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LunchUP: Jeremy Levine, "Constructing Community: Urban Governance, Community Development, and Neighborhood Inequality in Boston"

LunchUP: Jeremy Levine, "Constructing Community: Urban Governance, Community Development, and Neighborhood Inequality in Boston"

Presenter: Jeremy Levine, Assistant Professor of Organizational Studies, University of Michigan

Who controls community development in poor neighborhoods? The standard narrative depicts “pro-growth” coalitions that conspire in secret and redevelop poor neighborhoods for profit. This narrative, compelling to an extent, misses two recent changes in U.S. cities: the significant growth of the nonprofit sector, and the rise of public participation in community development politics. Drawing on four years of ethnographic fieldwork in Boston, I argue that these reforms fundamentally altered the structure of urban governance and reconfigured the mechanisms of urban inequality. In previous decades, local government officials and district politicians exerted significant control over community development projects. Now, however, nonprofit community-based organizations (CBOs) are viewed as more authentic neighborhood representatives than democratically elected politicians. While CBOs help bring resources to poor neighborhoods, the privatization of political representation is not without significant costs. Neighborhoods without CBOs, or neighborhoods where CBOs lack sufficient capacity, will be at a structural disadvantage to compete for scarce resources. And because CBOs are private organizations at least partially motivated by organizational survival, CBO leaders and their funders will tend to focus their efforts in neighborhoods most likely to show success—ignoring, at times, the places or people in greatest need.

These sessions are a response to requests from faculty and students to learn more about what’s going on in the field in an informal environment. We hope this can inspire emergent thoughts and connections that will inform our scholarship. 

Lunch is included, please bring a drink.