Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

African-American History Month and Urban Planning

I have a post that I typically reprint with additions, which discusses Black History and Urban Planning.

-- "African-American History Month and (Urban and Transportation) Planning," 2017

A few weeks ago, on an e-list, someone exclaimed how an article they read about structural racism within urban renewal was revelatory.  The article wasn't all that, but it made me realize that there are basic points about historical structural racism within land use and transportation planning practice which need to be constantly repeated and reinforced.

1.  Until the late 1960s, the federal mortgage insurance program mandated segregation.  When I first learned about this--not until around 2001--I was floored.

-- "The Racist Housing Policy That Made Your Neighborhood," The Atlantic

2.  Segregated housing districts were often mandated by deed restrictions limiting the sales of property to Whites only.  The Supreme Court ruled in 1948 that this was no longer enforceable, but just because this form of segregation was no longer legal didn't mean that the practice didn't continue.

Last week, I saw a very brief presentation by two local historians, on African-American history in Ward 4, where I live in DC.  I've been aware of deed restrictions for a long time but hadn't been too interested. But even the brief presentation made me realize it's a lot more interesting than I realized.

-- Mapping segregation in Washington, DC, Prologue DC

Especially because of how long segregation in housing persisted after deed restrictions were ruled illegal--because the federal mortgage insurance underwriting restrictions remained intact.

3.  Urban renewal, focused on maintaining property values in central business districts and the cores of center cities, was, yes, often focused on ridding center city districts of low income residents, usually African-American. It wasn't called "Negro Removal," a point made first probably by writer James Baldwin, for nothing.

-- "Urban Renewal Under Fire," Congressional Quarterly Researcher

Similarly, DC's Alley Dwelling Authority, created in 1934 and rolled into other programs later, which aimed to eliminate alley housing, typically well-placed and lived in by African-Americans was a precursor to the broader urban renewal program.

-- "Wagner-Steagall and the D.C. Alley Dwelling Authority: A Bid for Housing-Centered Urban Redevelopment, 1934–1946," Journal of the American Planning Association, 78:4 (2012)

4.  Center city freeway construction programs too were a tool of reproducing space in a manner that forced out center city residents, usually Blacks, and divided neighborhoods. It turned out that freeways weren't such a great tool for urban revitalization, making the city just as easy to avoid as it was to visit.

-- "From racial zoning to community empowerment: The interstate highway system and the African American community in Birmingham, Alabama," Journal of Planning Education and Research, 2002

5. Because of how public transit was segregated, primarily in the South, you can see why African-Americans would see automobiles as a tool of liberation.

-- "Old 'Green Book' Guides for African American Travelers Get Republished in the Age of Trump," Newsweek
-- "Pit stops of safety," Architect Magazine

Separately, I think that the "Taste of Black Austin" event in Austin, Texas is cool.

-- "Taste of Black Austin returns to celebrate black food history, culture," Austin American-Statesman

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At 12:24 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

off topic -- saw a new WAMTA all electric bus running.

Amazing. The lack of noise was beautiful.

At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

DASH in Alexandria has been demoing one and running on certain routes this week.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Hmm. That's why I've always been fond of e-trolley buses. The quiet.

When I did H St. stuff, one of the guys lived on 8th St., and I lived on 6th St. which was on the D bus route, and half block from H Street and a major bus stop there for the X buses.

Bus noise is a scourge on being out. People on 8th St. (90s buses) don't sit on their porches...

At 2:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now if we could eliminate all the ADA-related screeches beeps sirens and annunciatiors that can be heard a block away.

At 4:07 PM, Anonymous charlie said...


And the cylon flashing lights on front. How much did that cost.

Or the new automated announcement on prices?

Meanwhile, the bus priority signal installed on 16th St NB has never been used. Bus lane on Georgia has zero enforcement as far as I can see. Better to just block left turns there.

At 5:12 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I think generally, not just with the bus lanes, there is limited police detailing to traffic enforcement generally.

Many years ago the traffic enforcement division was folded into special operations. I think there should be a basic commitment to some enforcement.

... e.g., I'd like to see vehicles be ticketed for "puncturing" the crosswalk.

Anyway, I was looking at articles in the Straits Times the other day, and Singapore has a training program for "volunteers" that leads to certification for enforcement.

... and I always liked the "Neighborhood Warden" concept dating to the UK Blair years, not for what they called ASBOs, but for basic neighborhood watch/stabilization activities, including, ideally, some traffic enforcement.

I happened to be riding on GA yesterday between 3-4 pm and some cars jumped in the bus lane. So I started riding in the middle of the lane... but all the cars ended up being delayed anyway by a huge temporary boiler truck leaving the HU campus. I guess they've fixed the steam pipe leaks...

2. my sense (no specific knowledge) about the NB priority bus signal would be that they want to run the whole system of prioritization, not just one piece?

3. The flashing lights date back to when John Catoe was the GM, after a bunch of pedestrians were killed in bus accidents. This was around 2007, because working for Brookland Main St., I was trying to get the farmers market moved to the bus plaza at the Metro station, but once all those deaths happened, I stopped pursuing it because I didn't think they'd approve the mixing as a safety risk.

I don't notice the flashing so much anymore, don't know if they still add this function to new buses as they are purchased.

(I happened to see a Neoplan bus in the old livery a couple days ago on the 62 bus route near the Takoma station.)

At 5:14 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... wrt the new buses, been thinking about that. Remember 10 years ago about when DDOT put the streetcar on the parking lot that is now City Center, as a demonstration?

(Apparently too, when Metrorail was under construction, they demonstrated car models maybe on the National Mall, before the system was operational.)

WMATA and DDOT need to do more of that, as a form of PR and advertising and marketing. If anything, TV news would cover it, even if newspapers won't.

At 5:50 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Theoretically, I would move parking enforcement from DPW to DDOT and I would change the position so that they could also ticket for moving violations as well.

At 2:13 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Right thanks for the background on the lights.

Hilarious that you knew about the Howard steam plant leak and that you saw the mobile boiler leave. It has been causing a lot of issues!

On the signal priority, it was a test funded on one of the old TIGER grants. I am tempted to call the USDOT and complain about fraud -- because DC has never used it.

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