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 in three related projects.  

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

The project looks at trends in the suburbanization of poverty and suburban redevelopment in Washington, DC region. 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 diversity—home to the majority of all racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and the poor. At the same time, urban planners and policy makers are increasingly focused on “retrofitting” suburban communities to make them more walkable, mixed-used, and compact places. 

My research focuses on the concerns raised by these two intersecting trends for disadvantaged communities. It investigates battles that have been or are currently being waged by low-income minority and immigrant communities in the Washington, DC suburbs over redevelopment. In three case studies, it asks how these communities stand to benefit from such projects as well as the potentially negative impacts of redevelopment. The project is meant to inform the growing movement for equitable development by calling attention to how it is playing out in suburbia and important considerations to guide redevelopment policy and practice in disadvantaged communities. The project is intended to lead to a book manuscript.

Equitable Transit-Oriented Development

Over the last several decades, the disproportionate impacts suffered by low-income communities of color to rising land values and other impacts of transit-oriented development (TOD) have raised calls for greater attention to issues of equity in communities across the U.S. This is particularly true when transit investments raise the prospects for gentrification and displacement. In several related projects, I have explored and contributed to the growing movement for equitable transit-oriented development. Much of my research has focused on the the Purple Line, the Washington DC region’s first inter-suburban light rail line and its proposed impact on Langley Park, Maryland, a low-income, predominantly Latino immigrant community.

I am the lead author of The Promise and Challenge of Equitable Transit-Oriented Development in Diverse Suburbia, an article on equitable TOD in Langley Park that was published in conference proceedings for Transit, Development and Forme Urbaine: Washington et Paris Symposium and will be part of a forthcoming book La Métropole des Transports Collectifs : Paris – Washington, Regards Croisés, edited by Karen Bowie and Nacima Baron. 

In collaboration with other faculty at the National Smart Growth Center for Research and Education (NCSG) and CASA, I have been involved research efforts and community development projects meant to mitigate the potential impacts of the line on Langley Park residents. This includes serving as lead author on Preparing for the Purple Line: Affordable Housing Strategies for Langley Park, Maryland, a report that details strategies that can be taken by local government, the state, and community-based organization to protect, preserve, and produce new affordable housing in the anticipation of the new line. The results of the report were covered widely by the Washington Post, NBC4 Washington, and others. I am also working as a primary researcher for the CASA-led “Langley Park Housing Matters Campaign.” This project brings together Prince George's county agencies, elected officials, community-based organizations, tenants and landlords to address multi-family residential environmental health hazards by developing and implementing strategies that will maximize resources for residents in Langley Park through engagement and education campaigns.

In support of and coordination with the Purple Line Corridor Coalition and Fair Redevelopment CoalitionI have also worked with Dr. Gerrit-Jan Knaap and others to create a dashboard to monitor progress towards the goals of the Purple Line Community Compact, an agreement to leverage the investment of the new light rail to achieve benefits through the communities along its route. This included producing the Purple Line Community Story Map, where residents living along the line can share their stories about the opportunities and challenges associated with the new line.

Suburban Poverty and the Social Safety Net

This project investigates trends in the suburbanization of poverty in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and its impacts on communities across in the region. Through census data and GIS mapping, the research identifies clusters of high-poverty suburban neighborhoods and their demographic and spatial characteristics. The project then takes an in-depth look at those communities that have been most impacted to understand the capacity of these places to meet the increasing demands of poor residents. The research hopes to use a multi-dimensional approach to assess the impact of the suburbanization of poverty on the social safety net for poor individuals and communities.