Meet a Fellow: Aimi Hamraie
Meet Aimi Hamraie, a 2020-2021 RPW Center Faculty Fellow. This year’s group is exploring the theme of “Imagining Cities.”
What does the phrase “Imagining Cities” mean to you?
My research for Enlivened City looks at the many ways that those who are involved in making cities—urban planners and designers, non-profit organizations, city governments, and everyday people—imagine the ideal future of cities by thinking about the desired bodies of urban inhabitants, and not just the structures that cities will adopt. When these actors imagine future livable cities, they are often imagining inhabitants who are able-bodied, thin, young, upper middle class, and (repro)ductive. We are familiar with processes such as gentrification, in which the supposed betterment of cities comes with economic development, but less apparent thus far have been the eugenic logics underlying city-making, whether directed toward public health, urban revitalization, or public life. This year, I will be delving into ethnographic and historical data to consider the question of how city-making became a project shaping bodies and populations.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your research? If so, how, and how have you chosen to move forward?
For example, even as we have an expansion of sidewalk café culture to allow for people to visit restaurants, we have a decrease in disability accessibility because sidewalks and portions of streets are given over to café seating.
The COVID-19 pandemic has both changed and solidified typical ways of using public spaces. We are meant to isolate from one another, rather than to congregate, and yet spaces such as parks and sidewalks remain as important as ever. And so while the ways people interact in public space have changed, the central concerns of my research—how urbanists promote particular uses and visions of public space—have not. In fact, many have doubled down on previous strategies as ways for moving us through the pandemic. I am very interested in the implications of these investments for the interests and perspectives that get elided. For example, even as we have an expansion of sidewalk café culture to allow for people to visit restaurants, we have a decrease in disability accessibility because sidewalks and portions of streets are given over to café seating. I will be tracing these and other changes as I move through the project.
And, for fun, what was your first job and what did you learn from it?
I have had many jobs, both compensated and uncompensated. One of my first was caretaking children in my family and neighborhood starting around age seven. I learned a lot about how to establish authority, act compassionately, and listen. These are skills I use today in teaching and research.
Aimi Hamraie is Associate Professor of Medicine, Health, & Society and American Studies at Vanderbilt University, where they direct the Critical Design Lab. They are author of Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) and host of the Contra* podcast on disability, design justice, and the lifeworld. Their forthcoming book, Enlivened City, studies the “livable cities” movement using the tools of ethnography, feminist science studies, and disability studies.