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Effects of hegemonies in urban planning on Latinos and POCs in the US, By Okezue Bell


Understand how and why the unbalanced power design of cities affects Latinos in the United States.

The organisation of city spaces is extremely important and can influence the politics, work, and life of Latinos within the space. Urban planning hegemony describes the cultural power structures when cities are built and the factors they must consider to be inclusive, including how they will modify their urban systems to accommodate more Latinos and strengthen their communities.

Hispanic populations are growing rapidly, accounting for nearly 20% of the US population, contributing to their high prevalence in cities, but gentrification is continually piling them into worse living and socio-economic conditions.

Pre-war racist anti-black legislation, such as Jim Crow, influenced the great divide between minorities and white individuals in private housing. My project has answered the question: What are the most important weak points that prevent large cities from achieving an effective integration of Latinos and how do prejudices, stereotypes, and xenophobia play a role in the development of Latinos? 

I have investigated this in the context of existing urban infrastructure in the Lehigh Valley and Pennsylvania. I have collaborated with current ACLU President Deborah Archer on this project, who has done extensive research on urban systems for minority groups, from roads to housing. Members of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission also helped develop this project.

As summarised above, three of the most important factors that have contributed to some of the major ones are:

1. Gentrification;

2. Racial isolation/poverty.

Some of the biggest effects of non-inclusive urban planning that we will have seen by 2030 are:

1. Significant declines in Latino population density; 

2. Fewer economic opportunities for Latinos in big cities; 

3. Mass closing of Latino-owned businesses and/or replacement of Latino businesses with mainstream white-owned businesses;

Above is a diversity map of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although many hope that there have not been any significant reductions in diversity recently, sadly this has not been the case. Even before the year 2000, Philadelphia had begun to gentrify in high-income districts, and according to Lehigh Valley urban planners I spoke with and Deborah Archer, the rate of gentrification has reached an all-time high in Pennsylvania and New York

If we all stop to think about this, it makes sense. How many times before this talk have you seen diversity in your neighbourhood? How many minorities attend this school? Of those minorities, how many minorities are in your neighbourhood? Your guess is as good as mine, but based on the data, we can assume that the increase in diversity losses can be observed in our lives today.

Historical racism in urban planning in the United States

To analyse the two main problems and the three effects on Latinos that have been observed as a result of system-level racist urban planning, we will have to travel back to the 1920s, during the design of New York by Robert Moses. Embedded racism in transportation and the domestic agency had already been established by this time, from Plessy v. Ferguson, which served to strengthen segregation between whites and people of colour in public institutions and housing.

Robert Moses (pictured below) was an exceptionally cruel and racist city designer, adept at finding various ways to destroy Black and Latino homes and isolate them from the rest of New York’s new establishments. Not only did he demolish several Latino homes to make way for parks, buildings, and more in his development plans, he even designed ridges on the avenues that connect New York City to the beaches of Long Island to be too short to keep the City buses – which would have had minority children on them – to go under.

Robert Moses hunched over his quaint, but demographically-sacrificial makeover of New York, lush with Burroughs, big buildings, bridges, and few minority homes. Any Black and Latino who lived in New York would be pushed to the rear of New York in poor “working class” neighborhoods with little public access and worse living conditions. It is unfortunate, but also a powerful testament to the progress America has made, that many of us who love New York or even live there live in spaces meant for rich whites to dominate and drive out blacks and Latinos

The effects of the power imbalance that Robert Moses and many others established in the post-slavery world have continued to affect Latinos to this day. Wealthy white people (typically) continue to rebuild various Latino neighbourhoods, often displacing the people who live there and their businesses to make room for new businesses and buildings. The economic disparity in the race also makes situations like these unavoidable, as many of the Latinos who live in urban areas subject to gentrification or redevelopment are typically under 20% tax. Even if some of the poorest Latinos in urban areas were wealthier, this problem might have persisted.

Even after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed, significant problems with urban segregation still exist in Pennsylvania and beyond. In fact, in my conversations with local urban planners, I discovered that even though Latinos are the largest minority group present in Pennsylvania (and in the nation), white people are still isolated in predominantly white suburban or urban neighbourhoods. The white population share in the neighbourhood in which the average white person resides is 71%, much higher than most.

Racial diversity profiles in metropolitan areas reveal that, even in 2022, urban areas remain largely segregated. This also has various impacts on the economic status of Latinos, as various small businesses are often wiped out by waves of luxury renovations, and Latino vendor markets are often unable to survive remodeling and structural changes. Even as urban segregation continues to decline, there have still been significant losses on the Latino community side due to stagnant progress on diversity in urban areas.

With more than 90% of Latinos living in cities, it’s clear urban planners have had and will continue to have, a keen interest in Latino life. By 2030, the United States will have seen a population explosion of more than 67.32 million Latinos living in urban areas, which means that solutions to the urban planning problem must come quickly. However, a major obstacle to achieving social cohesion is the approach of urban planners.

The global urban planning software and services market size had a valuation of $147.31 billion in 2021, and is expected to grow further at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 4% in 2022. As urban planners, like those of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, find that the values ​​of their jobs have increased, their priorities have changed. In one of my interviews with a local Easton urban planner (who preferred to remain anonymous), they mentioned that,

There have been fewer efforts to promote diversity in [the] community. Our main concern has been car housing and structural designs to make our cities more efficient and sophisticated and quite frankly less affordable. Had I known that this was where the industry was, I probably wouldn’t have become an urban planner. But I recognize the economic benefits and have continued to work in design and architecture.

It has become clear that at the local level and beyond, developers have been more concerned with the prospect of closed-loop cities than with creating inclusive and affordable places to live. You and I may be lucky enough to have lived in a gated community or wealthy neighbourhood, but many other minorities (and people in general) haven’t had that luxury.

A really interesting visualisation of this urban hegemony comes from MIT Media Lab artist Ekene Ijeoma, who created Wage Islands: Immigrants, a sculpture that submerges a topographical map of New York City underwater to show where immigrant workers who are with minimum wage can afford to live. I really liked this one because it brought a big problem to my attention. My sisters work in New York, and after showing this to them, it sparked a conversation between us about how many working homeless people she sees in New York and the huge property (and wealth) divide in Harlem.

Ekene’s artwork, now commissioned by Pratt Manhattan Gallery for You Are Here NYC: Art, Information, and Mapping. The 3D map is interactive, allowing users to change the immigrant’s income level and watch the water rise and fall to show housing availability. The idea of ​​certain life chances being stifled/hidden is a very powerful image, as it allows viewers to understand the visceral nature of being isolated by urbanization as a Latino or other immigrant group in the United States

I must reiterate that the housing crisis for Latinos has some severe real-world impacts. In the context of the pandemic, Black and Hispanic/Latino groups in cities have been more likely to contract the virus and experience its worst symptoms due to the subpar living conditions in which these poorer minority groups live and due to the lack of geographic location. and monetary accessibility to health care.

Historical racism in urban planning in the United States

Despite the rather bleak picture on urban planning projected by the current state of Latinos in cities, several reforms are taking place outside of government and legislative actions that spell out a better future for minorities in cities.

One of the major innovations happening now is with Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) focused on technology efforts to create inclusive, advanced, and smart cities, combining some of the best aspects and performance indicators of urban areas to help facilitate urban sprawl and improve the living conditions of urban citizens of all demographic groups. Some of Sidewalk Labs’ projects include designing affordable and sustainable electrification management through automated grid management to designing living spaces to reduce housing costs and space in Toronto, Canada.  It’s pretty clear that Sidewalk Labs, among many other companies, also values ​​diversity, adding it as part of their mission statements and team requirements.

Sidewalk Labs, in particular, also hosts various insight sessions, often discussing various geographic and living space issues in cities around the world, and sometimes the history surrounding historic minority areas.

If it were up to me, I would have given the same housing opportunities and needs to all people. Unfortunately, the world is not that easy, nor does it want to be that fair. However, with the advent of technology and new forms of outreach, I am optimistic about housing rehabilitation and urban planning in the lives of Latinos.


[1] Archer, Deborah. “‘White Men’s Roads Through Black Men’s Homes’: Advancing Racial Equity Through Highway Reconstruction.” Vanderbuilt Law, VANDERBILT LAW REVIEW, 21 Oct. 2020, cdn.vanderbilt.edu/vu-wp0/wp-content/uploads/sites/278/2020/10/19130728/White-Mens-Roads-Through-Black-Mens-Homes-Advancing-Racial-Equity-Through-Highway-Reconstruction.pdf.

[2] Aiken, Claudia, et al. “Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development … — Huduser.gov.” Understanding Low-Income Hispanic Housing Challenges and the Use of Housing and Homelessness Assistance, Huduser, University of Pennsylvania, 2021, https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/cityscpe/vol23num2/ch7.pdf.

[3] Sung, Kenzo K. “Accentuate the Positive; Eliminate the Negative: Hegemonic Interest Convergence, Racialization of Latino Poverty, and the 1968 Bilingual Education Act.” Rowan Digital Works, Rowan University, 8 June 2017, rdw.rowan.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1015&context=education_facpub.

[4] Martin, Patricia M, and Eduardo González Castillo. “Cultural Activism, Hegemony, and the Search for Urban Autonomy in the City of Puebla, Mexico — Eduardo González Castillo, Patricia M Martin, 2015.” SAGE Journals, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 1 Jan. 2015, doi.org/10.1068/d13001p.

[5] Stepler, Renee, and Mark Hugo Lopez. “Latino Population Growth and Dispersion in U.S. Slows since the Recession.” Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project, Pew Research Center, 30 May 2020, www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2016/09/08/latino-population-growth-and-dispersion-has-slowed-since-the-onset-of-the-great-recession/.

[6] “Home: Sidewalk Labs: Urban Innovation: Parent Company: Alphabet.” Sidewalk Labs, https://www.sidewalklabs.com/.

[7] History.com Editors. “Fair Housing Act.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 27 Jan. 2010, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/fair-housing-act.

[8] “Why Urban Planners Make a Difference in Achieving Social Cohesion in Times of Diversity.” Adelphi, https://www.adelphi.de/en/in-focus/why-urban-planners-make-difference-achieving-social-cohesion-times-diversity.

[9] Frey, William H. “Neighborhood Segregation Persists for Black, Latino or Hispanic, and Asian Americans.” Brookings, Brookings, 13 Apr. 2021, https://www.brookings.edu/research/neighborhood-segregation-persists-for-black-latino-or-hispanic-and-asian-americans/.

[10] “How Communal-Living Groups Are Riding out the Pandemic.” BBC Worklife, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20201208-how-communal-living-groups-are-riding-out-the-pandemic.

[11] Aranda, José Luis. “Is Spain Headed for Another Property Bubble?” EL PAÍS English Edition, 11 Jan. 2022, https://english.elpais.com/economy-and-business/2022-01-11/is-spain-headed-for-another-property-bubble.html.

[12] “Spain’s Government Eyes Rent Controls in New Housing Bill.” Euronews, 6 Oct. 2021, https://www.euronews.com/2021/10/06/spain-s-government-eyes-rent-controls-in-new-housing-bill.

[13] Working, Working Not. “WNW Magazine — Wage Islands: Ekene Ijeoma.” Working Not Working Magazine, Working Not Working Magazine, 27 Sept. 2017, https://magazine.workingnotworking.com/magazine/2015/9/15/g89og36ne7cxoacofbu8nl9zxtneah.

Before you go…

My name’s Okezue, a developer and researcher obsessed with learning and building things, especially when it involves any biology or computer science. Check out my socials here or contact me: [email protected]. I write something new every day/week, so I hope to see you again soon! Make sure you comment and leave some claps on this too — especially if you liked it! I sure enjoyed writing it! ✌🏾

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