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Between ‘Blight’ and a New World: Urban Renewal, Political Mobilization, and the Production of Spatial Scale

Abstract

This paper examines political mobilization around urban renewal in San Francisco’s Japantown (Nihonmachi or J-town) during the post-World War II era. An assessment of the efforts of the Committee Against Nihonmachi Eviction (CANE) – a largely Japanese American, grassroots organization that opposed the city’s redevelopment plan – demonstrates the centrality of space to the political mobilization of people of color. CANE’s mobilization was not merely a politics of the local, fought building by building and block by block. Rather, CANE sought to organize at larger scales, for example, by procuring international allies. In addition to illustrating the scalar strategies adopted by community organizers, this case study offers lessons for understanding the relationship between urban renewal and racism, property, and the liberal capitalist state, specifically under conditions of geo-economic and geopolitical crisis.

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