Immigrant Placemaking and the Politics of Development

 Little Kahbul Market in Fremont, California. Image: Willow Lung-Amam.

Little Kahbul Market in Fremont, California. Image: Willow Lung-Amam.

The primary focus of my research for the past several years has been on the recent shift in the dominant geography of immigrants from central cities to the suburbs. The research has looked at the ways in which these trends have changed the form, use, and meaning of suburban space and development politics in four related projects.

Trespassers?: Asian Americans and the Battle for Suburbia

This book  investigates the ways that rising Asian immigration associated with the high tech boom reshaped the landscape of Silicon Valley and its politics of development. In an in-depth case study in one Silicon Valley suburb, the book explores the history of Asian immigration in the region and spaces that mark their influence on the region’s built form and politics. On the one hand, the book shows how the development of new homes, shifting culture and curriculum of local schools, and the proliferation of ethnic shopping centers in the Valley met the needs and aspirations of new Asian immigrants. On the other, it shows how these landscapes became the subjects of critique, social contest, and new forms of regulation. The book underscores the ways in which white, middle-class norms, meanings, and values are reinforced through planning policy and processes as well as the design of the suburban built environment. Moreover, it shows suburbia as a critical arena for an emergent debate over a right to difference, as Asian immigrants as well as other groups no longer find themselves simply fighting for access to suburbia, but rather for different ways of being suburban and expressing difference in their everyday landscapes. The book was published by University of California Press.

Articles based on related research have appeared in Amerasia Journal, the Journal of Urban Design, Journal of American Ethnic History, and three books—Transcultural Cities: Border-crossing and PlacemakingMaking Suburbia: New Histories of Everyday America, and The Suburban Reader (2nd edition).

Faith-based Institutions, Immigrant Placemaking, and Planning Politics

This project looks at the various roles played by faith-based institutions for immigrants in Silicon Valley. It investigates the functions served by an increasing number of mosques, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist temples, and Asian Christian churches for recent immigrants as well as the conflicts they have raised within neighborhoods and with regulatory bodies. The research shows the critical roles these institutions serve as welcome centers and community-based service providers for new immigrants, but also the multiple ways in which they contest established neighborhood and planning norms.

Asian Immigration and the Politics of Place in the New South

This research is a case study of the Chapel Hill, North Carolina school district as it was in the process of redrawing its attendance boundaries for, among other things, enrolling students in a historically African American school closed during desegregation. The reopening of the school marked an important moment for African Americans in Chapel Hill, but the new boundaries faced fierce opposition from various community groups, the loudest of whom were recent Asian immigrants. My research raises questions about how the politics of race, class, and immigration factored into the debates. Using in-depth interviews with affected residents and school officials as well as public documents, newspaper accounts, and literature from the organizing efforts to oppose the new school boundaries, the research shows how the issue was prefaced by the changing demographics of the region. It thereby underscores the questions new immigration raises for equitable educational policies and the racial politics of education in the New South.

multigenerational home building

The form of the American suburban house has been changing. From former custom-crafted elite estates and mass-produced postwar homes to today’s McMansions, single-family homes in the United States have taken on different forms at different times to accommodate their many users, uses, and ideals. This research investigates how homebuilders have responded to Americans’ increasing rates of multigenerational living and the diversity of multigenerational households in the past several decades. While the number and proportion of families living in multigenerational families was on the decline throughout much of the 20th century, rates have risen since 1990 principally among immigrants, minorities, Baby Boomers, and Millennials.

By analyzing real estate and homebuilding industry publications, developer data, and local, regional, and national newspaper articles, the research tracks multigenerational homebuilding trends across the U.S. since 1985. These show a growing number and diversity of multigenerational home developments, particularly after the Great Recession, that I argue represents a remarkable shift in the design of suburban, single-family homes. They also reveal particular hotspots of multigenerational home development in the Sunbelt South and West. In the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, which have served as an important testing ground for multigenerational homebuilding, new home data and interviews conducted with developers, real estate agents, and architects show the unique design qualities of these homes and why they have become popular among homebuyers and builders. However, the case study also reveals a host of planning, design, and policy challenges associated with these homes and raise questions about their contribution to building more socially diverse and sustainable suburban communities. This research will be published in a forthcoming volume, The Routledge Handbook of Housing Policy and Planning edited by Katrin B. Anacker, Mai Thi Nguyen, and David P. Varady.