↑ top

« Back to Ph.D. Student List

Robert Pfaff

Ph.D. Student in Urban Planning
Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellow
Dissertation: Region, Race, Rail, and Rubber: An Analysis of How Transportation Planning Decisions Contributed to Regional Segregation, 1925 - 1970

Rob is a metro-detroiter by birth, and has spent his entire life in Southeast Michigan region. His dissertation investigates the history of public transportation decision making through a historical case study of Detroit, Michigan. His work argues that public transportation has tacitly influenced metropolitan segregation by limiting transit access to minority and underserved communities during suburbanization. The primary source archival findings of his research demonstrate that the City of Detroit scaled back public transportation to suburban destinations shortly after the violent 1967 rebellion, despite having ample resources and legal mandate to operate beyond city limits. This contributes a new possible literature to how urban planning has been involved in regional segregation beyond the well-known histories of redlining and urban renewal.

His future research will look at the history of bussing as a tool of school integration after Brown v. Board of Education. This project will leverage existing research connections in Detroit as a starting point, but will become a national study that compares the successes and failures of bussing as a tool of integration. Detroit is the starting point for this study because it was the subject of a Supreme Court decision in Milliken v. Bradley that limited the scope of integration by county. His interdisciplinary methodology and past research on race and metropolitan segregation, will seek to analyze bussing through a spatial transportation lens that uses historical documents and qualitative methods to inform a national comparative analysis of the success and failure of school integration through bussing.

Prior to his Doctoral Studies, Rob worked as a student-teacher at Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit Public Schools, as an Assistant Coordinator of a GED program at an Alternative Education High School in suburban Detroit, and as an Adjunct Instructor at Wayne State University. He earned his MA in Urban History in 2015, and his BA in History in 2014, both from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. His research was focused on transportation history and technology, focusing on urban public transportation systems in the 20th century United States, but also including Atlantic shipping, insurance, and trade empires.

Selected Publications

  • “From Rail to Rubber: A History of Street Rail Conversion in Detroit, Michigan, 1920 – 1965” Society for American City and Regional Planning History, October 31 – November 3, 2019
  • “Rhetoric in, Pocket Book Out: A Historical Analysis of Suburban Opt-Out Transportation Funding in Metropolitan Detroit” Association Collegiate Schools of Planning, October 24-27, 2019
  • “Shifting Geographies of Queer Neighborhoods in Rustbelt Cities: A Case Study of Detroit, Michigan.” Social Science History Association, Phoenix, November 8-11, 2018
  • “Start and Stop: A Historical Comparison of Regional Transit Efforts in South-East Michigan, 1967 – 2016” Association Collegiate Schools of Planning, Buffalo, October 25-28, 2018
  • Symposium Co-Organizer, “Road Out Of Poverty: A Transportation & Economic Mobility Symposium” Poverty Solutions, University of Michigan, March 15, 2018
Plan Your Future
Housing, Community, and Economic Development
Land Use and Environmental Planning
Physical Planning and Design
Transportation Planning
Global and Comparative Planning