suburban poverty and politics of equitable development

Small businesses in downtown Wheaton in the shadow of new development. Image: Willow Lung-Amam.

Small businesses in downtown Wheaton in the shadow of new development. Image: Willow Lung-Amam.

This research focuses on the growing suburban poverty and struggles over suburban redevelopment.  

The Right to Suburbia: Redevelopment and Resistance on the Urban Edge 

My second book, The Right to Suburbia: Redevelopment and Resistance on the Urban Edge, which is currently under development, examines the struggles over redevelopment of low-income minority and immigrant communities in the Washington, DC suburbs. In three case studies, it shows how activists, small businesses, and other community leaders organized to resist gentrification-induced displacement and claim a more equitable stake in their communities’ future. The Right to Suburbia argues that suburban spatial, institutional, and political structures exacerbate the vulnerabilities facing disadvantaged groups in redeveloping neighborhoods. Yet activism has steadily built the capacity of communities to respond. The book is among the first to explore gentrification in U.S. suburbs. It calls attention to equity in suburban redevelopment scholarship, which has largely focused on issues of urban form and environmental sustainability. For gentrification scholars, it shows how equitable development movements are challenging suburban planning and policy to respond. It provides lessons for community leaders, policy makers, and planners on engaging and addressing the concerns of groups heavily impacted by redevelopment to produce shared prosperity and just growth. An article based on this research on the struggles of immigrant-owned businesses to survive county-led redevelopment in Wheaton, Maryland is under review for a journal. 

ADVANCING Equitable Suburban redevelopment

Related research has further examined how redevelopment has impacted vulnerable suburban communities. I have examined the shifting geography of high-poverty neighborhoods over four decades in the DC region, highlighting their growth in inner and outer suburbs. My research has also explored the challenges of equitable transit-oriented development (TOD) in the region’s diverse suburbs. This includes work on the opportunities and challenges facing Langley Park, Maryland, a low-income Latino suburb where the Purple Line, the region’s first suburban light rail, is currently under construction and threatens to displace many renters and small, immigrant-owned businesses. This research informed an article under revision for a journal and a book on TOD in Paris and DC. 

I co-authored a Langley Park affordable housing strategies report with colleagues at the National Center for Smart Growth (NCSG) and CASA, Maryland’s largest immigrants’ rights organization, which was covered by local and national media, including the Washington Post and NBC4 Washington. I helped to create the Purple Line Dashboard and story map, online tools that track crowdsourced and secondary housing, business, neighborhood, and labor data in Purple Line communities over time. These tools will help advocates and policy makers monitor progress towards the Purple Line Community Development Agreement, a document signed by county executives, local governments, and other stakeholders that will likely set the terms for what equitable development along the line looks like moving forward. I also led the creation of the Langley Park Community Asset Map to document neighborhood assets that can be leveraged in future development, the lessons of which have informed a journal article under review.  

SUBURBAN Community development and UnRESt

My research has helped to advance community development in suburban communities, particularly Langley Park. I served as the primary researcher for the CASA-led “Langley Park Housing Matters Campaign,” which brought together Prince George's County agencies, elected officials, community-based organizations, tenants and landlords to address multi-family residential environmental health hazards. I am also currently working with CASA on a project funded by the U.S. Department of Justice to bring together county agencies, community organizations, and residents to improve police-community relations and safety in Langley Park, a county crime “hot spot.”

In The Routledge Companion to the Suburbs, I show how suburban poverty and racial change undergirded the unrest that occurred in the wake of the deaths of unarmed Black men in Ferguson, Missouri and Sanford, Florida.