Literature Review: Part 3 – Black Planners are the Bridge to Systemic Change

Black Authors are Pushing the Industry Forward with New Ways of Reporting from Different Perspectives

As the profession continues to grapple with the realities of the past and the whiteness of the present, there are some Black authors that are making their marks on the industry. These authors, urban planners, sociologists, and activists have had positive impacts on the built environment through providing a unique perspective that should be deeply valued in advancing equity through the practice. While Ta-Nehisi Coates, mentioned earlier, represents the cutting edge of the premier Black author, many came before him. This next section will detail literature that develops the viewpoint of Black authors and their contribution to the urban planning industry.

Dr. Lance Freeman is an Urban Planning Professor at Columbia University, whose work has focused on “affordable housing, gentrification, ethnic and racial stratification in housing markets, and the relationship between the built environment and well being.” He has published many scholarly articles on the issues and is the author of the 2006 book There Goes the Hood: Views of Gentrification from the Ground Up (“Lance Freeman”). The studies the New York neighborhoods of Harlem and Clinton Hill utilizing first-hand qualitative interview data to uncover the nuances of gentrification from Black residents of the neighborhood. He thoroughly explores the pros and cons facing the dynamics of the changing communities, while decidingly staying neutral in his writings. It is a unique perspective. As a Black man, he was granted access and spoken to more candidly by the residents, giving the reader a window into the lives of the urban Black dwellers. Through his research he leans to affirm that gentrification is actually good for neighborhoods and even suggests that narratives of involuntary displacement are more rooted in “community lore” (Freeman). This may be a gap in the analysis that should be further explored as other interview and story-based qualitative research has shown the hardship of the worst impacts of displacement, as shown in the Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Desmond). However, regardless of its possible shortcomings, Freeman has provided the industry and other Black planners a stable platform to build upon the research.

Dr. Mary Pattillo is a Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University and has contributed to work in “race and ethnicity, the Black middle class policy, inequality, urban sociology, and qualitative methods.” She has published three books and many scholarly journal articles. (Mary Pattillo). Her 2007 book, Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City, explores the relationship of gentrification among the Black residents of Chicago’s North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood. Taking an inside look at the layers of “Blackness” through the qualitative research of social, political, and economic dynamics, Pattillo reports on the issues between education, crime, urban planning, and behavioral norms of lower-, middle-, and upper-income residents. She further examines the role that upper-income residents played in negotiating redevelopment of the neighborhood as “middlemen” and “brokers” to the political and economic negotiations, as well as advocacy for their lower income neighbors. She makes the argument that most Aftican Americans feel the presence of a collective destiny that links the community and creates some conflicting interests that are aligned regardless of social class (Pattillo; McClure). It is in this that one could argue that Black urban planners are the middlewomen and men that she speaks of, serving as the conductor for positive developments in policy, economic development, and equitable growth.

  • Desmond, Matthew. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Broadway Books, 2016.
  • Freeman, Lance. There Goes the ’hood: Views of Gentrification from the Ground Up. Temple University Press, 2006.
  • Mary Pattillo: Department of Sociology – Northwestern University. Accessed 22 Nov. 2019.
  • McClure, Daniel. “Mary E. Pattillo, Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City.” The Journal of African American History, vol. 94, no. 4, Fall 2009, pp. 600–02.
  • Pattillo, Mary E. Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City. University of Chicago Press, 2007.

© 2020 James Roy II.  All rights reserved.

The following is part of a working draft to a thesis being written towards a Master in Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Colorado Denver. No part of the following work may be reproduced or used in any manner without written permission of the copyright owner (James Roy II).


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James Roy II

I am an accomplished entrepreneur, community-driven professional, public speaker, and creator. I am driven by my passion for urban planning, equity, art, and travel. With a wide range of skills, I put excellence into everything that I do and aim to make an IMPACT.

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