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Neighborhood as Spatial Project: Making the Urban Order on the Downtown Brooklyn Waterfront


  • I would like to thank Neil Brenner, Craig Calhoun, Peter Marcuse and Nicole Marwell, all of whom offered helpful suggestions on earlier versions of this article. I thank Tom Slater for talking through these issues with me, and anonymous IJURR reviewers who offered many helpful comments. I also sincerely thank Karen Barkey for her detailed comments and assistance. The article benefitted immensely from the help of Rachel Faulkner-Gurstein, who improved this article in countless ways. I deeply appreciate her help. Some of this research was funded by a grant from the US Department of Housingand Urban Development (Grant Number HUD H- 21541SG), for which I am grateful. And finally, I want to thank all of the Brooklynites who took the time and energy to speak with me over the course of this larger research project. While they remain anonymous here, I very much appreciate their assistance and insight.


This article argues for a reconceptualization of one of the most basic concepts in urban studies: the neighborhood. Traditionally neighborhoods have been understood as clearly bounded, quasi-Westphalian containers or as ‘natural areas’ of urban community. But this approach is widely acknowledged to be under-theorized. And it fails to account for the ways in which the production of neighborhood is inherently political and often conflictual. After reviewing the ways in which neighborhood has been used in urban sociology and urban planning, this article offers a critical conception of neighborhoods as ‘spatial projects’ on the submetropolitan scale. This approach captures the ways in which neighborhoods are not abstract spaces on a city map, but the uneven, unequal products of complex, ongoing struggles between various groups and institutions. This approach is developed through an ethnographic and historical case study of neighborhood formation in one part of Brooklyn, New York. The article concludes with a discussion of how the language of spatial projects refocuses urban research on the political and economic forces that produce neighborhood in the contemporary city.