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The life and debt of great American cities : urban reproduction in the time of financialization Ponder, Caroline Sage


The Life and Debt of Great American Cities: Urban Reproduction in the Time of Financialization, investigates the relationship between finance and the intensification of racialized patterns of urban development in the US since the turn of the 21st century. I employ mixed methods to explore the spatiality of the municipal bond market, especially regarding its role in the uneven redevelopment of the nation’s aging urban water systems. Moving qualitatively and quantitatively between one site in particular - Jackson, Mississippi - to the political-economies of the 21 largest Black-majority cities in the US, and to the entire country more broadly, I find that redeveloping urban water infrastructures by way of the private municipal bond market collapses new spaces of accumulation into the reproduction of racialized geographies of exclusion. Field research utilizing participant observation and semi-structured expert interviews in Jackson revealed that cities under austerity governance encounter complex financial arrangements in their search for infrastructural funding that they do not retain the capacity to accurately assess or manage, while the analysis of more than 5.3 million municipal bonds over the 44 year period 1970-2014 shows that the largest Black-majority cities have consistently received higher interest rates in the bond market than other cities since the deregulation of the financial industry under the Financial Services Modernization Act of 2000. One of the consequences of the racialization of municipal finance is that the impoverished Black-majority city of Jackson pays more for federally mandated infrastructure upgrades than other cities. The socio-spatial marginalization thus produced creates sites of intense urban vulnerabilities, places lacking both economic and ecological “resilience” in the face of crisis. Austerity, as a method of urban governance and economic recovery, is, I conclude, motivated by the logics of financialization – which is both a mode of accumulation, and significantly, a geography of racialized social reproduction.

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