Social practices and conditions of urbanity mutually produce and define one another. On one hand, some urban theory rationalizes the city and its space as an immutable object. Kevin Lynch’s ideas are an example of such theory rendering the city as components of a whole that can be defined concretely. On the other hand, some theory renders the urban condition as an amalgamation of social practices in dialogue with the built environment. This thesis argues that the city and conditions of urbanity are a social product through three case studies of social practices in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The theorists this thesis engages are Jane Jacobs, Richard Florida, and Henri Lefebvre. Each of these theorists find a city’s urban condition is produced through the activities of the people that occupy it. Section 1 applies the street, as Jane Jacobs describes it, to The Caramel Curves, a female biker gang. Section 2 applies Richard Florida’s “Creative Class” to a New Orleans Gay neighborhood, the Faubourg Marigny. Lefebvre's “Politics of Space” and “The Everyday” are applied to a FEMA trailer siting conflict in a suburban development of the Algiers section in New Orleans. The city is defined in these case studies, both abstractly and concretely, through the active production of social capital, social identity, and social space.
In the last 50 years urban theory, informed by social practice and social identities, emerged as the afflictions of high modernist planning became apparent. Jane Jacobs’ work in The Death and Life of Great American Cities places a city’s inhabitants at the center of the urban theory diagram as a means of “attack” on the modernist dogma of the 1950s and 60s. Jacobs writes about the importance of social diversity in the success of a city: “To understand cities, we have to deal outright with combinations of mixtures of use, not separate, uses, as the essential phenomena” (Jacobs, 1961, p. 144). Richard Florida blends social identity with city economies in his book The Rise of The Creative Class. Florida argues that the successful city ought to focus its planning strategies on the desires of social identities to attract emerging economies. “This line of work further suggests the need for some conceptual refocusing and broadening to account for the location decisions of people as opposed to those of firms as sources of regional and national economic growth” (Florida, 2016, p. 1). Henri Lefebvre remarks on the limits of the modernist understanding of space as scientific and quantitative. “Space is political and ideological. It is the product literally populated with ideologies. There is an ideology of space. Why? Because space, which seems homogenous, which appears given in its objectivity, in its pure form, such as we determine it, is a social product” (Lefebvre, 2010, p. 171). These theories are often referenced in relation to each other. Jane Jacobs and Henri Lefebvre see space in a distinctly social sense, arguing that people are central to its creation. Jacobs’s influence of Richard Florida’s work can be found in their shared promotion of diversity in the urban setting and their value of social capital production. Florida and Jacobs became friends near the end of Jane Jacob’s life; an indication of the proximity of Florida’s theory to Jacobs’ (Pederson, 2016). The component of Florida’s work that is most readily related to Lefebvre’s is the topic of urban economies and their influences on the conditions of urbanity (Schmid, 2012). It is the socialness of urbanity that emerged within the urban theory of the last 50 years that informs the direction of this thesis.
In the narrative of New Orleans, Katrina is central. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina displaced hundreds of thousands of residents, deeply impacting the social economy of the city. The city’s recovery has been the subject of research for an exceptionally diverse range of disciplines from biologists to anthropologists.
Katrina caused massive damage, leaving the city’s infrastructure devastated, tens of thousands of homes ruined, and displaced over 400,000 people with many more deeply affected. (Whoriskey, 2006). As a result, the city’s social scape and social economy was damaged and hence its mechanisms of producing social capital were deeply affected.
Social capital refers to networks of social relationships that are fostered through social activity. Forms of social capital range from being formal, institutional and organized, to informal, passive and unconcreted (Putman, 2001, p. 2). A population’s social capital reflects several aspects within a population, including its ability to organize. Social capital is produced in space; a church, town hall, or square, or any other space that provides a population with the ability to hold events, gather and converse. Social networks can exist in many forms and types of social capital are much more readily applied in political organizing or fundraising. (Woolcock, 2001, p. 3). An educated group of people may make more money and have more time and resources to attend local meetings and build relationships; a less educated group who make less money and are forced to work harder and longer to make ends meet may have little time to formally produce social capital. Coupled with research that suggests institutions where formal social capital is produced often ostracize disadvantaged demographics, formal social capital can be extremely difficult to produce for certain groups (Woolcock, 2001, p. 17). This thesis finds gender, sex, class, and race as significant influencers of the kinds of social capital that groups can produce.
Urban social practice in this thesis references ideas described by Margaret Crawford and John Kaliski in their book Everyday Urbanism and refers to actions of a group performed in, and reliant upon, the built context. Urbanity is so much more than a dense array of buildings; it is the street, the sidewalks, the alleys, the parks, the people––from the houseless to the penthoused (Crawford, 2008, p.13). Crawford’s Everyday Urbanist process advocates urbanism as a response to practices of urban participants (Kelbaugh, 2000, p.286). These urban practices can be as banal as sitting in traffic, as small as thanking your bus driver, and as obscure as parkour. The dynamism of any city originates in its ability to simultaneously propagate new social practices while evolving in response to them.
The realm of urban theory has entered the realm of the social and thus is responsible for being conscious of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, and other social aspects of identity. The social practices engaged in the three following case studies occur in the public spaces of the city: the street, the neighborhood, and quasi-public undeveloped land that support unique mechanisms of producing social identity, capital, and space. Each study provides an avenue to understand social implications of the city in the context of history and culture within prevailing urban theory. Additionally, each study demonstrates a condition of the city produced by these social practices.