Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In the early 2000s and 2010s, Detroit became strongly linked to a frontier narrative that recast this majority-Black city of 700,000 as primed for gentrification. Photography and video played an important and well-documented role in this racialized myth-making process, but the visual culture of 21st century Detroit has also been marked by a cartography boom. Mapping projects appeared everywhere: many neighborhoods saw resident-led efforts to define “community assets”; activists developed counter-cartography projects; crowd-sourced mapping projects appeared to map heritage sites and “blight” alike; and high-budget, professional mapping consultants were retained by the city government and major philanthropies to reinvent the city as a whole. This paper examines Detroit’s mapping boom from the standpoint of having participated in a cartographic project known as Uniting Detroiters/The People’s Atlas of Detroit and focuses on the political work that maps do as well as the work of mapmaking itself. At times mapmaking practices can reinforce racial inequalities and seem to reproduce the colonial foundations underlying the discipline of cartography itself. In other moments map-work can became a site of potentially emancipatory practices focused around collectively seeing the city anew.