My general life goal is to fight the skeptical impulse of modernity. The revolution will not be televised; it does not only or even mostly, happen through violent action in the town square, or via the “technological fixes” of some future-city. Revolutions happen every day, at the scale of the home space, a core socio-spatial force for urban change wherein the “private” home exists within the “public household”. Home, in this sense includes but reaches beyond 4 walls of dwelling: it is the territorial space of belonging implicated in “sustainable urbanism”, inclusive “development” praxis, and equitable urban governance. Those who have historically been marginalized tend to have more at stake in space or territory as necessary for justice, which is precisely why these same peoples can also be the foundation for grounded, sustainable change despite the pressing onward of urbanization-related, or capitalist-development related restructuring around the world. This is my intellectual project — better understanding the relationship between territory (environmental and residential), property institutions and inequality (re: the racially subaltern, as well as sex/gender and class). My work is both theoretical and empirical.
I am a PhD Candidate in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I study the sociology of development, as well as urban sociology, or the social theory of urban spaces, in the Housing & Community Economic Development (HCED) Group and Environmental Policy and Planning (EPP) Group. I am interested in the relationship between race and other historical markers of difference, with space (specifically, property as an institution) and place (environment and housing). In other words — what is property, where did it come from, and how does its historical projection structure justice for people and the environment? I am honored to be a Ford Foundation Minority Fellow and a National Science Foundation Fellow. My published work has been awarded the “Marsha Ritzdorf Prize for the Best Student Work on Diversity, Social Justice and the Role of Women in Planning”, by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP), a consortium of university-based programs offering credentials in urban and regional planning.
I was born in Tarrytown, Westchester/NY, moving to Queens, NY (the Queensbridge South Houses first, then an Elmhurst Cooperative) as a youngster. I am proud to have been politicized by the experiences which come from being a Black-Korean American woman raised by a single, working-class immigrant mom, as well as an “old-world” matriarchal southern Black grandma. I will forever cherish living in the NYC of the 1980s, particularly as my mother and I were street and flea-market vendors with our own keen sense for “eyes on the street“, a sensibility which influences me still. Today, I am mother to two great kids, ages 5 and 6, whom I try to figure out on a daily basis with my phenomenal spouse Andrew Freese.
In my academic life, I am interested in “alternative”, sustainable economic and community development schemes such as urban community land trusts, coops and other “non-traditional” methodologies for dealing with historical problems of “otherness” colliding with issues in urban and market restructuring. In particular, I’m interested in territorial approaches to justice such as the community land trust (CLT), as a specific technique of equitable, sustainable development and as a spatial attempt to plan for the externalities of the land and housing “markets” (both social constructions). I believe that an examination of a property alternative like the CLT can tell us something about the materiality and spatiality of social life and agency, about the importance of place when we think of social capital, and new ways to reframe property relationships (versus, or in addition to, rights) more broadly. Race, gender and class figure prominently in my intellectual approach as well as in my teaching.
Prior to my return to studies, I worked for nearly a decade in social justice philanthropy. Beginning right out of SIPA/Columbia with a masters, I worked at the Ford Foundation (sustainable community and resource development/environmental justice), followed by the Robin Hood Foundation (post 9/11 redevelopment), and finally at the Ms. Foundation for Women (advocacy, democracy and post-Katrina redevelopment). I continue to admire friends still in that field and occasionally consult on projects which relate to my research.
It was in my last position at the Ms. Foundation that I was first exposed to a semi-urban residential community land trust in Gulfport, Mississippi, developed by the unforgettable Ms. Rose Johnson, towards fighting housing displacement, gentrification and unsustainable development/environmental racism. My task now is to better explore the relationship between racial or other marginalization, to spatial and environmental marginalization. The rest is history.