, Volume 79, Issue 3, pp 309-328
Date: 09 Aug 2013

Keep costumes out, keep trains in: defining and defending spaces for “good jobs” in a Rust Belt city

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Abstract

The re-industrialization of brownfields has become an important economic redevelopment strategy in many “Rust Belt” cities, and labor-community coalitions have sought to ensure that such projects bring economic justice through good jobs to inner-city neighborhoods with high rates of unemployment. These coalitions have in many cases succeeded in establishing geographically defined job standards, such as living wage ordinances and community benefits agreements, but few studies have investigated how such “spatial fixes for labor” influence or fail to influence the relocation and investment decisions of firms. In this article, we compare and contrast two efforts to define and defend inner-city brownfields redevelopment projects as spaces for good local jobs in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We find that the influence of spatially defined job standards on relocation decisions varied with the different scales of political engagement and economic mobility involved in each case. In addition, we identify a common political factor in these decisions that previous research in labor geographies has not emphasized: the discursive trivialization of a firm’s primary product. In combination, the two cases suggest that future geographic research on economic justice and the agency of labor and its allies needs to attend both to the complex scalar dimensions of geographically defined job standards and to the roles of nonhuman products in political controversies over redevelopment.