My research examines the ways that disenfranchised groups re-appropriate their marginalized spaces in the city to gain access to and sustain political empowerment. My research agenda engages scholarship in urban studies, political science, urban history, black feminist studies, community development, urban policy, and critical geography using both qualitative and quantitative data and methods. This research agenda is particularly relevant in these politically unstable times, where cities continue to marginalize underrepresented minority groups by defunding public institutions, promoting urban policies that subsidize their displacement while limiting affordable housing options, and continuing the funding and support of a militarized police force.  

This research began as an examination of public housing developments in Atlanta, the first major city in the United States to demolish all its family-style public housing.  Consequently, Atlanta was the first city to receive federal funding for the construction of public housing in the nation – Techwood Homes, constructed in 1936.  As the population residing within Atlanta’s public housing increased – approximately ten percent of all Atlantans lived in public housing by 1980 – the city began considering reducing its public housing stock due to rising crime and poverty rates within and around the developments.  While the problem of public housing and concentrated poverty is well documented in the social science literature, there have been few attempts to document the politics of public housing and its effect on the politics in public housing. Using these public housing politics as a framework, the analysis of political geographies of public housing developments is a means to better understanding the unifying properties of public housing spaces across and within cities.    

Three other projects examine some of the broader forces shaping race and redevelopment in the city.  I am working on a series of papers with Dr. Michael Leo Owens of Emory University and Dr. Robert Brown of Spelman University about the role of Black Municipal Empowerment (BME) in public housing demolitions and other neoliberal policies.  We are quantifying the collective qualitative case studies that use Adolph Reed’s Black Urban Regime theory, which posits that Black urban leadership tends to continue regressive, growth-driven policies against Black communities, particularly low-income communities adjacent to the downtown.  Our first paper, under review at Urban Affairs Review, finds a positive relationship between the extent of public housing demolition and the length of Black urban leadership using a dataset of 125 cities over 20 years. Another project examining the role of Newark’s Black leadership in slowing gentrification is underway with Drs. Mara Sidney and Domingo Morel of Rutgers University – Newark.  The Newark Gentrification Group is a comparative project that looks at urban policies that accelerate or stymie gentrification and displacement in Newark, NJ and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The group was funded to organize a conference that will produce a more comprehensive understanding of race and gentrification in the global South and North.  

I am also working with Dr. Rand Quinn of the Penn Graduate School of Education on a project examining the spaces of schools in gentrifying neighborhoods as sites that could produce positive gentrification, or a more equitable distribution of benefits between incoming gentrifiers and long-term established residents.  The project will ultimately design a series of workshops that teach parents about community organizing strategies with the intent on getting gentrifying and established parents to work collectively to prioritize educational issues and leverage community resources to improve school and student outcomes.