Rival Geographies: Race-relations, Power, and National Planning in Postwar America

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Albahar, Shahab
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The following article is a critical, historical study of national planning interventions in the United States between 1945 and 1964. Drawing from race-radical scholarship, it reinterprets the national urban renewal movement at the end of WWII as a racial project that exercised a ‘color-blind’ rhetoric to legitimate the expansion of government police powers and help pave the way for the spatial specifics of global neoliberalism. It uses the case of Southwest Washington, DC, to explore the intersection of social identity, the law, and spatial policy during the early Cold War years. It views planning as a settler colonialist project, subservient to dominant systems through sustained racialization. It analyzes modernist planning at the nexus of state-society-space power relations to elucidate the dialectic of ‘planning as social oppression.’ By critically examining the landmark decision in Berman, I conceive planning as mediating the “social production of space” at the disjuncture of legal interpretation and urban transformation. I speculate that court legitimations of overtly racist urban policies are reflective of an epistemic lag between the American judicial branch and rapidly shifting discourses on urban development. Using a historical- materialist lens Jodi Melamed reinterprets U.S. literary studies as a “key site of geopolitical struggle around the meaning and significance of race” (Melamed 2011, xv) and goes on to argue the entrance of official antiracisms into American governmentality at the end of WWII and the new world-historical formation that ensued was conducive for U.S. global ascendancy and leadership of transnational capitalism. In her developed genealogy of “race-liberal orders”, Melamed distinguishes three successive antiracist regimes. By linking the first antiracist regime, “racial- liberalism” (1945-1964) with the national urban renewal movement, this essay critiques institutionalized planning praxis through the lens of antiracisms. I argue that national planning efforts constituted a form of antiracist negating mechanisms. Whereas official antiracisms engaged the discursive spaces of the public sphere by explicitly locating race “as the central problem – the crux of everything wrong and unequal in governance, economy, and society,” (Melamed 2011, x) antiracist negating mechanisms endorsed a ‘color-blind’ rhetoric to further obscure the workings of heteronormative hegemony in physical space. Therefore, I do not conceive antiracist negating mechanisms dialectically as antithetical to official antiracisms; rather they function in synergetic complementarity. In an effort to illuminate the silencing discourses in modernist planning projects, I conclude by proposing a queer-of-color framework towards advancing a critical planning theory.
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