The Black Agrarian Imaginary: Race, Food, and the Production of Space in Cleveland, Ohio

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With approximately 30,000 vacant parcels of land, Cleveland, Ohio is well positioned to embrace alternative land use strategies, especially in neighborhoods that have experienced significant population loss and housing demolition. Many of these neighborhoods are concentrated in the predominantly and historically black east side of the city. This dissertation is a study of the production of space by black farmers and gardeners in the city as they strive to enact an alternative vision for land, food, and black spaces in Cleveland. I develop the black agrarian imaginary, which is a vision, praxis, and epistemology for a different kind of urban space held by many black growers in Cleveland. Through this lens, I examine how valuations of land, development, and economic or entrepreneurial engagement inform the work of black urban growers. I also explore political ecologies of food, race, and urban processes more broadly through an ethnographic study that includes residents, city officials, community development professionals, and real estate developers. While city officials often express their support for alternative land use projects, such as urban agriculture, the dominant logic of neoliberal capitalism places limits and barriers around the possibility for alternative urban forms. These barriers encountered by black growers as they assert alternative ways of living in the city are contextualized by a post-industrial city striving to become globally competitive, and a global movement for food sovereignty, as it struggles for the freedom to choose.

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urban agriculture; Sociology; Geography; black agrarianism; black epistemologies; Cleveland; OH; vacant land; Urban planning; African American studies


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McMichael, Philip David

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Bezner Kerr, Rachel Nicole
Michener, Jamila

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Development Sociology

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Ph.D., Development Sociology

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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Attribution 4.0 International


dissertation or thesis

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