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How centering Black Detroiters in development plans creates a more vibrant, equitable city

A skyline of Detroit
Public Domain
Urban planning strategist Lauren Hood recently published an essay talking about how AfroUrbanism can be used to reimagine what development looks like in Black neighborhoods.

The architecture of cities, both visible and hidden, shapes the way that we move through our lives and our communities. It’s the job of urban planners to help design a city’s built environment—whether that’s a location for a crosswalk or the aesthetic for a new development project. But even in majority-Black cities like Detroit, those decisions are often made with very few Black voices at the table. Lauren Hood wants to change that.

Hood is an urban planning strategist and consultant based in Detroit whose field is equitable development. She recently published an essay talking about the fabric of Detroit and other cities as it might be seen through the lens of AfroUrbanism.

What is AfroUrbanism?

Even in cities and neighborhoods with majority Black populations, Hood says the consultants who put together strategic plans for development in those places are usually overwhelmingly white. AfroUrbanism, on the other hand, is an approach to urban planning that centers "the lived-experience, the culture, and the aspirations of Black folks," said Hood. 

“We’re centering Black voices, Black culture, Black experiences in the re-creation of this Black neighborhood. And to me, it seems so elementary, like how do you not center the Black experience when you’re in a neighborhood that’s mostly Black? But it’s something that we take for granted. And I think it’s a moment in a post-Floyd world where we can say Black and center Black and everybody’s okay with it. Because that has not always been the case.”

What cities look like when development ignores the history and culture of residents

“You end up getting development that’s generic,” Hood said. “When you don’t speak to the culture that is unique to a place you get something that is very ‘Any Town USA,’ and why would you want to live in a place that’s like every other place you’ve ever been to? So I think this attention to the unique culture that each place has, allows for a more authentic experience. It should be attractive to people that it’s different.”

Why community-focused development is good for the bottom line

“You want to talk long-term sustainability. When you do a development that’s on-trend, you’re doing something that you think is serving the community that you want to have, not the community that you do already have, those things are very short-lived. We can see that in Midtown. There was this super high-end leather goods store,” Hood said. “...And they closed after four years or something. And what they displaced to get that there was a grocery store. It was in a state of disrepair, but it actually served a population that now doesn’t get served.”

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