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Roundtable: “Informal Housing in Suburban America”

October 23 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm EDT

While ‘informality’ has long been central to understandings of urbanization in the Global South, urban studies scholars have recently begun applying the concept to the Global North. Even in affluent and tightly-regulated North American cities, these studies show, informal urban activities are widespread, pervasive, and inextricably linked to the broader political economy of cities. Nonetheless, the focus of these studies remains contemporary, which characterizes informality as a consequence of globalization, mass migration, and growing inequality in the world’s most developed economies.

This panel offers a historical perspective on informality within what was ostensibly the most structured, regulated, and well-defined metropolitan environment: the mid-twentieth century American suburb. Underwritten with federal mortgage programs, draped in restrictive deed covenants, zoned with large single-family lots, standardized through mass production techniques, and policed with terrorist violence, postwar suburbs aimed to exclude the land uses—and, quite often, the groups of people—believed to threaten the property values and aesthetic pleasures of the “Consumer’s Republic.” But, as we show, these exclusionary policies and practices inadvertently created an illicit, informal housing market in the basements, the attics, and the spare bedrooms of suburban homes. Informal housing, we argue, provided an essential supply of low-cost shelter in suburbs devoid of other options. With case studies drawn from Los Angeles and Long Island, the panelists will consider the challenges of documenting suburban informality both in the past and present, as well as its implications for public services and local civic life.​

Panelists include:

Nancy Kwak, Associate Professor of History, UC San Diego
Becky Nicolaides, independent historian and research affiliate at USC and UCLA
Michael Glass, Assistant Professor of History, Boston College
Tim Keogh, Assistant Professor of History, Queensborough Community College, CUNY

How to sign up:
Email tkeogh@qcc.cuny.edu for the Zoom invitation.

Please note, this is a virtual event. 


October 23
1:00 pm - 2:30 pm EDT
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