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Essential Education: Resources on the Intersection of Race and Urbanism

Colorful city map.
Creator: Richard Laschon | Source: Shutterstock

Educational media isn’t hard to find in our increasingly digital world, but it’s on us to make the decision to learn more. And learning more is very often the foundation for doing better.

In honor of Black History Month, here’s a list of books, articles, videos, and podcasts to educate yourself on how race and urban planning and development intersect. But don’t let your education stop here; it’s essential to acknowledge, confront, and act to eliminate racial disparities in all months of the year, not just this one.

Books

1. The Earth, the City, and the Hidden Narrative of Race — Carl Anthony

The Earth, the City, and the Hidden Narrative of Race, published in 2017, is a contemporary analysis connecting urban history, community disinvestment, and environmental exploitation to tackle current issues regarding race and urbanism.

Carl Anthony is an environmental and social justice leader who founded Urban Habitat, an environmental justice organization striving for equity and justice for low-income communities under the umbrella of sustainability.

Bonus: check out this talk by Carl Anthony on the book.

2. Redevelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit — June Manning Thomas

Originally published in 1997, Redevelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit recounts the tale of post-World War II Detroit, a city facing urban decay despite city planners’ efforts to redevelop and prevent its physical and economic decline. The book examines what went wrong, evaluating how government programs were ineffective in salvaging the city, and how policy can prioritize values of social justice and equity to lift up communities.

Thomas is centennial professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan.

3. African American Architects: Embracing Culture and Building Urban Communities — Melvin Mitchell

In African American Architects: Embracing Culture and Building Urban Communities (published in 2020), Melvin Mitchell, author of The Crisis of the African American Architect, delves into the history of Black architects, asserting that the 2016 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., may serve as a catalyst for a Black architectural renaissance if more Black community builders are inspired to create and construct developments that serve their neighborhoods.

Mitchell is an architect, professor, real estate developer, and urbanist, in addition to being an accomplished writer.

4. The Black Skyscraper: Architecture and the Perception of Race — Adrienne Brown

Another architecture-centered work, The Black Skyscraper: Architecture and the Perception of Race—published in 2017—explores the rise of skyscrapers around the 1880s and into the 1900s. Home to racially diverse populations of people who migrated and immigrated to urban areas following Reconstruction, skyscrapers—and more specifically their architecture—affected how race was seen and acknowledged at the start of the 20th century, Brown argues. This book went on to win the First Book Prize of the Modern Studies Association.

Brown is an associate professor of English and the director of undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago. She coedited another book that was published in 2016 on the intersection of race and urbanism called Race and Real Estate.

5. Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It — Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove

Spotlighting three U.S. cities where the disinvestment in communities of color has hit the hardest and where urban renewal projects have further ostracized BIPOC individuals, Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove depicts the “root shock,” or the traumatic stress, that members of those communities feel when their neighborhood is destroyed by developments projects. Fullilove contends that comprehending the root shock that disadvantaged neighborhoods of color experience is an essential step toward building better, more inclusive cities.

Author of five books, Fullilove is a research psychiatrist at New York State Psychiatric Institute and a professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at Columbia University, breaking down the ways the environment affects the mental health of communities.

Articles, Blogs & Other Digital Resources

1. How to End Anti-Blackness in Cities — Curbed

Alissa Walker recounts how black urbanists are leading the charge to eliminate racism in their industry in this article for Curbed. Beyond highlighting the people pushing for change, it includes a number of helpful links to further reading on anti-Blackness in urban planning and development.

2. The Corner Side Yard — Pete Saunders

This blog by Chicago-based urban planner and writer Pete Saunders covers a wide range of topics within the urbanism field, focusing particularly on America’s Rust Belt cities and weaving thoughtful analysis of the role of race and equity in city planning and urban spaces throughout. There’s a ton of quality educational content and commentary to dive into on the site. Start with Pete’s recent essay on The Life Cycle of Black Urban Neighborhoods and just keep reading.

3. A Call to Courage — Jay Pitter

This open letter to urbanists written by Jay Pitter urges her colleagues to “embrace the spirit of humility and curiosity to learn more about the history of anti-Black racism and urbanism.” She includes a helpful self-assessment tool and learning agenda, as well as an appendix that includes a glossary of equity-based placemaking terms and an annotated bibliography to facilitate further learning.

4. BlackSpace Manifesto

BlackSpace is a collective of Black urban planners, architects, artists, and designers “working to protect and create Black spaces.” Their manifesto outlines the ethos that drives their work and provides a helpful framework for understanding what antiracist urban planning means and how to implement it.

5. State of Black America — National Urban League

State of Black America is an annual report published by the National Urban League examining racial equality in the United States across a variety of metrics. The 2020 report examines the differential impact of COVID-19 on Black communities.

Videos

1. Paul Goodwin on Re-Visioning Black Urbanism Through Music — Loop

Paul Goodwin—curator, urban theorist, and chair of contemporary art and urbanism at the University of Arts London—shares his perspective on the intersection between Blackness and cities, and how it can be illustrated through music.

2. Michael Lens on Making Urbanism Antiracist — YIMBY Action

In conversation with YIMBY Action, Michael Lens, an associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA whose work focuses on housing inequities, discusses segregation and the barriers to home ownership for people of color.

3. How Do We Respond to Anti-Black Racism in Urbanist Practices and Conversations? — Canadian Urban Institute

In this seminar sponsored by The Canadian Urban Institute and moderated by Toronto-based urbanist Jay Pitter, panelists discuss their lived experience with racism in the urban environment and how to prioritize racial equity in planning.

4. Urban Design Is Not Neutral — The Agenda With Steve Paikin

Journalist Steve Paikin interviews urbanists Tamika Butler and Jay Pitter on the importance of contextualization and how the built environment perpetuates inequities.

Podcasts

1. Dismantled

Dismantled features conversations facilitated by BIPOC individuals about climate justice. Check out the platform that hosts the podcast, Intersectional Environmentalist, for resources, information, and strategies to dismantle systems of oppression and support intersectional environmentalism—a practice that promotes the protection of both people and the planet by raising awareness about injustices that marginalized communities face.

This list is certainly not exhaustive, but the content should provide plenty of food for thought as we reflect on the injustices perpetrated against people of color and work to actualize equity in our systems, institutions, and everyday lives. Don’t stop reading, watching, and (most especially) listening—there’s always more to learn and more progress to be made.

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