Inclusive Urbanism Reading List

So you’re interested in what you can read to be a better urban planner, urbanist, or neighbour in a diverse community? Here are a few recommendations, and I will add to the list periodically.

Please consider procuring them from your local library or favourite indie bookstore. Check out 100% Indigenous-owned and operated Massy Books and Black-owned A Different Booklist.

Update July 2020: Deleted Robin D’Angelo’s White Fragility (thank you Dr. Rhea Boyd), added books/articles/films, swapped out links. And! Sarah Gelbard compiled a great list of short-form writing and video on anti-Black racism in planning and urbanism, including Danielle Dirksen’s Planner’s Beginner Guide to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. Aric Jenkins has also compiled a list of articles on how race shapes cities.

Histories of Place

Check out these award-winning reads for a better understanding of how Indigenous people were forcibly removed from their lands and how people who escaped from and freed themselves from chattel slavery migrated across North America. These histories explain bust some myths about how settlements and cities came to be. For a map showing the Indigenous territories for where you live, please visit:

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz
Clearing the Plains by James Daschuk
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Making our Way Home by Blair Imani
This Place: 150 Years Retold by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell

Histories of Gentrification and Forced Removal

If you’re wondering how some communities became affluent, why other communities are chronically under-invested in, and how land use controls and policing have created and continue to create structural inequalities that pass down from generation to generation, peruse some of these recommendations. For a short explainer on systemic racism, check out this article.

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein

The above video summarizes many of the arguments in the book. And, here is a link on a panel discussion between Charles Brown (Senior Researcher with the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center), and featuring the author Richard Rothstein (research associate at the Economic Policy Institute), Tamika Butler (Executive Director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust), Sonia Jimenez (Business Manager and Lead Consultant of Ximenes & Associates, Inc.), and Sahra Sulaiman(Communities Editor at Streetsblog L.A.). Something that comes up in the webinar is how to invest in communities that have purposefully been left to decline without gentrifying them. Charles Brown’s video series here unpacks that further.

Race, Space and the Law by Sherene Razack
Unsettling the City by Nicholas Blomley
The Power Broker by Robert Caro
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Toxic Communities by Dorceta E. Taylor
How the Suburbs Were Segregated by Paige Glotzier

A Spotlight on Kinder, Gentler Canada

In Canada in particular, there seems to be an idea that “there’s no Black people” or “there was no slavery” or that Black folks emigrated to Canada recently, or that the Klan is an American thing. All of those are false. Sharon Nyangweso compiled “Welcome to Black Canada”, which debunks many of these myths. This article describes some of the history, and includes quotes from Lynn Jones about why racial reparations are due in Canada.

Displacing Blackness by Ted Rutland

Cheryl Thompson shared a number of films on Twitter about Black communities in Canada:

Stephanie Allen has written and spoken extensively about Hogan’s Alley. For a detailed look at Canada’s historic and ongoing displacement of Black people, specifically in Vancouver, please read Fight the power: Redressing displacement and building a just city for Black lives in Vancouver. Allen discusses many of these ideas on the Below The Radar podcast, CBC News, CBC BC Today, CBC The Current to talk about plans for Hogan’s Alley, a series of BTV Vancouver appearances, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and more. CBC News also has a great interview with Wade Compton on Hogan’s Alley.

Policing, Policy and Enforcement

It is important to understand that policing exists to protect property, not people, and to understand that policing emerged in the US and Canada to control/exterminate Black and Indigenous people. Amina Yasin shows how planners are the “soft cops” in her article, by connecting planning and urban design to informal “eyes on the street” and formal policing to forced removals. The article is a good companion piece to the KCET documentary linked below, along with recent news that Breonna Taylor, who was murdered in her own Louisville home by police, may have been targeted as part of block-clearing and eminent domain efforts led by the city for the Vision Russell redevelopment plan (h/t Amina Yasin). All three show how policing is used to protect property not people, and how blight is manufactured to move people out.

City Rising is a KCET documentary showing how gentrification originates from racist laws and practices in the US. The documentary follows California community members and advocates fighting gentrification. Clips shared by @DrDesThePlanner at #Unurbanist Assembly.

A core idea justifying policing and redevelopment policy is broken windows theory. Broken windows theory says policing methods that target nuisances such as vandalism, loitering, public drinking, jaywalking, and fare evasion create an atmosphere that prevents more serious crimes. It is the theory behind carding and street checks. Louisville has a Place-Based Investigations squad intended to deter crime in “systemically violent locations”. The entire premise of “systemically violent locations” is false for the same reason broken windows theory is false: correlation does not mean causation. A neighbourhood may appear a certain way due to a lack of investment or economic opportunity, not inherent criminality. Added to that, certain neighbourhoods are more likely to be targeted and criminalized by police. For more on all of this, check out Maynard’s Policing Black Lives.

Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard

Many Canadians believe that anti-Black racism is a specifically American thing. You only have to read Robyn Maynard’s Policing Black Lives to see that isn’t the case. But Canada’s “kinder, gentler” reputation lets it off the hook, and the lack race-based data means it’s hard to prove otherwise. In a short article about the realities of renting as a Black person in Canada, Joe Darden and David Hulchanski explain how Toronto’s housing is just as segregated as Minneapolis. In the US, the federal government uses “mystery shoppers” to test the racial biases of landlords as part of its obligation to provide fair access to housing. But, no such program exists in Canada.

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga

Tanya Talaga’s poignant Seven Fallen Feathers details the loss of seven Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay and the systemic failures, from Residential Schools and the 60’s Scoop to underinvestment in First Nations communities, that led to lost lives. Reading Seven Fallen Feathers in context with Bob Joseph’s 21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act and Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian helps explain why so many Indigenous children are dying and why settler communities and policing seem apathetic to the losses. Much of the story has to do with forced displacement from land and community, which is why it’s an important read for planners.

Imagining better futures

For inspiration about how we can build better and more inclusive communities together, try out these excellent reads.

House Divided: How the Missing Middle Will Solve Toronto’s Affordability Crisis Eds A Bozikovic, C Case, J Lorinc & A Vaughan
Subdivided by Jay Pitter and John Lorinc
Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada

It Takes A Riot: Race, Rebellion, Reform explores a march against anti-Black police violence that took place in Toronto on May 4, 1992, covering the historical context, political impact, and relevance to contemporary struggles against anti-Black racism. This 27 minute documentary produced by @idilatweets and @_SimonBlack asks: “What does it take for Black people to get justice in this society?” The 25-year retrospective shows how little progress has been made in Toronto for racial justice, and how many of the calls today are the same as they were in 1992 (h/t @blacklikewho).

Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown
So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Uluo
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Callous Objects: Designs against the Homeless by Robert Rosenberger
Bicycle/Race by Adonia E. Lugo, PhD
h/t Jenna Dutton (thank you!)

COVID-19: What’s been seen can’t be unseen

The multiply-layered crises of a global pandemic, racialized violence, toxic drug supply overdoses, climate change, and vast income and social inequality have created the situation where mainstream urbanists and political/economic leaders can no longer deny the day-to-day reality of most people.

  • Dionne Brand writes for Toronto Star about how “going back to normal” is not and has never been the answer. Brand writes, “Was the violence against women normal? Was the anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism normal? Was white supremacy normal? Was the homelessness growing on the streets normal? Were homophobia and transphobia normal? Were pervasive surveillance and policing of Black and Indigenous and people of colour normal?”
  • Adonia Lugo and Monique Lopez co-facilitated an Untokening panel on community resilience, mobility justice, and COVID-19, which led to further dialogues through May and June 2020. They covered transit riders and drivers, the role of planners, policing and community safety, delivery workers, open streets, and more. An article summarizing some of the discussion on slow streets with Lynda Lopez and Marcela Guerrero Casas is here, and the Untokening recordings are here.
  • In an article for Azure Jay Pitter coins two ideas: of dominant density and forgotten density. Dominant density is utopic urban space designed by and for predominantly white, middle-class folks and is the subject of much urbanist discourse. Forgotten densities are peripheral and “undesirable” spaces like favelas, dormitories, prisons, institutional housing, and Indigenous reserves that exist due to and are subject to specific policy choices. Pitter points out how mainstream urbanists are failing to recognize forgotten densities in their pandemic-recovery plans for cities, nevermind their regular planning practices.
  • Ariel Ward wrote about how and why municipal movements towards open streets need to carefully consider equity and what equity looks like. She unpacks the tensions that transportation planning and access to mobility bring to Black and Brown neighbourhoods, such as the economic stability, disparate climate change impacts, displacement, racism and harassment, and the need for time for the community to lead.
  • Drawing on ideas from Naomi Doerner, Sahra Suhlaiman, and Destiny Thomas, Alissa Walker captured the disconnect amongst mainstream urbanist professionals in real time in her Curbed article. Many pros were excitedly talking about how the pandemic is creating the “opportunity” for European-style streets (and privatizing of public space) in North America, obviously ignorant of how parks and public space came to be and who was (and continues to be) forcibly moved to make them possible, nevermind current economic and health realities for essential workers.
  • Bryan Lee Jr. writes for CityLab about the role of architecture and planning in designing and building oppressive spaces. The article ends with 9 concrete actions for planners and designers.
  • Destiny Thomas writes for CityLab that the rush to create “slow streets” where people can physically distance outside during the pandemic has the potential to cause harm and distrust. This is in the context of decades of pop-up, pilot, tactical, and guerrilla urbanist interventions in racialized neighbourhoods that have signaled gentrification and increased police presence and violence. So, quick implementation of tactics designed for “white comfort” without community engagement puts Black and Brown people and low-income communities in danger. The article concludes with 7 concrete actions for building more equitable cities.
  • Amina Yasin wrote about the violent disconnect between calls for open streets during the pandemic with the reality of Black people killed or threatened to be killed by public servants and neighbours on those same streets, and how that disconnect relates to specific planning policies. She ends with four calls to actions for built environment professionals.
  • The LA Times interviewed nine architects, planners, and advocates about the disconnect between urban design and planning and the inequities experienced in cities. Tamika Butler, Mabel O. Wilson, Rosten Woo, Faiza Moatasim, Leslie Kern, Adonia Lugo, and more speak about how their practices as professionals is impacted by white supremacy, how white supremacy still shows up in professional practice and public space, and what needs to be done moving forward.
  • Eugene McCann wrote for Society and Space on the idea of publicness and how different ways of being in public in the service of democratic movement present a future of solidarity. Comparing the climate marches of 2019 to the mutual aid responses to the pandemic in 2020, he critiques the “back to normal” calls for “neoliberal social relations and built environments” (i.e. commercial ‘third places’). This essay interrogates the “politics of the crisis” who is allowed to be in public space, how, and for what reasons and summarizes policy options currently on the table.



Daniella Fergusson is an urban planner unpacking how we got here and where we’re going next.

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