Document Type


Publication Date

January 2019

Publication Title

American Sociological Association Annual Conference


Urban, Community and Regional Planning | Urban Studies and Planning


This working paper presents new research and argumentation regarding the way we think about the material culture of place and argues that thinking hard about place is essential for addressing social inequality in our cities. Drawing on new empirical research – ethnographic observation, photography, and interviews – it takes the varied communities and landscapes of the San Francisco Bay Area as a lens through which to interrogate the prominent trend of so-called “placemaking” in urban planning, development, and design. I argue that placemaking is intellectually incoherent and frequently elitist in practice, often ignoring existing places while portending a real possibility of both displacement, through the destruction of existing place and their replacement with architectures of exclusion, and also placelessness, through the reproduction of generic, anonymizing aesthetics. The paper concludes by addressing the irony of the new places being made by the displaced – the unhoused – and positing a reclaiming of the term to understand the new architectures of marginalization in the Bay Area.