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Knowledge, Power, and the Formation of a Detroit Insurgency: Charlevoix Village Association’s studied fight against racist displacement

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Participatory planning policies suppress the voices of critical urban residents, and that suppression creates an oppressive status quo for low income people of color in cities. Despite asymmetric power dynamics, critical residents in Detroit, Michigan are collectivizing, mobilizing, and planning insurgently to change the status quo of their city to promote equity and justice. This dissertation ethnographically demonstrates why and how residents in Charlevoix Village Association (CVA) sharply resisted gentrification policies and how they promoted insurgency as a viable alternative to neoliberal planning.

Over three main articles, the dissertation moves from participation to insurgency, contributing to urban planning theory and practice by filling gaps in insurgent planning’s critique of inclusive governance and by proposing two empirically grounded theoretical branches of insurgent planning that have relevance for planning in general: insurgent knowledge and insurgent formation. In Chapter 2, I affirm planning theorists’ understanding that the system of participation relies on asymmetric information and power that often coopts community development organizations and destroys local neighborhood fabrics. I find that critical residents are not passively engaged; when engagement fails them, critical residents create independent avenues to push back on CDCs and other arms of the planning establishment. Chapter 3 demonstrates that when the planning establishment delegitimates residents’ local knowledge, insurgents produce studied ideas and theories, which they use to critique the planning process and pose insurgent alternatives. Insurgent planners revalue long-term residents’ specific and sophisticated local knowledges and link their local knowledges with technical and academic planning knowledge to generalize their condition, strategize how to limit the planning establishment, and intervene in the direction of urban affairs. In Chapter 4, I outline specific mechanisms through which regular people become insurgent. CVA’s insurgency formed by repurposing associational infrastructure away from participation and toward independent analyses of power. These power analyses directed insurgents to strategically assert nonconsent to austerity and the reimposition of separate and unequal in their city. Overall, through these empirically driven analyses of insurgent processes, I demonstrate that insurgency led by black working class residents can to some degree limit capitalism’s neoliberal expansion and build urban landscapes toward justice and democracy.

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