Alex Schafran

I am a writer, educator and researcher focused on issues of housing, segregation and the broader politics of urbanization. My recent books and major projects are below. Click here to learn more about me and for a complete list of works.

Click here for a recent blog post announcing The Spatial Contract and explaining how it relates to COVID and the current crisis.

The Spatial Contract: A New Politics of Provision for an Urbanized Planet

Just out in 2020! Housing. Water. Energy. Transport. Food. Education. Health care. These are the core systems which make human life possible in the 21st century. Few of us are truly self-sufficient – we rely on the systems built into our cities and towns of all shapes and sizes in order to survive, let alone thrive.

Despite how important these systems are, and how much we rely on them, contemporary politics and mainstream economics in most of the world largely ignore these core systems. Politicians debate what they think will get them elected; economists value what they think drives growth.

This book joins the growing chorus of activists, academics and innovators who think that we should be focusing on what matters, on the parts of our economy in which most of us work and upon which all of us depend for survival. We help push this movement along by suggesting a series of concrete steps we can take to build what we call the “Spatial Contract”. The spatial contract is a form of social contract that pays attention to a simple fact: in order for humans to be free, we rely on these basic systems that enable us to act. At the heart of the spatial contract is an agreement to channel that action into ensuring these systems are built, maintained and available to all who need them, in big cities and small towns all around the world.

Urbanization as an Economic Sector

We’ve been talking about the ‘services’ sector for almost a century. This paper suggests a better way to think about the structure of the economy.

Housing in the United States

A collection of work, primarily authored with Deirdre Pfeiffer and Jake Wegmann, which looks at different aspects of housing in the United States.

The Road to Resegregation: Northern California and the Failure of Politics

How could Northern California, the wealthiest and most politically progressive region in the United States, become one of the earliest epicenters of the foreclosure crisis? How could this region continuously reproduce racial poverty and reinvent segregation in old farm towns one hundred miles from the urban core?
This is the story of the suburbanization of poverty, the failures of regional planning, urban sprawl, NIMBYism, and political fragmentation between middle class white environmentalists and communities of color. The responsibility for this newly segregated geography lies in institutions from across the region, state, and political spectrum, even as the Bay Area has never managed to build common purpose around the making and remaking of its communities, cities, and towns. The book closes by presenting paths toward a new politics of planning and development that weave scattered fragments into a more equitable and functional whole.

Housing Vulnerability Analysis

Join us in developing new ways of understanding vulnerability and housing. This project creates a new method for organizations and jurisdictions to understand how vulnerable their residents are vulnerable to displacement of any kind. It begins by thinking about housing tenure.

Shitholes and Slumburbs

A collection of writing about how and why and to what effect we say shitty things about places. Includes writing about the US, UK and France.

Writing about the Bay Area & California

Nearest and dearest to my heart, a collection of work about Cali and the Bay.

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