Urban Decline and the Rise of Property Informality in Detroit – Claire Herbert
The Detroit School Series seeks to stimulate an interdisciplinary conversation on how research on Detroit—a city often seen as an extreme outlier of decline—can produce knowledge that is original and
Informal urbanism has long been a central focus of research on cities of the global South. But such frameworks have largely been avoided by scholars in the United States, perhaps driven by perceptions that informality is not a phenomenon found in the global North, especially in a country with powerful governance structures and regulatory regimes. Yet in Detroit, de jure illegal uses of property such as scrapping, squatting, gardening, and even demolition are commonplace. When authorities and residents choose not to invoke the law to regulate these activities and even accept or promote them in their neighborhoods, it is no longer useful or productive to interpret these practices from the perspective of law. In this talk, Claire Herbert (Assistant Professor of Sociology at Drexel University and a graduate of the Michigan Sociology PhD program) uses a transnational lens to examine these practices, borrowing the framework of informality from its rich history in the global South to make sense of the varied, widespread (de jure) illegal uses of real property in Detroit. Drawing from her book manuscript, Herbert presents evidence for why the informality framework is best suited to understanding the way that property law violations shape the dynamics of social interaction and the form of the spatial landscape in this iconic American metropolis. These findings challenge previously held notions about who participates in urban informality, highlights the myriad ways that informality shapes the socio-spatial landscape of a declining city, and poses the contextual limits of deeply held ideals about private property rights.