Black Urban Planners Are Redesigning Communities to Help People of African Descent Thrive

Changing the legacy of racist planning policies requires a creative vision, practical solutions, and centering of the Black experience.

2 minute read

February 2, 2024, 7:00 AM PST

By Mary Hammon


Black woman in brown sweatershirt and Black man in purple sweatshirt stand in front of food truck.

Planner Dee Powell, founder of Do Right By The Streets, on site at the Sunny South Dallas Food Park. | Dee Snyder / Do Right By the Streets

“From food deserts to tree inequity, racist planning practices have left Black neighborhoods devoid of amenities that promote health and well-being,” writes Alexa Spencer for Word in Black. The stark differences between Black neighborhoods and predominantly white communities are not happenstance, Spencer states, but “well-thought-out designs by urban planners, people who direct the development of cities and towns.”

This article, part of a series called Black to the Future, spotlights a “new crop” of urban planners that are seeking to change the legacy of racist planning practices with imaginative vision and practical planning solutions that center and uplift Black experience.

Such planners include Dee Powell, founder of Do Right By The Streets, a Black woman-owned urban planning and place creation group that crafts community-driven spaces. She is “on a mission to bring economic mobility and spatial justice to South Dallas, an area that is 35% Black with the highest rates of poverty in the city,” reports Spencer. Her most recent project is the Sunny South Dallas Food Park, which aims to provide a commerce space for Black-owned businesses and a place for residents to gather, have meetings, and connect to wifi. Powell dreams of “a revived Tulsa — or South Dallas — of the 1950s and 1960s, where Black folks thrived in health, community, and business.”

Do Right By The Streets is one of many groups nationwide working to build a prosperous future for Black communities via urban planning strategies. Others highlighted in the Word In Black article include Thrivance Group in California, Albina Vision Trust in Portland, Oregon, and Jima Studio on the East Coast. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2023 in Word In Black

Rendering of electric scooters, electric cars, light rail train, and apartments in background.

Arizona’s ‘Car-Free’ Community Takes Shape

Culdesac Tempe has been welcoming residents since last year.

February 14, 2024 - The Cool Down

Aerial view of New York City architecture with augmented reality visualization, blue digital holograms over buildings and skyscrapers

4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design

With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.

February 20, 2024 - ArchDaily

"It's The Climate" sign over street in Grants Pass, Oregon.

Oregon Town Seeks Funding for Ambitious Resilience Plan

Like other rural communities, Grants Pass is eager to access federal funding aimed at sustainability initiatives, but faces challenges when it comes to meeting grant requirements.

February 18, 2024 - The Daily Yonder

View from shore of Sepulveda Basin water catchment basin with marsh plants along shore.

LA’s ‘Spongy’ Infrastructure Captured Almost 9 Billion Gallons of Water

The city is turning away from stormwater management practices that shuttle water to the ocean, building infrastructure that collects and directs it underground instead.

February 25 - Wired

Front of an Spanish style bungalow with striped window awnings and a tree and yard landscaped with cacti.

‘Culinary Hubs’ Turn Homes Into Micro-Restaurants

Real estate developers around the country are converting old single-family homes into “culinary hubs,” reports The New York Times.

February 25 - The New York Times

Green rapid transit bus pulled into station in dedicated lane.

Indiana Once Again Considering Ban on Dedicated Transit Lanes

The proposed legislation would impact the construction of planned IndyGo Blue Line, the third phase of the city’s bus rapid transit system.

February 25 - Fox 59

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.