Recovery Zone? Human Security at the Margins of American and Japanese Global Cities

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Matthew D. Marr, Ph.D.

I am an urban sociologist and ethnographer who researches how homelessness is shaped by different social contexts in American and Japanese global cities. I am currently researching four “service hub” neighborhoods where street homelessness, shelters, subsidized housing, and supportive services concentrate—Overtown/Wynwood in Miami, Skid Row in Los Angeles, San’ya in Tokyo, and Kamagasaki in Osaka. These neighborhoods are seeing increased pressure from gentrification amid efforts to attract wealthier residents and investors. To understand the lived experiences and perceptions of persons who seek aid in these neighborhoods, I have volunteered in drop-in centers that serve as entry points and interviewed people living on the streets, in shelters and transitional programs, and in permanent subsidized housing. I also study the historical and current social, economic, and political dynamics of each neighborhood to better understand the ways local context shapes how residents are able to establish a subjective and collective sense of security.

Los Angeles and Osaka have long used explicit policies of containment to create considerably larger service hubs than those in Miami and Tokyo. Gentrification has generally been more intense in the American cities, but within each country, in the larger “mega hubs” of Skid Row and Kamagasaki. In my ethnographic fieldwork, I am exploring how the mega hubs can bolster feelings of security via the convenience of closely located services as well through a more diverse and vibrant political community. In turn, I am also examining how more intense gentrification in Skid Row and Kamagasaki can undermine subjective feelings of security through a lack of stability in the housing market, rapid neighborhood cultural change, and increased policing of homelessness. While local context certainly has important impacts, I argue that amid the precarity of global neoliberal urbanism, preservation of a sizable stock of permanent supportive housing and related services in core urban areas is essential to promote human security at individual, neighborhood, and urban levels.

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