Uncovering JAPA

Restorative Pathways: Navigating Healing and Justice in Communities Affected by Spatial Trauma

Communities of color have been subjected to significant spatial and embodied trauma inflicted by planning practice, political decisions, and economic policy. Black and brown people have faced disproportionate levels of violence from incarceration and death at the hands of state institutions, to the persistent legacies of slavery and segregation, as well as economic injustice and displacement.

Healing Justice Through Community Accountability

In "Race, Space and Trauma: Using Community Accountability for Healing Justice," (Journal of American Planning Association, Vol. 89, No. 4) Elizabeth L. Sweet and Elsie L. Harper-Anderson present two case studies that explore how pursuing healing justice through community accountability (CA) can work to repair the harms of spatial trauma.

Community accountability is a framework developed in the 1990s that centers on community-generated solutions and spaces to confront state violence and other abuses, particularly racialized and gendered. The authors advise that planners should prioritize community visions of restoration to confront these legacies and facilitate space for community-led repair.

Figure 1. The role of community accountability in reimagining racially traumatized spaces

Figure 1. The role of community accountability in reimagining racially traumatized spaces

Case study of Richmond, Virginia

In Richmond, Virginia, Jackson Ward is a neighborhood that was created by the local government to separate Black residents from the rest of the city and limit their political power to a geographic area. Projects like the construction of the Petersburg-Richmond Turnpike (now Interstate 95) and the demolition of neighborhood buildings to construct public housing units for the housing authority, displaced thousands of community members and led to lower property values and economic output. Although intended as a method of segregation, the neighborhood became a thriving hub of Black culture and entrepreneurship.

The Jackson Ward Collective (JWC) was founded in 2020 by three Black women to work with Black entrepreneurs to establish or grow their businesses and encourage Richmond business owners to relocate to Jackson Ward. Supporting entrepreneurship and building generational wealth is a method of healing justice through restoring power and agency to the Jackson Ward neighborhood that was intentionally dismantled by political and planning land use decisions.

The JXN Project is a research and narrative-focused organization that promotes the undertold and misrepresented stories of Jackson Ward. This organization moves to reclaim spaces in Jackson Ward that carry legacies of violence and injustice and reconceptualize the neighborhood as a space of Black excellence and success. The organization launched an initiative to procure honorary street designations to honor significant figures from Richmond's African American community to replace street names across Richmond that are named for enslavers and supporters of the Confederacy. By reimagining these places where spatial trauma and historic devaluation of Black people persisted, JXN has sought to enact a redemptive model for healing and justice through intentional truth-telling.

Case study in Norristown, Pennsylvania

The spatial trauma in Norristown, Pennsylvania, has been produced through geographic displacement caused by economic policy. The 1982 economic crisis in Mexico and the response from the IMF, World Bank, and the United States to enforce neoliberal structural adjustment (SA) enacted a monetary policy that lowered the value of the Mexican peso (and thus wages). The people of Mexico suffered economically and socially. These conditions caused mass emigration and people experiencing the embodied trauma of being forced from their homes as well as experiences of institutional violence and xenophobia in their new spaces.

The organization Coalición Fortaleza Latina (CFL) in Norristown, Pennsylvania, created health interventions centered on food as a means to heal displacement and trauma. Community members built a garden and cultivated culturally relevant and nutritious organic produce for themselves and their families, using nutrition as healing work. They have facilitated acupuncture, dance, and yoga to reclaim and repurpose spaces using bodies. Other programs like workforce development, mapmaking, local cleanup, and nutrition classes focused on healing trauma through nutrition, community building, and justice in the face of colonial oppression and displacement.

Community-led Healing Justice Approaches

Rather than relying on white spatial imaginaries (supremacist narratives and interventions grown from colonial, racist, and sexist structures) as solutions, the organizations in Richmond and Norristown practiced community-led ideas to repair and move toward justice. They utilized traditional Black and indigenous practices of healing to reclaim spaces and bodies, rather than relying on white-dominated solutions. These traumas must continue to be confronted, and planners can hold space for and facilitate community accountability and policies and practices, which promote healing justice.

Top image: iStock / Getty Images Plus - wildpixel

Kati Wiese is a master's student in urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

December 14, 2023

By Katherine Wiese