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Professor Ella Howard on Who Gets Left out of the Urban Planning Story

cover of a book showing a city

Ella Howard has long studied and taught about the intersection of urban planning and poverty. In an essay published in the new book Alternative Planning History and Theory, Howard expands upon this relationship and demonstrates that it has not always been a straightforward one.  

Alternative Planning features the works of 12 authors who present “an alternative planning history and theory written from the perspective of groups that have been historically marginalized or neglected.” 

“The collection sets out to revolutionize the history of planning by centering groups that have traditionally been left out of the story,” said Howard, who is an associate professor of history at Wentworth Institute of Technology. 

The book tackles how planning has affected groups that include children, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+ communities, older adults, and religious minorities, among others. 

Howard’s piece—"The Poor: Contested Spaces of Deprivation and Homelessness”—notes that urban planning as a profession emerged in the United States during the Progressive era with a goal of exerting control over the physical environment on behalf of the people. But, she argues, the field has often prioritized the interests of capital over improving the lives of the poor. 

“My essay considers the approaches taken to urban poverty and spatial inequality by formal and informal urban planners,” she said.  

Howard previously published the book Homeless: Poverty and Place in Urban America and has spent years researching the influence of historic preservation and tourism on the development of cities including Savannah, New Orleans, and Charleston. She has taught American history, digital history, urban history, and the history of design to Wentworth students.  

“I was thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in this project, which builds on my earlier publications on the right to the city of the poor and homeless,” she said. “I'm glad to be able to help students understand the importance of maintaining space for the poor in contemporary cities, a crisis point given the trend of gentrification.”