Durham’s Self-Help And The Financialization Of The Bull City: Development Without Displacement? Or Displacement Without Development?
This dissertation is an ethnography of the nonprofit institution, the Center for Community Self-Help, and the development media in Durham, North Carolina that together work to support rent-intensifying pro-growth development in the city. Self-Help discursively, financially, and geographically manages rent-intensifying development in Durham by partnering with the city and other institutions, principally Duke University, to manage community relations, shepherd state and federal tax credits and other public financing, and act as a symbol of progressive politics. Through innovative methods developed over a five-year media and institutional ethnography of Self-Help in Durham, this case study examines development media: the discourses, institutions, actors, and publications that work to support pro-growth development in the city by various means, including critiquing the very development that they support. This case study seeks to answer how it is that as critiques of gentrification propagate and the institution Self-Help grows – backed by progressives and other nonprofits in the city and identified as a developer seeking to close the wealth gap – inequality in the city also continues to grow. The findings show that despite Self-Help’s claims to supporting community, promoting affordable housing, bringing in jobs, honoring a black working class history, supporting a better future for all, and cooperating and partnering with other institutions, their real estate development work leads to further inequality and dispossession of the poor, majority African-American and Latino populations in the city. Moreover, the discourses used to justify their developments actually act as a mechanism to allow this development to take place more efficiently by rationalizing the use of public funding for projects that support private wealth. This study concludes that urban development as we know it, even when taken on by institutions claiming to address inequality, rely on speculative development models that use our public resources to grow wealth for those who already have it.