Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Latin American Studies (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

J. Miguel Kanai

Second Committee Member

Tracy Devine Guzmán

Third Committee Member

George Yudice

Fourth Committee Member

Ariana Hernandez-Reguant


This thesis explores the intersections of art and urban redevelopment by evaluating the strategic uses of urban art forms in distressed neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Miami. Specifically, this thesis takes to task the trend of “artwashing” in which developers appropriate and aestheticize markers of urban decay in order to market real estate to consumers seeking an industrial chic backdrop. While most discussions of artwashing center on the upgrading of austere industrial buildings, I believe the term should also be applied to the appropriation of urban art forms for neighborhood rebranding purposes. In recent years, the commissioning of street art has become one of the most conspicuous tools utilized in the neoliberal reshaping of urban public space, yet scholarship on artwashing is sorely lacking. Focusing on Miami and Philadelphia, I posit that rather than igniting neighborhood change, artwashing simply reproduces and relocates existing power imbalances. Of course, some arts-based redevelopment strategies do have the capacity to bring about sustainable, equitable urban change. After analyzing approximately five hundred works of urban art throughout eight neighborhoods in Miami and Philadelphia, I came to the conclusion that there are three basic manifestations of artistically-informed urban regeneration: parasitic, paternalistic, and empowering. The following is an evaluation of the different motives, organizational structures, and outcomes that exist among these three expressions of artistically-informed urban regeneration, and how these disparities affect urban inequality.


Urban art; Gentrification; Street art; Graffiti; Murals; Urban inequality