Journal of the American Planning Association
By #UnequalCities Network member Andrea Roberts & Grace Kelly
Abstract: PROBLEM, RESEARCH STRATEGY, AND FINDINGS: When Arnstein created the ladder of participation, local governments engaged predominately urban African-American neighborhoods through federally funded programs. Fifty years later, preservationists and heritage conservationists pursuing participatory engagement models in these communities find sustaining interest difficult. Absent from planning literature is guidance on how to ensure grassroots preservationists of color retain control during engagement. In this study we ask practitioners and scholars to consider the optimum approach to researching or preservation planning in this context. Through participatory action and ethnographic research, one of us (Roberts) helped design a hybrid forum-style symposium dedicated to preserving historic Black settlement heritage. As a researcher and symposium co-planner, I documented local preservation knowledge using questionnaires and performative storytelling while helping descendants of historic African-American settlements identify shared priorities and challenges. Findings suggest action researchers and preservationists must “remix” roles and the rungs of Arnstein’s ladder of participation to sustain and center stakeholder involvement when planning with marginalized communities. Remixing consists of strategically sampling, looping, and layering promising local knowledge with that of experts to support citizen-centered preservation planning. By centering culturally informed planning approaches and negotiating with stakeholders, professionals can create the conditions for participation that support sustained involvement. Symposium co-organizing and data collection catalyzed the ethical coproduction of knowledge and fostered ongoing research and collaborative projects after study completion.
TAKEAWAY FOR PRACTICE: Remixing as praxis offers a framework for engaged preservation and heritage conservation that reinforces citizen empowerment through identification and application of innovative practices rooted in local knowledge. Identifying local practices that foster attachment and break down the hierarchy between expert and grassroots practitioners is essential to achieving praxis.