CED is delighted to welcome Dr. Anna Livia Brand as its newest faculty member in the Department of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning.
With a background in urban planning and design, Dr. Brand has worked professionally as both a planner and designer. She received her Bachelor and Master of Architecture from Tulane University, her master’s in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of New Orleans, and her Ph.D. from MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.
As an assistant professor, Dr. Brand will be introducing undergraduate and graduate students to engaged social practice, challenging them to think through the ways we get to know and learn from communities and support their goals and visions for the future through design and policy.
Dr. Brand talks about her work and research focus in this Q&A.
Q – What is the focus of your current research?
My research examines historic black mecca neighborhoods. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these neighborhoods were thriving communities and the center of black cultural, business, and social life. Everyday sites, such as black-owned pharmacists, hair salons, cafes and music venues were clustered on and around the historic business corridors within these neighborhoods. While these communities grew out of segregation, they were not solely determined by it, and thrived in spite of it.
My work grew out of my research in post-Katrina New Orleans and I began to look at one of the planning efforts that considered the possibility of taking down the I-10 expressway that runs above Claiborne Avenue — the historic black business and cultural corridor in New Orleans. The assumption of planners was that this would help heal the wounds of the past. However, this is an area that is under tremendous redevelopment pressure and is undergoing gentrification, particularly post-Katrina, so it was unlikely that the effort could bring that history back. Residents and activists in the black community understood this and called for redevelopment paradigms that would not further dismantle the black urban sphere and their claims to a space in the post-disaster city.
These same types of neighborhood exist in numerous cities across the country. They are all characterized by this rich, vibrant history, but were all also decimated by combined factors of urban renewal, urban decline and disinvestment, and racial segregation and waves of racial tensions. These communities now face redevelopment and gentrification pressures, so the question becomes who really benefits? Are we considering the long-term residents who have weathered these changes, yet haven’t seen the city invest in ways that benefit them? How can cities be smarter about how they invest so as not to promote more gentrification, displacement, and homogenization?
I had wanted to do comparative work outside of New Orleans in order to understand how these processes were taking place in the American North and South, so I’m currently studying the historical and contemporary redevelopment trajectories in New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Houston. The work in each city is a combination of archival work and documentation of the planning and redevelopment efforts in the neighborhoods, particularly along the old business corridors within each neighborhood. I am also looking at residents’ visions for how these neighborhoods should change in the 21st century. The research raises questions about who benefits from new development paradigms, whose agenda is being served, and whose vision is being supported.
Q – What are some of the ways that you’re looking at the issues?
In an upcoming paper, I’m using W.E.B. DuBois’ framework of double consciousness to think about space. There is one way of looking at space that is purely market driven – about exchange value and land value. This way of valuing place can lead to displacement and the erasure of history. On the other hand, while deep levels of disinvestment and the associated economic peril may exist, people in these communities value their connection to their emplaced community for its historic and current meanings. So as designers and planners, how do we think about place in more nuanced and complex ways that take into account this duality of thinking about space?
My work tries to draw out these histories and memories, and the importance of place and landscape in that sense. I’m interested in how we can support more racially just landscapes through planning and design.
Q – What do you hope to bring to CED, your students, and the practice?
There are faculty and students in the department who have already done important work in social factors and the social elements of design. I hope the social practice elements of my work can add to that, and we can engage the different groups doing critical work around an alternative vision for neighborhoods and cities. We need to look at how we honor the history of place and not erase it; how we confront it and deal with it in a way that is meaningful, and bring it to the surface instead of minimizing it.
In light of the contestation around monuments and public space, and the hyper-redevelopment in cities, it’s a good time to examine how we incorporate the social element and a deep social justice approach in addressing design challenges.
We’re at a critical point in the U.S. with regard to these issues, which makes it even more important for the department and the college to be undertaking this type of work. I’m very excited to be a part it at CED.