- Constructing the Dynamo of Dixie: Race, Urban Planning, and Cosmopolitanism in Chattanooga, Tennessee by Courtney Elizabeth Knapp
Second-tier cities, from Baltimore to Cleveland to Chattanooga, have experienced the cycles of boom and bust occasioned by the move to an industrial and then a postindustrial economy. Manipulating how they are seen in order to draw tourists and upwardly mobile people looking to relocate, these cities have become traders in the symbolic economy, competing with each other in the process.
As an urban planner, Courtney Elizabeth Knapp is well aware of this trajectory. What she asks, in her book Constructing the Dynamo of Dixie: Race, Urban Planning, and Cosmopolitanism in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is how this move toward urban placemaking has ignored the needs of Native Americans and African Americans in Chattanooga. She notes that placemaking is in vogue with planners. Rather than empowering marginalized communities, it focuses on quality-of-life issues, such as pedestrian access and arts and cultural amenities, which are thought to appeal to wealthy visitors and possible residents. But place is made not only through these official channels. Knapp coins the phrase "diasporic placemaking" to describe "the everyday practices, the collaborations and conflicts, through which historically uprooted and migratory populations—Native Americans, African Americans, whites, Jewish immigrants, Latinos, and others—forge new communities of security and belonging out of unfamiliar, and oftentimes stratified and unequal, yet shared local environments" (pp. 1–2). Knapp traces the history of Chattanooga back to the Cherokee people who built villages there. She continues with the story of the black diaspora in the city, particularly focusing on the spatial segregation that created black neighborhoods. In engaging with five hundred years of history, Knapp necessarily has to move speedily through this historical backdrop in order to arrive at her intended destination: postindustrial urban planning efforts at revitalization.
This book joins a growing literature, including P. Nicole King's Sombreros and Motorcycles in a Newer South: The Politics of Aesthetics in South Carolina's Tourism Industry (Jackson, Miss., 2012) and Julio Capó Jr.'s Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940 (Chapel Hill, 2017), that examines the racial dynamics of the South beyond a black and white binary. Perhaps the most direct influence is the extensive work of Tiya Miles, who has examined the relationships that existed between Native Americans, enslaved black people, white immigrants, and white native-born southerners. [End Page 735]
Knapp raises an intriguing dichotomy. Chattanooga grew because its leaders dispossessed Native Americans of their land and built an economy on the backs of enslaved black people. Jim Crow ensured the social and economic marginalization of people of color into the mid-twentieth century. But by the early 2000s, Chattanooga seemingly embraced its Native and African American histories through the incorporation of Cherokee history in riverfront revitalization efforts and signage about a Civil War–era free black settlement. But, as Knapp shows, these were not primarily attempts at reconciliation, taking into full account the needs of these communities, but projects designed to draw tourists. History had merely become another spur to postindustrial economic development. But for historically marginalized communities, history is a key aspect of their diasporic placemaking efforts. Knapp details how community-based organizations used storytelling and participatory research to "exercise community self-determination" (p. 16).
Unsurprisingly, since Knapp teaches urban planning, her book is most successful in its discussions of the ways that urban planning has led to uneven geographical development that privileges elites. Through her participatory action research and work with community organizations, she offers a counterpoint that suggests that placemaking can be more than a trendy phrase. Grappling honestly with difficult histories with the affected communities may "produce dissonance and even discomfort among locals and visitors instead of anesthetized narratives of racial harmony and urban progress" (p. 193). She suggests that this approach may be the only way to heal the wounds of racism and dispossession in...