Social Geography

SOCIAL GEOGRAPHY

Synthesis: Social Geography studies the spatialization of society in a particular place or region. It is an inherently multi-disciplinary field that continues to evolve and grow as we realize that everything is in fact interconnected and related.

OED: “social geography n. a branch of human geography dealing with social relationships and structures, and the interrelations between these; the environment of a place or region, as it relates to or is affected by society and social factors.”[1]

“The journal intends to enhance and to accelerate communication amongst scientists working in social geography, including Human Geography, Sociology, Anthropology, Architecture, Ecology, Cultural Studies, History, Politics, Philosophy, or Linguistics. Social Geography enables rapid publication and discussion on research work for the benefit of each discipline and for strengthening cross-disciplinary discourses.

“Social Geography provides a forum for contributions that combine a strong theoretical orientation with praxis-related matters of concern. It focuses on the interrelation of society, practice and space and its implications for every day-life, social and environmental policy or economic practice. Furthermore, the journal supports contributions that account for theoretical interfaces of the related scientific fields, including their respective philosophy of science. At irregular intervals “classics” in Social Geography are reviewed in order to invigorate the critical reflection of the discipline.

“General Topics:

  • Social theory of socio-cultural practice and space;
  • Empirical studies of social construction and acquirement of space(s).”[2]

Social & Cultural Geography offers a specialized outlet for the publication of research concerned with the spatialities of society and culture, particularly the role of space, place and culture in relation to social issues, cultural politics, aspects of daily life, cultural commodities, consumption, identity and community, and historical legacies.”[3]


[1] Oxford English Dictionary online.

[2] “Aims and Scope” for Social Geography/An Interactive Open Access Journal. Editors-in-Chief: Anthony Giddens, Matthew Hannah & Benno Werlen. <http://www.social-geography.net/index.html&gt; accessed 11/28/2010.

[3] “Aims and Scope” for Social and Cultural Geography. Managing Editor Michael Brown, Editors Phil Hubbard and Lily Kong. <http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/14649365.asp&gt; accessed 11/28/2010.

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Lexicon Updates

Terms: Neighborhood Character, Social Reproduction, Urban Public Space.

NEIGHBORHOOD CHARACTER

If Social Reproduction is the process by which societies reproduce themselves, and by which immigrants adapt to new countries, then its product in a particular district is Neighborhood Character. The interaction between the physical space (streets, buildings, infrastructure, public space) of a neighborhood and its inhabitants (culture, politics, economics) produces Neighborhood Character. This is a process that occurs primarily in the public spaces of a neighborhood, which are streets and open spaces or parks.

SOCIAL REPRODUCTION

Synthesis: This process is the means by which society reproduces itself by replacement of people and institutions similar to the original. Society can be considered a superorganism that evolves.

In the case of Ethnic Enclaves, immigrants build an adapted version of how they lived in their original countries in order to survive in a foreign place by the most familiar means. The process of adaptation, according to Christopher Smith and John Logan, also affects specific spaces or neighborhoods because Social Reproduction occurs in particular localities over a period of time. Buildings and streets begin to physically manifest Social Reproduction as the new social networks develop and Social Capital (discussed by Jane Jacobs) accrues.

Christopher Smith and John Logan: “[S]ocial reproduction … includes changes in social habits, beliefs, and values. … All households generate unique strategies in this endeavor, but there are some observable commonalities. Law and Wolch, for example, describe four ‘agencies of provision’ from which households can assemble the resources they need: the state (which provides the basic infrastructure for daily living, as well as welfare services for those in need);the formal and informal sectors of the labor market (where jobs and incomes are attainable); the community (which usually provides a range of formal and informal services); and the wide array of social supports offered locally and regionally by friends, neighbors, family members and coethnics.

“The struggle to survive in the competitive arena of the immigrant neighborhood also has a distinct spatial component. The residents and the “agencies of provision” are rooted in a particular locality, and the sum total of survival strategies adopted by different households within the neighborhood will contribute to and in fact will constitute the transformation of the local urban landscape.”[1]

Paul Gingrich (?) For Sociology 304: “Reproduction is used in a number of ways in sociology. In each of the uses, it means the replacement of people or structures with a new set similar to the original, such that the social system can continue. A basic definition of reproduction is “producing again” or “making a copy.” Reproduction in the Oxford English Dictionary is the “Action or process of forming, creating, or bringing into existence again.”[2]

URBAN PUBLIC SPACE

Synthesis: Combining the definitions of Urban, Public and Space, Urban Public Space refers to a specific, delimited area that is open to general observation, not concealed, not private; can affect the concerns of the adjacent community; can be occupied by particular things or people; and is located in an urban atmosphere.

R. Deutsche: “Abstract space is also a vehicle for state domination, subordination, and surveillance. According to Lefebvre, it possesses a distinctive combination of three features. Abstract space is homogeneous or uniform so that it can be used, manipulated, controlled, and exchanged. Within the homogeneous whole, which spreads over vast areas, it is fragmented into interchangeable parts, so that, as a commodity, it can be bought and sold. Abstract space is, further, hierarchically ordered, divided into centers and peripheries, upper- and lower-status spaces, spaces of the governing and governed. All three features require that space be objectified and universalized, submitted to an abstract measure… “The dominant space, that of the spaces of richness and power, is forced to fashion the dominated spaces, that of the periphery. “[53] The relegation of groups of people and particular uses of space to enclosed areas outside the center produces an “explosion of spaces.” Thus, through homogenization, a multitude of differences become available to perception as abstract space imposes itself on the space of everyday life. This process embodies a further contradiction, that between the production of space for profit and control-abstract space-and for social reproduction-the space of everyday life, which is both created by and yet escapes the generalizations of exchange. Abstract space represents, then, the unstable subordination of integrated social space by a centralized space of power. Because space is essential to daily life, the space of domination is resisted by what Lefebvre terms the “appropriation” of space for individual and social purposes.”[3]


[1] Christopher Smith and John Logan. “Flushing 2000: Geographic Explorations in Asian New York.” in From Urban Enclave to Ethnic Suburb, ed. Wei Li. (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i, 2006), 43.

[2] “Sociology 304/Notes for February 24, 1998/Social Reproduction.” Last edited February 22,1998. Course website for “Sociology 304 – Winter 1998/Issues in Modern Sociological Theory” Taught by Professor Paul Gingrich at University of Regina/Department of Sociology and Social Studies. <http://uregina.ca/~gingrich/feb2498.htm&gt; accessed 11/27/2010.

[3] Rosalyn Deutsche. “Uneven Development: Public Art in New York City. October 47 (Cambridge, Mass.) (1988) p. 27-28.

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Social Reproduction

There exists no dictionary definition for Social Reproduction, no Encyclopedia.com definition; scholarly articles about social reproduction do not bother to actually explain what social reproduction is on the basis that the reader is familiar with the term.

So I finally found a website from a University of Regina (Canadian) that teaches Sociology 304 that has a whole page devoted to “Social Reproduction.”

In this outline, II-B “Meaning of Social Reproduction” is most promising:

B. Meaning of Social Reproduction

Reproduction is used in a number of ways in sociology. In each of the uses, it means the replacement of people or structures with a new set similar to the original, such that the social system can continue. A basic definition of reproduction is “producing again” or “making a copy.” Reproduction in the Oxford English Dictionary is the “Action or process of forming, creating, or bringing into existence again.”

While reproduction may mean copying what existed in the past, this is unlikely to occur in any exact manner for societies as a whole. There are always changed environmental, social, and economic conditions, along with new technologies and processes. Over time, there are new individuals who have different characteristics; these individuals relate to others in new and different ways. Consider, for example, integration of newcomers to a country as a two way process, involving adaptation of the newcomers to the country, but also meaning changes in social structure as these newcomers integrate. Where reproduction of social processes, structures, institutions, and social relationships is involved, reproduction of the society can even be problematic. There are also economic and political processes involved, and reproduction of society – especially in the contemporary era – likely involves considerable change in the structures, institutions, and social relationships of society.” (Direct Quote from website)

And then the types are as follows:

  • Biological Reproduction.
  • Generational Reproduction
  • Daily Reproduction
  • Reproduction of Social Structures and Relations
  • Simple and Expanded Reproduction

From this limited understanding, I gather that Social Reproduction makes a basic assumption that society or groups within can be considered super organisms that reproduce much like biological creatures. As societies and groups evolve, they affect spaces around them on small, street, neighborhood, city, and regional scales; spaces likewise affect societies and groups.

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“Flushing 2000: Geographic Explorations in Asian New York”

Bibliography Addition:

Title: “Flushing 2000: Geographic Explorations in Asian New York.” in From Urban Enclave to Ethnic Suburb, ed. Wei Li.

Author: Christopher J. Smith and John R. Logan

Summary: Smith and Logan track the change in ethnography in Flushing, NY from 1990 to 2000. They describe interviews with residents to implement the strategy of comprehending “social reproduction,” or how immigrants resettle in new locations using four “agency provisions” (as described by Law and Wolch (1993): from which household assemble required resources: the state: infrastructure + welfare, informal + formal sectors of labor market for income, community providing formal + informal services, social support from social networks. This resettlement or “social reproduction” process is competitive for limited resources. It also distinctly affects a neighborhood because this resettlement occurs in specific locals.[1]

They go on to describe the white flight of the 1970’s-80’s as not causing urban decay as per usual because of Asian settlement that brought in capital from Asian entrepreneurs. Asians settled in Flushing as a result of certain perceived benefits: local jobs, accessibility to City (good public transit), Quality + Affordability in Housing, Safety for kids.[2] There was a great deal of available land in the form of undeveloped or deindustrialized + vacated land, especially west of Flushing River.

The change also had dark sides, resulting from growing pains of rapid development: housing price increase, school quality decrease, crowding, noise, traffic, rising crime rate. Local Entrepreneurs desire to stimulate local economy and draw from residents for labor.[3] Previous long-term residents feel a threat of change to their sense of place and spatial identity. However, perhaps Flushing’s history as religiously tolerant and stopping point of the Underground Railroad should be invoked to ask for patience on the part of long-term residents, as the Asian demographic increase does not seem to be halting any time soon.[4]


[1] Christopher Smith and John Logan. “Flushing 2000: Geographic Explorations in Asian New York.” in From Urban Enclave to Ethnic Suburb, ed. Wei Li. (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i, 2006), 43.

[2] Smith and Logan, “Flushing 2000,” 52.

[3] Smith and Logan, Flushing 2000,” 56.

[4] Smith and Logan, “Flushing, 2000,” 72.

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Coalition “REDO” | Position Paper

“The Coalition to Reconsider & Evaluate Development Opportunities at Municipal Parking Lot 1 in Downtown Flushing” has put together a fascinating tale in their Position Paper of how Municipal Parking Lot #1 came to be, as well as their response to the TDC/Rockefeller Group’s Flushing Commons Proposal.

Summary:

I had originally thought that Municipal Lot #1 was created expressly for slum clearance, but it was from its very conception desired to be a superblock development, then envisioned by William Zeckendorf. [1] After razing two full whole blocks of single and two family homes occupied by long-time African-American residents, the parking lot was built in lieu of a never-built Bland Houses Public Housing Complex. Since the 1970’s, several major redevelopment proposals have emerged, all of them opposed by inhabitants and the Community Board 7. The community, organized by former Councilmember Julia Harrison, put together a report in 1993, Flushing Town Square, that described what they desired. It called for a phased, lower density infill project, but was never implemented.[2]

This document analyzes the Flushing Commons design, reveals its short-comings, and offers solutions desired by the community. Of the following, I find interesting 1) the desire to keep lower density, 2) the desire to refurbish the existing Flushing YMCA as an elementary school, and 3) the desire for a Cinema/Large Bookstore. Especially the latter, because I had not realized that there was a perception of needing a Cinema/Large Bookstore in order to feel like a “bonafide destination.”[3]

  • Parking : sufficient quantity, 2000 spaces
  • Parking Rates: Capped
  • Traffic Mitigation
  • Open Space: not 1.5 acres, at least 2.5 acres
  • Architectural Design: significant for focal point, not misplaced suburbia
  • Zoning/Land-Use: keep lower density, C4-3 NOT C4-4
  • Density/Height: low
  • Infrastructure: Rehaul
  • Business Disruption/Construction Mitigation Fund: Waaay more
  • Flushing YMCA: Keep the old building, refurbish as Elementary School
  • Cinema/Bookstore: 4-6 screen movie theatre, Barnes and Noble
  • Public Property/Eminent Domain: the parking lot is PUBLIC PROPERTY, not the City’s
  • Lack of Due Process/Public Input/Transparency/Written Notificaiton[4]

Conclusion:

Overall, really interesting to see how the Community articulates itself in such matters. It would be really interesting to see the 1993 Report created by Coalition for Planned Flushing, Inc. Did it have renderings? Was there something that really gave it a vision?


[1] The Coalition to Reconsider Coalition to Reconsider & Evaluate Development Opportunities at Municipal Parking Lot 1 in Downtown Flushing. “Position Paper.” May 12, 2010, page 1. <http://flushingcoalitionforresponsibledevelopment.org/expert-analysis/&gt; accessed 11/22/2010.

[2] Coalition REDO, 2.

[3] Coalition REDO, 9.

[4] Coalition REDO, 10.

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Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development

This website joins a growing list of websites I wish I had come across 3 months ago! Thank you, Jim Gerson, for your inciteful comments.

Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development appears to be an organized community group that desires to influence the Flushing Commons Development plan to benefit rather than harm the existing neighborhood. Their arguments are based on realistic compromises between the neighborhood and developers.

They have posted a concise + detailed Position Paper that clearly states the faults of the current Flushing Commons design, as well as achievable solutions to rectify the issues. They also have an alternative proposal for sustainable development.

Their efforts are impressive, and the website well-presented. However, if I may offer some critique, I would say that the greatest weakness of this Coalition is that it lacks a true alternative proposal. Renderings, floorplans, sections, diagrams: visual arguments and a vision for the neighborhood to unify itself with. Clearly someone or some group would have to do this work pro-bono. If there are other Flushing Coalition members reading this blog, please consider this suggestion. Of course, this is easier said than done.

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Flushing Commons: An Analysis of Impacts on Local Business

According to this report, “Flushing Commons: An Analysis of Impacts on Local Business,”(prepared by Brian Paul, Center Fellow, and Tom Angotti, Ph.D, Center Director), the economic impact report prepared for Flushing Commons by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), was based on flawed analysis methods and assumptions. Its key findings are: 

  • Downtown Flushing is home to over 2,100 retail and service businesses, more than twice the number (970) that AKRF counted in the survey for the EIS
  • Local businesses are the economic engine of Downtown Flushing. National chain stores currently comprise only 1.9% of businesses in Downtown Flushing.
  • The EDC presents no evidence to support its argument that chain retail stores at Flushing Commons will only compete with other regional chain retail destinations and not have a negative impact on existing local businesses.
  • It is more likely that the proposed retail at Flushing Commons will directly compete with over 450 locally owned retail shops. Most of these businesses are densely clustered within three blocks of the Flushing Commons site. These businesses are currently competing with only a small number of chain stores.[1]

Part of the reason why the EDC grossly undercounted the number of business is because “Downtown Flushing has numerous towers of five to twelve stories in height that contain many neighborhood service businesses and numerous “mini-malls” that appear as only one store on the streetfront but actually contain dozens of individual small retailers inside.”[2]

However, it appears that Mayor Bloomberg is more interested in bringing in big box retail rather than helping small businesses that already exist. Small businesses’ eviction rates had reached an all-time high in 2009, and yet Council Member Robert Jackson’s “Small Business Survival Act” was quashed by Mayor Bloomberg, while subsidizing chain retail projects such as Gateway Center by Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and Flushing Commons. Washington D.C.’s subsidized chain retail within its Chinatown provides an illustrative example of the consequences: Neighborhood rents doubled.[3] This is a huge problem because: “Downtown Flushing has numerous towers of five to twelve stories in height that contain many neighborhood service businesses and numerous “mini-malls” that appear as only one store on the streetfront but actually contain dozens of individual small retailers inside.”[4]

Similar to the conclusions drawn from Rosalyn Deutsche’s Uneven Development, this article illustrates that these local small businesses are the cause of economic success, and to destroy them is to destroy the economic engine of Downtown Flushing: “In the closing paragraphs of Section 3 of the EIS, EDC describes Downtown Flushing as a “residential and commercial center” that draws “significant numbers of customers from the local population” as well as a “customer base from throughout the region” (3-31). The small business economy of Downtown Flushing is indeed quite successful at attracting both local and regional customers and the EDC should take note of their own observations and recognize that Flushing’s diverse array of small businesses is the reason for the community’s economic success.[5]


[1] Brian Paul and Tom Angotti. “Flushing Commons: An analysis of Impacts on Local Business.” July 2010. Hunter College/Department of Urban Affairs and Planning website: <http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/ccpd/community-projects> accessed 11/21/2010.

[2] Paul and Angotti, 8.

[3] Paul and Angotti, 12.

[4] Paul and Angotti, 13.

[5] Paul and Angotti, 13.

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