"Blight as Politics" Symposium with Colin Gordon and Robert Fairbanks
In August 2013, Detroit’s Emergency Financial Manager, Kevyn Orr, declared a “blight emergency” in the city. This declaration staged “blight” as a catastrophic threat to public health, safety, security, and well-being on the same order as the other disasters listed in Michigan’s Emergency Management Act, including “hazardous radiological incident,” “hostile military or paramilitary action,” and “terrorist activities, riots, or civil disorders.” Less than a year later, the Detroit Blight Task Force announced that it had discovered over 80,000 blighted buildings in Detroit; according to the Task Force, these buildings were necessary to demolish and $850 million was required to carry out this program of urban destruction. As these events indicate, current efforts to detect, eliminate, and prevent “blight” in Detroit are prompting novel expansions of state authority, enormous public expenditures, and potentially drastic alterations of the built environment. And yet, the history of “blight” as an urban crisis soliciting radical political, economic, and social re-organization has yet to receive sustained critical or scholarly attention. With a few signal exceptions, discussions of “blight” have proceeded in dehistoricized and depoliticized contexts oriented around narrow technical parameters, as if “blight” was an easily defined and objective phenomenon instead of the spatial residue of racism and segregation, deindustrialization, disinvestment, and other fraught dynamics of American urban history.
Organized by Assoc. Prof. Andrew Herscher, this workshop will draw together scholars and activists whose work has contributed to the framing of blight as a topic of critical scholarly and public attention in order to pose “blight” as an object of interdisciplinary inquiry, informed public debate, and considered urban action.