Imagined Pasts, Imagined Futures: Race, Politics, Memory, and the Revitalization of Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland

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2005-12-05
Authors
Johansen, Bruce Richard
Advisor
Caughey, John L.
Corbin Sies, Mary
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Title of dissertation: IMAGINED PASTS, IMAGINED FUTURES: RACE, POLITICS, MEMORY, AND THE REVITALIZATION OF DOWNTOWN SILVER SPRING, MARYLAND Bruce Richard Johansen, Doctor of Philosophy, 2005 Dissertation directed by: Professor John L. Caughey Professor Mary Corbin Sies Department of American Studies Through ethnographic interviews, participant observation, and archival research, this study explores differences in people's perceptions of an aging, inner-ring suburb, during a period in which revitalization has transformed its built environment, and its population has become more diverse. To examine how three sets of active residents have thought about and acted in response to transpiring material, social, and cultural changes, my interdisciplinary research draws on methodologies and literatures from anthropology, geography, urban and suburban history, cultural criticism, sociology, and political science. Subjects featured identify as historic preservationists, civil rights activists, and/or through affiliations with an organization devoted to making leadership and civic participation more representative of a multicultural community. I demonstrate that there are significant differences in perception among members of these three sets, and that these variations stem from divergent individual and collective constructions of reality that are rooted in a range of histories, cultures, values, imaginings, and needs. I show that these different orientations affect how individuals relate to their surroundings, which is then reflected in public discourse. I investigate how these differences are exacerbated by internal group dynamics and external political structures that have kept segments of the community divided during the twenty years that revitalization plans have been debated. I illustrate that a reliance on public hearings as the main form of public discourse deepens adversarial relations by inhibiting dialogue and consequently an understanding of the diverse array of perspectives on the commercial built environment that exist. I convey how internal group dynamics that exclude community members with contrary points of view mirrors what occurs in public hearings, further diminishing the effectiveness of civic groups. Finally, this dissertation argues that new processes must be designed to assist oversight of revitalization in multicultural communities like Silver Spring, Maryland, a subject that to date has been insufficiently investigated. I contend that unifying diverse segments of such communities is possible if areas of common concern are identified and new forms of cooperative dialogue and practices of leadership pursued.
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