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Detroit School of Urban Studies

Detroit School of Urban Studies

Is it time to establish a Detroit School of Urban Studies? Both the Chicago School of Sociology and the Los Angeles School of Urbanism have contributed many ideas to understanding cities. Detroit is neither a dense, industrial Chicago nor a sprawling, fast-growing, immigrant-rich Los Angeles, yet Detroit is representative of a host of cities that have experienced sustained deindustrialization, depopulation, and disinvestment, as well as poor race relations, for many decades. What would define a Detroit School of Urban Studies? How does thinking about Detroit-like cities change the questions we ask and the answers we pursue in the many disciplines that contribute to urban studies? What do we gain by rallying a community of scholars under the Detroit School banner?


To address these questions, we are holding a series of seminars on faculty work-in-progress.  More than 40 graduate students at the University of Michigan, other universities in the region, and universities elsewhere in the nation and the world are writing dissertations on Detroit, and they share their work in a second seminar series. A grant from the Rackham School of Graduate Studies for an Interdisciplinary Workshop makes these seminars possible.

Urban planning scholars, along with colleagues from the Department of Sociology, the Residential College, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, and the School of Social Work, organized the Detroit School Series of lectures and seminars, 2012-2014.  The Detroit School Series led into a two-day international symposium entitled “Learning from Detroit: Turbulent Urbanism in the 21st Century.”  (Session videos are available)

These activities received valuable support from the Rackham School of Graduate Studies and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

As part of the University of Michigan’s “cluster” hires, the Urban and Regional Planning Program, the Department of Sociology, and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies with the Residential College each have hired faculty who do research related to urban inequality in Southeast Michigan.  They are Kimberley Kinder, Alexandra Murphy, and Heather Thompson.  The School of Social Work plans to hire a faculty member in this area in the coming year.

Much research and creative work builds on partnerships with community organizations, city agencies, and others in Detroit and cities like it. The Detroit Community Partnership Center advocates for student and faculty projects that address community-identified needs and that build knowledge or enrich the education of students. The Detroit Community Partnership Center began in 1994 as a partnership with Wayne State University and Michigan State University with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Urban and Regional Planning faculty who do research or creative work related to Detroit and cities like it: 

Recent and Current Ph.D. students’ research on Detroit-like cities:

Additional faculty engaged in practice in Detroit:

Faculty books on Detroit:

Reinventing Detroit: The Politics of Possibility
Editors: Lucas Owen Kirkpatrick and Michael Peter Smith
Published: September 2015, Transaction Publishers

Mapping Detroit: Land, Community, and Shaping a City
Editors: June Manning Thomas and Henco Bekkering
Published: March 2015, Wayne State University Press

The City After Abandonment
Editors: Margaret Dewar, and June Manning Thomas
Published: University of Pennsylvania Press, Incorporated, 2012

Redevelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit
Editors: June Manning Thomas
Published: Johns Hopkins University Press (1997)

Detroit: Race and Uneven Development
Authors: Joe T. Darden, Richard Child Hill, June Thomas, and Richard Thomas
Published: Temple University Press, 1987


Applying Research to Practice:

In connection with the Detroit Community Partnership Center, students and faculty undertake projects that:

These projects consistently win the Outstanding Student Project Award from the Michigan Association of Planning and have several times won the national American Institute of Certified Planners Student Project Award.

Many of these projects take place through courses, especially UP634 Integrative Field Experience.  The plans students and faculty have produced are available at the University of Michigan library, online through the Taubman College Urban Planning student work webpage, or the University of Michigan electronic archive Deep Blue

Students also act as professional planners and bring research findings to bear in advancing community agendas through internships. For more than 20 years the Brademas Fellowships—along with others at varied times, such as the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Work Study fellowships and the Michigan AmeriCorps Partnership positions—have supported student work with community-based nonprofits in the city.

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