ARC 491 / 591: Mapping the Land Crisis

Fence with mural and slogans painted on it: "Foreclosure Free Zone," "Black Homes Matter.".

Photo Caption: 'Eviction Defense Fence,' Lela Whitfield, Feedom Freedom, Detroit Eviction Defense and community members, via Detroit Resists 

The collapse of land values in Detroit and the city’s subsequent ‘comeback,’ have been widely publicized. In a span of only ten years, towers that once sat vacant are now occupied, and construction has recently begun on the new tallest building in Michigan. Real estate speculation abounds. Yet each year, tens of thousands of families continue to lose their homes through foreclosures and water shutoffs, driving a cycle of poverty, vacancy, and blight demolition. While downtown development booms, the majority of the city suffers from disinvestment.

This seminar will investigate the land crisis at the heart of this contradiction, focusing on theories and practices of land ownership in Detroit and the broader Great Lakes region. Through seminars, workshops, and discussions with experts, the course aims to develop a nuanced, historically grounded, and regionally specific understanding of land and property ownership, in order to create compelling visions for the future. Seminar topics will include the origins of contemporary concepts of land ownership, property and borders; mid-twentieth-century suburban expansion and its impact on real estate; racially unequal land policies and histories of dispossession; and radical visions that have emerged within recent urban transformations.

Class time will be split between seminar formats and workshops designed to build research, mapping, and drawing skills for telling complex visual stories. The course will involve a visit to Detroit, where students will meet with organizations involved in reimagining our relationship to land through community organizing, direct action, and policy work. Students will work on case studies with We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective, an interdisciplinary collaboration between community activists, academics, and designers. Through this work, students will be introduced to the collective’s research process and methodologies. The case studies will contribute to the collective’s next publication, Mapping the Land Crisis, and will serve as evidence supporting political action for equitable land and development policies in Detroit. Although these case studies will focus on Detroit, students will be encouraged to pursue final projects that relate directly to their interests and experiences.

Mapping the Land Crisis is the first of a series of courses on land developed in collaboration with Andrew Herscher at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.