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From “Gentrification” to Community Control: An exploration into urban restructuring in New York City

From “Gentrification” to Community Control: An exploration into urban restructuring in New York City

Written by: Aida Mas
Published in: Outstanding Papers - Year: 2019
Book Line: Vol. 25 No. 13 ISSN 1702-3548


For over 15,000 years, Turtle Island has been stewarded collectively by Indigenous communities. In fact, it was not so long ago that colonization imposed the concept of private ownership of land on what settlers perceived as Terra nullius, or “nobody’s land.” This idea – that collectively stewarded land belonged to nobody – ultimately allowed colonial powers to usurp land from Indigenous communities through the imposition of private property. This legacy of extractive dispossession continues to shape our society and relationship to land.

From where I sit today on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, to the occupied Lenape land where most of this research took place, Indigenous communities have been systematically displaced and extirpated from their land. The land which York University occupies is no exception, having been home to the Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Huron-Wendat, the Métis, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. These Indigenous Nations have been stewarding land through agreements such as the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, which aims to share and preserve the natural life and harmony of the Great Lakes region.

My awareness of the importance of stewardship began far from my own ancestral territories of the Iberian Peninsula and the Middle East. In fact, I became aware of the notion of collective ownership in Coast Salish territories, particularly on the unceded land of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Səl̓ílwətaʔ (Tsleil-Watuth), Stó:lō, and Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nations. Though this research does not focus specifically on Indigenous stewardship of land, I would like to acknowledge the role of Indigenous communities as the traditional caretakers of the many places I have come to call home during this research process. I would also like to emphasize the invaluable role that Indigenous communities continue to play as stewards of this land.

Given the pervasive nature of our colonial relationship to land, I also believe that it is necessary to acknowledge how the primacy of private property has been used to dispossess and disenfranchise communities of colour. Across the United States, racial exclusion from the “American Dream” of private homeownership has resulted in redlining, predatory lending and evictions, stripping communities of colour from their collective wealth. Though these trends have been less common in Canada, there is still much evidence demonstrating the racial inequity that has resulted from our colonial obsession with individualized land ownership. For example, Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley, a formerly working-class immigrant neighbourhood with the largest concentration of Black residents in the city, became the target of urban renewal to pave the way for car culture and the suburban dream. It is in fact not far from Hogan’s Alley that I write this land acknowledgement.

As a result, I believe that it is essential to emphasize the ubiquity of colonial and racialized dispossession that has come to characterize the cities that I have occupied throughout this research and writing process. As an educated, white-passing settler, I personally have benefited from this inequitable status quo, and strive to work towards reconciliation and social justice in my work as a researcher, urban planner and community organizer.