Enter the Podcast

After talking about this for more than a year, I have finally produced my first podcast. As I noted before I left for the conference, this is simply the paper I gave at the Urban History Association conference. This is about as lo-fi as you can get and you don’t get the benefit of seeing my footnotes or powerpoint slides (or the comments I inserted during the talk), but it is a definite start. This is a 15-minute talk and the file is about 8.5 MB. While my contribution to the emerging storm of new media has been minimal, I do believe that people who can provide content – creating knowledge and providing analysis – are an important part of the information revolution. As I create new ones, I’m sure I’ll get better and probably start providing video at times, too.

Lemme see if I can figure out how to create an RSS feed for the podcasts so you can subscribe.

“Out of the Congested Zone”: Annexation in Detroit, 1915-1926

The historical process of annexation in growing cities is poorly understood. Urban historians have recognized the importance of the results of annexation in shaping the landscape of cities but scholars have neglected the essential role of real estate developers in the annexation process. This paper examines the city of Detroit in its most active period of annexation, the decade from 1915-1926, and the role that a handful of real estate developers played not merely in exploiting the result, but in driving the process. This series of expansions of city limits turned Detroit from a city of approximately 40 square miles in 1915 into a sprawling city of 138 square miles by 1926, a physical legacy Detroit still struggles with today in the midst of repeated revitalization efforts.

This paper builds upon existing interpretations of annexation as part of the suburbanization process and as a form of government evolution to argue that annexation in Detroit was, at heart, the fulfillment of a real estate investment strategy. By looking at city administration records, real estate publicity and advertising, and analyzing local financial networks, I will show how real estate developers employed several strategies to promote annexation as a means of realizing their speculative investments in land at the urban fringe. However, this paper also revises our understanding of the cooperation of cities like Detroit with business interests in urban growth coalitions. It demonstrates how real estate developers can drive city policy and even state-level urban policy, and the enduring consequences of that cooperation.

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