Panel Session: Building Community Through Trust, Shelter, and Thread

This is a live blog entry by resident pluralist, Sarah Nusser. The panel is part of the 2011 Graduate Consortium of Women’s Studies conference on Gender, Sexuality, and Urban Spaces in Cambridge, MA.

Speakers: Mia Charlene White, PhD Candidate, Urban Sociology, MIT
Michele Friedner, PhD Candidate, Medical Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley
Virginia Ferris, MA, Irish and African American Studies, NYU

Mia’s presentation revolved around a case study of how an African-American, female development activist approached recovery work in Turkey Creek and North Gulfport post-Katrina. Turkey Creek and North Gulfport are located at the far southern point of Mississippi, along the urban fringe, and dotted with single-family homes, vacant lots, and poor infrastructure. At the center of this case, planning wise, is Ms. Rose’s utilization of a Community Land Trust (CLT) mechanism to drive recovery.  And so Mia’s questions are: what is the logic behind using a CLT in development work, and how can we better understand how gender, race, and place attachment work together.

Mia’s work also attempts to fill many literature gaps, including finding a way to inject gender discussion into urban planning practice from a community development perspective.   Through the narrative of Ms. Rose, land symbolizes not just history but is central to social identity. Ms. Rose’s idea of freedom is both spatially and socially imbedded. The Community Land Trust becomes a logical planning approach for reassembling the social and the spatial in this area recovering from natural disaster.  The fascinating implication is that highly technical planning mechanisms might be linked to specific community development efforts not just for the results they might achieve but for their resonance (or imparted meaning) to specific identities and ways of relating to the city.

Michele opened her presentation with a story about a deaf performance group in India. The performance ended with a plea for the hearing world to learn sign language so that deaf people don’t feel so alone. Often in deaf narratives, deaf worlds are compared and contrasted to the ‘normal’ world, with the deaf world being portrayed as the closed, lonely, world of betrayal. The aspiration, in this case, is for a future that includes ‘deaf development’ oriented around the immersions of sign language, etc in institutions. In the present, without these structures, deaf people are oriented towards one another and in the creation of deaf space. The Delhi Foundation of Deaf Women serves as a highly important deaf space, one that is open, socialized, but also a space of “waiting”- waiting for jobs that are hard to find, waiting for deaf development. She linked a lot of the complications of deaf identity to that of queer identity – the notion of invisibility in the ‘normal’ world but also the possibility of a transnational sameness.