Hailing from Fresno, California, Loren Friesen knows that the phrase, “the other side of the tracks” isn’t just a cliche: it’s a reality. Loren observed how unofficial boundary lines seemed to exist between classes and races in Fresno. But discovering why and how this happens took Loren on a year-long journey through his junior and senior year at Fresno Pacific University, and it all began in Fresno’s Tower District.
An Obvious Difference.
“What got me interested in this topic was just living in Fresno and observing this really obvious yet intangible difference between Tower and the rest of Fresno,” Loren says. He describes the lack of chain restaurants, the energetic atmosphere, and the heavy pedestrian traffic. Loren would even take international and out-of-state students to Tower District and note their responses that Tower felt nothing like the rest of Fresno.
And when this seemingly commonplace phenomenon collided with a concept from Loren’s Philosophy of Language class, the pieces began to connect.
After learning about Michel Foucault’s theory of deviant spaces, Loren had a realization about why Tower felt so different from the rest of Fresno. “In a dominant space there’s a space within which deviates and rejects what’s ‘normal,’” Loren explains. “Fresno is dominant, and Tower District is a space of deviance.”
“When coming across [Foucault’s] theory, this idea and observation really articulated and formed. That was a really great feeling,” Loren says. “You have this idea and it’s just a theory in your head, and then you find out that someone, and in this case, a brilliant theorist, has articulated it.”
The “puzzle pieces” of Foucault’s theory and Loren’s observations formed the groundwork for the claim Loren set out to prove in his Philosophy of Language essay: while Fresno was grounded in its use of boundaries to other and created an insider versus outsider mentality, Tower District refused this sort of geographical othering. This refusal results in a noticeable difference.
Beyond the Theory.
As Loren developed the essay for his class, he realized the project was bigger than one class. He eventually carried the work over into a publications class he was taking the next semester, refining the essay each week with the eventual goal of submitting it to a publication. Through this challenging process, Loren began to expand his perspective on the project building off of Foucault’s theory.
The more Loren studied Tower, the more inspired he became to introduce multidisciplinary aspects into the project. Loren interviewed residents of Tower District, and he traveled to Tower with his camera to capture images that revealed the physical rejection of boundaries and othering. Everywhere he looked, he found places that proved his hypothesis, from the lack of parking lots, the narrow streets, and even the way that bars and restaurants seemed to “invade” the nearby sidewalks. There were no clear boundary lines in Tower–everything blended into one common space.
Loren even recalls having a conversation with people at a restaurant he was photographing from the sidewalk. “This was already diminishing boundaries and walls of the ‘stranger,’” Loren says, as he identified not as the “outsider,” but just another Tower District pedestrian.
As Loren began pulling other primary sources to find out why Tower District felt so different from the rest of Fresno, he located a journalism source, “The 2016 Mapping Inequality Project,” which looked at homeowner and loan corporate records nationwide. It was then that Loren began to see something more sinister at play in Fresno’s dominant spaces.
“The study shows the incredible and extensive amount of redlining and intentional segregation through housing and even employment that a lot of our cities have.” Loren discovered through research articles put out by UC Berkeley and the U.S. Census Bureau that a physical line was drawn at Shaw Street in Fresno, where the populations on either side have great wealth disparity to this day. Further research revealed this kind of redlining and intentional segregation in cities across America, like in Atlanta, Flint, Cleveland, and Denver.
A Call for Social Justice.
Loren, who attended high school on the Westside in Fresno, had experienced this redlining even before he knew it existed. He had always been familiar with derogatory terms used to refer to the area where he had attended school, but Loren attributes this background with his embrace of diversity and rejection of othering.
“Going to that high school was a beautiful way for me…being the minority, to understand the rhythm and how life goes on there,” he says. “You realize that it doesn’t have to be so othered. We don’t have to think of other races as so foreign or dangerous.”
And Loren says that acknowledging that there are more similarities between people than differences leads to actually improving and correcting the segregation in our own communities.
“I advocate for everyone looking at their own city to see…do our own hometowns have this culture of othering? Are there ways in which we can start to look at our own cities and see the boundaries that are often there?”
Loren learned in his year-long research project that these deviant spaces rise up organically, not because a city planner decided to change the landscape.
“I don’t think the responsibility should be only on the city planners to start developing more inclusive cities,” Loren says. “I think the responsibility is on normal citizens to start looking at our own cities with a bit more critical thinking and start thinking, ‘do we have this history of boundaries that others–that puts people in a place where I don’t have to see them, and I don’t want to see them?’”
Although the current chapter of his project is closed, he is still interested in contributing more to this conversation.
“It’s a small piece in the project of social justice, where I’m trying to show that we live in these bounded segments of our cities,” he says. Hopefully we can start realizing that and unpacking it–then maybe we can do something on a cultural level to start chipping away at that.”
After attending the conference in Cleveland, Loren returned to graduate from Fresno Pacific University this May. This summer he hopes to refine his research on Fresno’s deviant spaces and submit it for publication before journeying to South Africa to live and volunteer as a communication administrator with Refugee Social Service.