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Community is: A Mythical and Sometimes Violent Dream

by Carol Zou


Lately, or maybe always, I’ve been thinking about what it means to belong. Gentrification debates tend to rest on this idea of belonging—that some fit in a place more than others, that community is a singular noun instead of a plurality.

When moneyed interests move into an area, the definition of that area changes. To be in community in a gentrifying neighborhood is to be in community with active agents of displacement. I have been in many community meetings where equal representation meant overrepresentation of landlords who were so unscrupulous and so uncaring about the people living on their property that they made me sick to my stomach.

Are we now in community, because we are

forced to be neighbors? Which one of us belongs?

I felt in those meetings like I feel now, like I’m living through this dumpster fire of a presidency in 2017 and being asked to come together with the KKK solely because we happen to share the geographic border that is Texas. Sometimes, an appeal to community is an appeal to violence—in order to define a community, we have to expunge what we are not.

And we are always not something.

Violence is the act of expulsion.

We can’t just draw a line around a place on a map and call it community. As a queer, feminist, first- generation immigrant, I feel so much deep un-belonging wherever I go. My homeland, , is no longer one that recognizes me. Here in the United States I am a professional working in social change and placemaking. Back home there are no such jobs. Rather, they don’t refer to Grandmother gathering in the park with her friends as creative placemaking.

What does place-based practice mean in a state of


What if we started making decisions in support of and organizing around values? This is what I want, more than I want community. I want a place organized around the values of poor, black, queer, disabled, homeless, colonized people.

If only city planning could get that right.










Carol Zou is a social practice artist based in Dallas’ Vickery Meadow. She manages the trans.lation project, which operates as a kind of  arts and culture center for the largely immigrant population in the neighborhood. She has her B.A. from Cornell University and her M.F.A. is in Public Practice from the Otis College of Art and Design.  Previously, Zou was an organizer of the art collective Yarn Bombing Los Angeles


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