Social Science Studio

"Social Science Studio: Immigrants Make the City" Dr. Kushanava Choudhury

How do American cities grow? Studies of urban transformation have focused on anchor institutions, the growth model of big business-generated employment, and "creative class" gentrification. After decades of decline, many major cities like Philadelphia are seeing gains in population again, as well as new commercial activity and street life, spurred by the influx of new immigrant communities. Yet few scholars have asked: What role do immigrants play in the current revival of the American metropolis?

In Spring 2015, six students at the University of Pennsylvania joined Prof. Kushanava Choudhury's "Social Science Studio" course to investigate how immigrants are remaking the American cities economically, politically and culturally. They focused closely on one neighborhood in one city: The Italian Market in South Philadelphia. South Philadelphia in the last decade has witnessed a transformation, with new businesses, rising property values, improving schools, and a very diverse population. This revitalization is most apparent in the Italian market area, where the arrival of immigrant communities and immigrant-owned businesses had transformed and revived the neighborhood. A focal point of this phenomenon in Philadelphia is the Italian Market area. Now a mix of Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese and Cambodian populations alongside the traditional Italian community, the market and surrounding areas have been revitalized in the last decade by an influx of immigrants. Many new businesses have opened, the real-estate values have increased, as has enrollment in struggling public schools. This course will track the process by which immigration has transformed this urban space. By focusing on one city and one neighborhood, this course explored how immigrants are remaking the American city economically, politically and culturally.

The course, titled "Social Science Studio: Immigrants Make the City" used the design studio format to ask social science questions. Students used multiple methods drawn from architecture, planning, anthropology and political science, including mapping, sketching, photography, interviews, field notes and socio-economic surveys to develop independent projects over the course of the semester, that engage multiple methods and fields to produce new types of knowledge.

Their research draws on a tradition of doing detailed neighborhood studies with a group of students to seek insights into large theoretical questions that goes back to WEB Du Bois' Ward-level study of African Americans in the 7th Ward in Philadelphia, which became the classic sociological study, The Philadelphia Negro. The Social Science Studio format enabled students to collectively generate a large amount of new knowledge as well as new research questions in an emerging field. Their findings are available on this website.

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Now showing 1 - 10 of 12
  • Publication
    A Digital Revitalization: Immigration and the Italian Market
    (2015-01-01) Lynch, Sean; Lynch, Sean
    Existing theories of public spaces are outdated because they largely ignore the advent of digital socialization. The revitalization of public spaces such as parks, sidewalks in the new urbanist mold is premised on ideas of public space from the 1950s, before suburban sprawl. However, technology, such as smart phones and social media, have fundamentally changed the way in which all groups now interface with space. This is especially true of immigrants, who exist in multiple spaces, at home and in the new city, at once and maintain these myriad linkages through digital space. This project presents a critique of proposed revitalization plans of the Italian Market in Philadelphia in the context of existing physical and digital spaces. In 21st century Philadelphia, the demographic reality of immigrant-driven population growth and the technological fact of increased digital socialization, mean that we need to think of the city and urban 'space' as simultaneously local and global, digital and physical. This paper calls for a re-examination of the role of of traditional public spaces in revitalization in light of these changing modes of immigration and socialization.
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    The Italian Market as an Incubator
    (2015-05-01) Salat, Anisa; Salat, Anisa
    The Italian Market is the oldest outdoor market in the US. In the late 1800s, immigrant communities settled here to sell fresh fruits and vegetables out of handcarts. That tradition continues to this day. This study shows how the market functions as a business "incubator" for immigrant businesses. Much like start-up incubators for technology firms, the market provides low cost entry, existing social networks, shared resources, opportunities to learn on the job and make mistakes, and a wide range of productive types of "inefficiency". On the other hand, there are few opportunities for growth for these firms beyond the "incubation" stage. Few immigrant business owners expect to grow their businesses beyond basic subsistence and to pursue the "American Dream". Rather immigrant business owners envision "growth" in terms of better opportunities for their children, through education which will enable them to access to professional careers away from small business.
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    Revitalization as byproduct: A Case Study of the Latino Immigrant Business Community in the Italian Market
    (2015-05-01) Bustos, Diana
    This presentation is a case study of the Italian Market in South Philadephia. The southern part of the market that had been designated "blighted" by the city of Philadelphia in 2000. Since then, the area has been revitalized largely through an influx of immigrants. This study focused on seven Latino business owners in the area, to chart the development of the Latino business community in the Italian Market. Through process tracing, the author shows how urban revitalization was a byproduct of the growth of Latino immigrant business owners.
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  • Publication
    Presentation at Penn Urban Studies Colloquium: Delhi, the Invisible City
    (2013-10-01) Choudhury, Kushanava; Chattaraj, Durba; Joshi, Moulshri; Choudhury, Kushanava; Chattaraj, Durba; Joshi, Moulshri
    New Delhi is the capital of India, and a master-planned metropolis. Its unplanned spaces such as Urban Villages, Unauthorized Colonies and Jhuggi Jhopri Clusters tend to be seen as the margins of the planned city. Yet a majority of citizens live and work in these unplanned areas of the city. For millions of Delhi-ites, the non-planned areas are sources of affordable rental housing as well as employment, as locations for thousands of small businesses and workshops. These spaces and the economies and communities they contain, are connected to the planned city through complex political and economic arrangements. These spaces and forms -- unplanned and planned, informal and formal -- are overlapping and constitutive of a larger system and set of arrangements which we call “The Invisible City.” We use the term "the Invisible City" because architects, planners and social scientists rarely find out how these spaces function as a whole. Through interviews, surveys and mapping of specific neighborhoods in the city, this interdisciplinary project seeks to utilize expertise from urban planning, architecture and the social sciences to look at Economic, Politics and Space together in the making of a place. Our work is intended to open up questions in order to generate new concepts about urban space in a globalizing nation-state.
  • Publication
    Philly, Delhi and Beyond: What is a Social Science Studio?
    (2015-05-01) Choudhury, Kushanava; Choudhury, Kushanava
    In Spring 2014, six students and one professor took part in a course offered by Urban Studies at U Penn, titled "Social Science Studio: Immigrants Make the City". By focusing on the Italian Market neighborhood, in South Philadelphia, students explored how immigration transforms urban spaces in large American cities. They researched how immigrants are remaking the city economically, politically, socially, and culturally. We approached the field with multiple sets of disciplinary tools to describe what exists on the ground, in order to accommodate multiple ways of seeing. The "Social Science Studio" concept is simple: Use the design studio format to ask social science questions.
  • Publication
    Visit the Italian Market
    (2015-08-01) Choudhury, Kushanava; Choudhury, Kushanava
  • Publication
    Event Invitation (5/1/15): Immigrants Make the City
    (2015-06-04) Choudhury, Kushanava; Choudhury, Kushanava
  • Publication
    A Different Business Model
    (2015-05-01) Greenberg, Claire; Greenberg, Claire
    This presentation is based on a socio-economic survey conducted of businesses in the Italian Market in South Philadelphia. The data reveals that immigrant businesses in the area follow a business model which is defined by low-risk and low-return, and focused primarily on long-term survival rather than profit. This study challenges the basic theoretical model of a firm whose goal is to maximize profit to accumulate more capital. These firms will often forgo opportunities for greater profit which come with high risks - such as access to bank loans -- in exchange for low risk, low return and the assurance of steady income over time. Such behavior leads to low levels of immigrant firm growth. However, the Italian Market area has been economically and socially "revitalized" because of the immigrant business population. These firms are crucial to the overall growth of the neighborhood and the city as a whole. Hence, our survey shows that firm growth and urban growth are not necessarily positively correlated. In this case, urban economic growth is propelled by businesses which do not themselves grow. The reverse may also be true: Fast-growing businesses may not lead to urban revitalization. This study challenges the basic premises of the "Growth model" of urban revitalization which argues that urban economic growth is dependent on attracting high-growth businesses to the area. Our study suggests that neighborhood level economic development and revitalization is not a direct outcome of highly-profitable firms.
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