Matthew Marr is an associate professor of sociology for the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies and the Asian Studies Program in the Green School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University. Focusing on American and Japanese cities, Marr’s research explores how overcoming homelessness is shaped by contexts operating at multiple levels of social analysis, from the global to the individual. He is particularly interested in the role of social ties in this process, and how ties are affected by organizational, neighborhood and policy contexts. In addition to his book Better Must Come: Exiting Homelessness in Two Global Cities published by Cornell University Press, Marr has published articles in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Journal of Urban Affairs, Cities, Urban Geography, and Housing Policy Debate. He is currently conducting a comparative ethnographic study of “service hub”/ “service ghetto” neighborhoods of Miami (Overtown), Los Angeles (Skid Row), Tokyo (San’ya), and Osaka (Kamagasaki) tentatively titled “Recovery Zone? Human Security at the Margins of Four Global Cities.”
Amid ongoing global economic stagnation, need for aid from the welfare state swells just as state capacity to support unemployed and other dislocated populations erodes. While national governments play a crucial role by providing major funding for welfare benefits and programs, in many countries across the globe, they are increasingly downloading responsibility for designing and implementing measures to address poverty to state and local governments. Local governments have sought assistance from nonprofit organizations in meeting the needs of dislocated residents. In many global cities, "not-in-my-back-yard" (NIMBY) resistance from local residents and pressure to pursue entrepreneurial policies to revive local economies by maximizing economic use of prime spaces constrain location of social services. So, many planners have turned toward the "service-hub" approach of centralizing housing and social services for unemployed and dislocated populations in specific neighborhoods. But what are the experiences of the people that are the targets of these efforts and live in these neighborhoods? Do they benefit from the proximity of services in a holistic way or are they merely trapped in a service-dependent ghetto? How does local variation in implementation of the service hub model affect the experiences of residents? My project will address these questions through an ethnographic study of service hubs serving dislocated and extremely poor persons in four global cities in the US and Japan—San'ya in Tokyo, Kamagasai in Osaka, Skid Row in Los Angeles, and the Health District in Miami. Within each country, I will be comparing a "mega-hub" which is large in population and geography, has a high concentration of social services, and faces intense gentrification (Kamagasaki and Skid Row), with a "micro-hub" which is smaller, has fewer services, and is facing less gentrification (San'ya and the Health District). By comparing neighborhoods in two cities in two countries, I will be able to distinguish the effects of national welfare regimes and demographics from those of local implementations of the service hub model. My data collection will consist of three activities in each city—1) in-depth interviews with 25 residents at two points in time; 2) observation in community based organizations that provide services and in welfare offices where benefit eligibility and management occurs as well as interviews with directors and staff delivering services; and 3) interviews with planners and representatives of community based organizations about the spatial planning of service delivery. I will apply a human security approach to assess the wellbeing of resident interviewees. Drawing on this holistic concept of security, my interviews and observation will focus on the economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political experiences of residents of service hubs. By applying a human security framework to the lived experience of neighborhood residents, I will provide practical insights into the extent to which the service hub model benefits disadvantaged residents in a holistic manner. Also, these findings will speak to international theoretical debates in sociology, urban planning, social welfare, and Japan studies about the global spread of neoliberalism and urban marginality and how local measures mitigate this tendency.