The Three Cities Project is an effort to investigate life in a series of urban landscapes in the American Northeast and Midwest that have been transformed by long-term processes of racial discrimination, capital flight, and the withdraw of public services. The study is overseen by the Urban Time Lab at The New School, with generous funding from the Gerda Henkel Foundation.
The neighborhoods that we are studying are located in Detroit, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. They are part of what we call the "Rust Archipelago." By this we mean a series of spatially distinct zones of discard in different cities that nevertheless share characteristics across distances, such as vacant buildings, crumbling infrastructure, polluted environments, high unemployment, and other signatures of abandonment. As an ensemble of places, they comprise a variant mode of urbanity that results from the slow violence of deindustrialization, neglect, and disinvestment. Over time, residents in these places have had to cope with life amid abandonment, and to devise ways of mitigating conditions, repairing damage, creating new opportunities, knitting together community, and demanding justice.
In this study, we want to move beyond debates about the causes of racial discrimination and disinvestment, discussions of its aggregate impacts, or the most efficacious policy interventions, though these are important to the story. Rather, we propose to take a close, careful look at life as it has actually unfolded in the Rust Archipelago, how people who live there conceptualize their surroundings and engage in modes of care and repair, and the efforts of disinvested communities to assert their rights and interests in building a future.