’s a little rough around the edges but continues to feel relevant to San Francisco politics.

The landscapes of urban locations are constantly shifting.  Within San Francisco, a city that is spatially small and therefore relatively condensed, these changes are easy to observe.  In walking through San Francisco, people find themselves quickly crossing the boundaries of one neighborhood into the next.  These boundaries, although physically invisible, are present through the visible shift in an economic class, racial or cultural identities, tourist destinations or business districts.  These parts of San Francisco or any major metropolis are an obvious aspect of city living, yet the arrangement of urban neighborhoods and representations thereof offer a rich and provocative site for investigation and analysis. It is through the representations of these urban neighborhoods and their residents that it becomes visible how particular neighborhoods are imagined and therefore understood by the public. This interrogation allows us to further understand the effect that these representations have on the physical landscape of urban neighborhoods.  In this paper I will examine the representations of two urban landscapes, San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunter’s Point and post-Katrina New Orleans.  I will consider how under-valued spaces and marginalized communities are represented in mainstream media outlets.  I will question who benefits from these representations and how they benefit.  I will do so through an analysis of the formation of neighborhoods and spaces of belonging.

Map of Hunter's Point, San Francisco

Neighborhoods are defined through physical space and geographical location.  Yet, the boundaries that serve to demarcate neighborhoods are imaginary and mark more than just spatial organization, they define who belongs and who doesn’t belong within certain spaces.  Thus, creating sociological borders that produce meanings and significations beyond physical spatiality. According to Fran Tonkiss in her book Space, the City and Social Theory, the making of borders creates “zones of inclusion” and  “draws lines of social division and exclusion.”[1] These lines of division are often understood in terms of social and cultural diversity, creating a spatial separation of ethnic and racial identities.  The borders that exist between neighborhoods serve both to separate and connect various communities and landscapes.  By recognizing the neighborhood in which one belongs one also recognizes the spaces in which one does not belong.  Further, the imaginary boundaries of neighborhoods facilitates an ability to recognize those who do not belong within one’s own neighborhood.  This recognition occurs through both the separation and connection inherent within this process.  In acknowledging the separation between neighborhoods, one also acknowledges the potential of their connection.  The separation is therefore always “shadowed by the idea…the danger of their connection.”[2]

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No Place Like Home on SFMOMA’s Open Space

“No Place Like Home:  Design and Architecture in post-Katrina New Orleans” responds to Eric Heiman’s discussion of beauty and utility through an examination of the rebuilding projects of the Make It Right Foundation and Habitat for Humanity’s Musician’s Village. The issue of housing in post-Katrina New Orleans is very dear to my heart and this article examines the long-standing tension around recent sustainable, green design in the Lower Ninth Ward. Read it on Open Space.

Make it right foundation

A thesis in pictures

As a Visual and Critical Studies student I am constantly being reminded by my advisors to use the visual as an anchor in which to discuss the critical and theoretical issues my thesis addresses:  race, whiteness, mobility, place, space, home, the myth of the American frontier and so on. So, here are some of those visuals without any explanatory text.

Visual and Critical Studies Thesis Symposium 2009

Saturday April 4, 2009 10-5 p.m. Timken Lecture Hall, CCA San Francisco

Panel 1:  REVEALING CURRENTS

Rory Padeken, Collecting Chance: Snapshots of Memory in Tacita Dean’s FLOH

Jen Banta, What is the Mystery? Abstraction and the Path of Self-Enlightenment in the Life and Painting of Bernice Bing

Zachary Royer Scholz, Alternative to the Alternative: The Changing Face of San Francisco’s Independent Art Spaces

Liu Congyun, Challenge the Changes: Works of Four Young Contemporary Chinese Artists

Panel 2:  FANTASTIC PRODUCTIONS

Camellia George, The Future is Fabulous: A Critical Anthology of Fabbing

Molly Mitchell, American Tribal Style Belly Dance: Improvising a Feminine Subjectivity

Panel 3:  URBAN APPARITIONS

Adrienne Skye Roberts, Homesick: The Search for Belonging in New Orleans’ Landscape of Loss

Duane Deterville, Drawing Down Ancestors: Defining the Afriscape Through Ground Markings and Street Altars

Paola Santoscoy, Being-With-One-Another: Art as Enactment

Wandering Home, the introduction from Homesick: The Search for Belonging in New Orleans’ Landscape of Loss

The ride West from Tallahassee, Florida was a blur. A heavy tropical storm was directly over head and on the horizon was a gathering of ominous grey, green clouds, interrupted only by the pounding of heavy raindrops against the windshield. It was the middle of hurricane season and the traffic on highway ten was a slow crawl; the cars ahead were barely visible. Many had pulled over and parked beneath an overpass, their hazard lights blinking an incessant warning. People around here had learned to be wary of storms.

As a Northern California native, anything more than the drizzle of a foggy
rainstorm made me uneasy and so, for the duration of the five-hour drive to New
Orleans, I sat silently with my eyes closed and my body stiff with worry, despite
reassurance from my traveling partner that this weather was normal. The storms’ eventual passing made visible the tenuous relationship between the open road and the expansive and foreboding water of Lake Pontchatrain. From the car window a haunting landscape was revealed: cypress trees with trunks frozen horizontally, scattered debris, and abandoned car after abandoned car—evidence of attempts to flee a storm that began not unlike this one, yet ended with devastation.

New Orleans is a city I came to know only through the catastrophic aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina. I arrived in New Orleans nearly one year after the hurricane to work as a volunteer with Common Ground Relief, a non-profit organization that emerged in response to the lack of government sponsored relief efforts. My trip to New Orleans was a pre-planned destination on a cross-country road trip. I was twenty-two years old, had recently graduated from college and had moved from the small California beach town of Santa Cruz to the city of San Francisco. Like many recent college graduates, I left behind a network of peers and a familiar place of belonging and was adjusting to the first time in my life when I was truly on my own. The cross-country road trip was a temporary solution to the restlessness of this time. It was an exploration into the unknown: geographically as I traveled through vast deserts, mountain ranges, small
country towns, and large cities and emotionally as the open roads provided space for reflection and the experience of travel encouraged self-knowledge. I was seeking an education that comes only with leaving behind that which is familiar, a perspective that comes with distance, and an education about the country in which I was born and yet knew so little about.

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