Theses Master's

Urban Politics of Death: Memorabilia and Mutual Aid amid COVID-19 Pandemic in New York City

Arora, Shreya

The thesis focuses on inquiring about, what were the challenges faced by low income immigrants in NYC through crisis, loss and memory brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic? How did the ‘Mutual Aid’ social networks supplement the City Agency’s role within these communities? The objective of this thesis research is to identify the City Agency affiliated gaps experienced at grassroot levels by vulnerable populations during moments of public emergency and how social networks and role of ‘mutual aid or self-help’ organizations play an active role of public support in mitigating such challenges. While City Agency initiatives provided temporary relief to those who were able to avail it, the insulating nature of these new grassroot efforts of community organization moves beyond questioning why the already existing social systems and planned programs failed to be approachable and accessible to all. As planners, it becomes critical for us to engage in what are these binaries that are continually followed by systems of governance and retained informally by community solidarity during emergencies in a city.

The research uses a qualitative framework incorporating reflexivity with a methodology of triangulation for data collection and analyzes semi-structured interviews with 18 Mutual Aid Group representatives in New York City to answer the above research questions using an integrated approach of inductive-deductive thematic analysis framework. Borrowing from the discourse of urban informality, governance and politics of the state and ‘people-centered’ urban planning, this thesis highlights the context of COVID-19 and associated politics to understand the dynamics of marginalization of vulnerable communities and co-production transformations of such social networks. Mutual Aid alliances therefore, can be seen as the smallest unit of civic construction at its unit level that harbors sustained local community belonging, being the nexus between informal social networks and formal City Agency governance especially during public scale crises and urban emergencies.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Devlin, Ryan
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 27, 2022


Mutual Aid; Covid-19 Pandemic; Community Solidarity; Social Networks; Self-help Organizing; Grassroot Movements; Civic Engagement; Urban Informality; New York City