Troubling City Planning Discourses: A Womanist Analysis of Urban and Social Renewal Planning in Springfield, Massachusetts (1960-1980)

Annalise Fonza, University of Massachusetts - Amherst


In this dissertation I examine the discursive nature of urban renewal discourses in Springfield, Massachusetts, with a womanist method known as emancipatory historiography. Womanism, a theoretical and analytical framework that emerged in the 1980s in recognition of Alice Walker's famous declaration that "womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender (Walker 1983), was established, in part, as a response to the failure of white feminists to be in solidarity with black women in the fight for racial and socio-economic justice. This emancipatory method, proposed by womanist Katie G. Cannon (Cannon 1995) provides a critical paradigm for rethinking the communicative nature of urban renewal planning in a local context. My intention is not to pick apart the technical aspects of urban renewal, as would a rigid examination of costs, benefits or disparities associated with local urban renewal. Rather, the purpose of this project is to carefully explore planning narratives in an effort to dislodge assumptions about the discourses, storylines or narratives that accompanied urban renewal documents in Springfield during the 1960s and 70s. The recovery of local urban renewal documents, which have gone unexamined for decades, presents the opportunity to recontextualize and reconstruct the discursive parameters of planning for the local Negro community that was displaced by urban renewal. This historical-critical womanist study of planning documents written from 1960-1980 provides the building blocks for rewriting local planning history from a standpoint that takes into account the intersectional and dialectical nature of race, place, and gender. A critique of whiteness, as an epistemological or analytical framework, is an underlying aspect of this project. The following four questions provide a basis for examining the thematic or discursive foundations of urban renewal planning material that was relative to the local Negro population. The questions that are considered in this dissertation are: 1) whose experience was validated in urban renewal documents; 2) what groups were left out of local planning discourses; 3) what ideologies or epistemologies accompanied neighborhood planning discourses; and, 4) what central logic or framework held them all together?