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.

Trespassers?: Asian Americans and the Battle for Suburbia

This book shows how a half century of immigration transformed California’s Silicon Valley into one of the fastest growing, and most ethnically diverse suburban regions in the U.S. It examines the efforts of Asian Americans, many of whom are highly skilled and educated immigrants, to invest in schools, neighborhoods, and shopping centers as well as the tensions that emerged over these changes. Trespassers underscores the ways in which White, middle-class norms and privilege are reinforced through suburban policy, planning, and the design of the built environment, and impact even the most well-to-do communities of color. It shows the vital role of Asian Americans in shaping suburbia, and suburbia as a critical arena for the politics of Asian American inclusion. Trespassers is among the first books to explore the politics of Asian American suburbanization in high-tech regions. 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. Articles based on this research have appeared in Journal of Urban Design and are under development for an invited book chapter in Ethnoburbia!, edited by Margaret Crawford and Erica Kim.

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.

the changing form of suburban homes and neighborhoods

The form of American suburban homes and neighborhoods has changed in recent decades. From former custom-crafted elite estates and mass-produced postwar homes to multigenerational homes and fengshui subdivisions, suburban home and neighborhoods have taken on new forms to accommodate the increasing diversity of suburban residents and lifestyles. This research investigates how new trends in home subdivision development and design  designs, have reflected and respond to this diversity, and help to meet the needs of diverse suburbanites. 

In a forthcoming article for The Routledge Handbook of Housing Policy and Planning, I trace multigenerational homebuilding trends across the U.S. since 1985 to show the growing number and diversity of developments, particularly after the Great Recession. In the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, I show their unique design qualities, popularity among diverse homebuyers and builders, and planning and policy challenges. In ongoing research, I am exploring the strategies that suburban developers have used to respond to the rapid growth of Asian Americans, that include adapting existing forms, innovating new designs, and accommodating preferences with more flexible designs at the home and neighborhood scale.