Suburban Redevelopment and Resistance: The Case for Equitable TOD

The project engages two important trends in the fields of planning and urban design—suburban “retrofit” or redevelopment and the suburbanization of poverty and immigration. Suburban retrofitting, which promotes more walkable, mixed-used, and compact suburban development, has recently become popular in many urban design and planning circles and has helped to transform many formerly sprawling suburbs into more prototypically “urban” places. At the same time, suburbia is undergoing massive demographic change. Once thought to be the sole province of white middle-class and elites, over the past few decades, suburbia has been at the center of America’s increasing social diversity—home to the majority of all racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and the poor.

This research focuses on the concerns raised by these two intersecting trends for disadvantaged communities. It asks how the resistance to suburban redevelopment and retrofit projects in low-income, minority, and immigrant communities informs the challenges of and to suburban redevelopment in an age of unprecedented suburban diversity and shifting geographies of metropolitan inequality. It probes questions about how communities are mobilizing to fight against such seemingly “good” urbanism, what they are fighting for and against, how these projects’ location in suburbia both complicates and informs the debates about them, and the impacts of contemporary processes of suburban spatial transformation on socially and economically vulnerable communities. The research uses a case study approach focused on several low-income minority and immigrant communities in Washington, DC metro area, which have recently or are proposed to undergo major redevelopment.

This project hopes to forward a critical conversation about the way that contemporary suburban redevelopment and renewal practices are taking shape among urban planning and design scholars, practitioners, and policy makers. The project adds a sustained focus on questions of social equity to a discourse that has hereto largely focused on urban form and environmental sustainability. It proposes to proffer both cautionary tales as well as potential policy responses and design practices to better respond to the concerns of increasingly diverse and vulnerable suburban populations.

I have received support for this research from the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation’s Junior Faculty Research Grant, UMD’s Qualitative Research Interest Group at the Center for Race, Gender, and Ethnicity.  The project is intended to lead to a book manuscript tentatively entitled, “The Right to Suburbia: Redevelopment and Resistance on the Urban Edge.”