My book, Building a Better Chicago: Race and Community Resistance to Urban Redevelopment (NYU Press 2021), shows how powerful redevelopment intermediaries influence local nonprofits and reshape the urban landscape to further marginalize communities of color. However, I also show how these communities advocate for themselves and demand accountability from the politicians and agencies in their midst. 

My findings challenge reigning theories that highlight the denigrative impacts of mistrust within poor Black and Latina/o/x neighborhoods while promoting the importance of trust between neighborhood-based nonprofits and municipal governments. I show that organizational trust can be used as a mode of control and may work to socialize members into a homogenous organizational culture that is oftentimes at odds with resident goals. Conversely, I argue that strategic mistrust, what I term collective skepticism, can be used by community activists when engaging with city hall.

Reviews of my book can be found in the Journal of Urban Affairs, Mobilization, Social Forces, and the Sociology of Race & Ethnicity Journal.

I am currently working on a several new and on-going projects. The first, Grounds for Play: Race, Space, and Joyful Cities, is a multi-qualitative methods project that analyzes the importance of play, leisure, and joy in building social cohesion and community engagement within mid-size cities with predominantly Black and Latina/o/x populations. I am particularly interested in understanding how public forms of group play and leisure can be used to improve both structural barriers and personal outcomes for Black and Latina/o/x communities. This includes transforming narratives of the presence of racially marginalized groups in public space as cause for celebration, rather than suspicion, and increasing social cohesion and local ownership over urban communities. My segment on Academic Minute briefly outlines this project.

I also have two collaborative projects in the pipeline. This includes my participation in a multidisciplinary team housed at the University of Massachusetts Lowell that includes engineers, computer scientists, and social scientists. The overall project is focused on developing and testing a handheld device that can test drinking water for heavy metals in real time. My role on the project includes co-developing university and community partnerships to provide feedback and real-world testing of the technology, co-developing educational workshop materials to educate communities on drinking water quality and testing, and strategies to ensure their drinking water is safe, and analyzing changes to resident social cohesion over time. I’m particularly interested in whether the inclusion of residents, as citizen-scientists, on this project will impact feelings of trust in scientific research and in local government. We received a $2.5 million grant from NSF to further expand this project.

Finally, in collaboration with colleagues in Criminal Justice at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, I am analyzing how a virtual group of Kenyan immigrant women use their social networks to address issues of safety and create alternative sites of social support within the United States and Canada.