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. We have selected neighborhoods to study in Detroit, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. The study is overseen by the Urban Space Lab at The New School, with generous funding from the Gerda Henkel Foundation.
Phase One: The Rust Archipelago.
During the first phase of the project, we examined the various histories and forces that have shaped the postindustrial landscapes of Detroit, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. We identified an ensemble of neighborhoods that we call the "Rust Archipelago." By this we mean a chain 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.
Phase Two: Stories of Resilience and Renewal.
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 the second phase, we 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 are listening to the voices of residents in these three neighborhoods to learn how they think about their surroundings, what modes of care and repair they employ, and in what ways they assert their rights and interests in building a future.