Sustainable Design, Cultural Preservation, Community Development, African American History

Letora interests are in landscape architecture and urban planning research, emphasizing cultural landscapes, community development, sustainable design, and African American history. Her research is shaped by historical patterns of neighborhood disinvestment affecting minority neighborhoods, leaving them susceptible to area gentrification. According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, neighborhood displacement often coincides with cultural and minority displacement as well (Richardson, Mitchell, & Franco, 2019). Her research focuses on landscape architectural approaches that foster environmental reconnection, equitable engagement, and cultural landscape development in minority neighborhoods.

Richardson, J., Mitchell, B., & Franco, J. (2019, March 19). Shifting Neighborhoods: Gentrification and cultural displacement in American cities. Retrieved from National Community Reinvestment Coalition: 


Housing Policy Analysis for Declining Neighborhoods

Reinvesting in Residential Housing in Older Neighborhoods

Gentrification and Displacement within Disinvested Neighborhoods

Cultural Landscape Design and Planning

As urban communities grow and development patterns are established, it is important to design communities in a fashion that cultivates diverse landscape aesthetics. In most cases, neighborhoods developments and land use patterns segregate residents by class. This leads to area investment that is disproportionately allocated to areas of higher ad valorem value. To help offset this occurrence, designer must partner with planners and public administrators to strengthen the relationship between zoning, housing policy and landscape architecture. As parks are developed, zoning ordinances should be updated in a way that is reflective of healthy positive change. This involves the prohibition of undesirable land uses that impede safe access and desirability for pedestrians. This partnership declares that all communities should have access to diversified housing, valued parks, and green spaces, making unhealthy neighborhoods healthy.

Eras of Displacement and Development in Black Communities 

The term development, although ambiguous, can be defined as the continuous process of change within a community that is influenced by social, economic, and environmental systems affecting human behavior. The harmony or discord between these systems is reflected in the social structures and the built environment. Development can be a state of progression or decline due to various externalities impacting a community over time. If a community becomes stagnate, area decline is inevitable, especially when coupled with area disinvestment. In communities of color, issues of decline and disinvestment are more pronounced. Often in landscape architectural practice, prescriptive design strategies are employed without a true understanding of the community’s assets or potential contributions. More specifically, as a person of color, a black woman, I became interested in approaches to landscape architecture that truly speak to the black experience within practice and research.  

African American history is a unique story that demands an understanding of its context within landscape architecture and planning. To better contextualize the past, I began to research the black experience through what I call thecontinual development theory, which is the ongoing eras of change in communities caused by internal and external forces within the social, political, economic, and physical environment. This approach provides a new lens for landscape architectural practices seeking to positively change social, economic, and environmental conditions. 

This research was divided into three buckets. First, it provides a historical context to the continual nature of social, economic, political, and environmental change within African American communities. Secondly, this research provides a literature review that drew a connection between African American communities and various development theories. Third, this research provides practices for community development within black communities. It also underscores the importance of research and practice that seek to understand the heritage of diverse communities and historical perspectives that is not commonly known. It identifies strategies to engage residents in a meaningful way that fosters trust and aid in the restorative process that empowers minority communities in the reclamation of their landscapes and the built environment. 


Causal Loop Diagram of systems leading to Gentrification and Displacement within Disinvested Neighborhoods 

Gentrification is an issue that displaces low-to-moderate-income residents living in historically disinvested neighborhoods. Area disinvestment results from minimal capital improvements for infrastructure and improved community services in an area over an extended period of time. This process not only affects homeowners and renters, but it also involves the actions of landlords, municipalities, policymakers, and developers that lead to an endless feedback loop of neighborhood transition over time.  

This research investigates systems that lead to gentrification and displacement in disinvested neighborhoods by creating a causal loop diagram (CDL) that determine 1) indicators of decline, disinvestment, and similarities within neighborhoods that experience it, 2) issues of neighborhood transition and infill development, 3) the point at which revitalization results in gentrification, 4) the point at which displacement begins, and 5) strategies to avoid gentrification and displacement.  

In the long term, Letora plans to pursue research that links sustainable design practices to culture placement in the context of the research interest mentioned above. The goal is to protect, preserve, and revitalize the cultural heritage of communities that have disproportionately been affected by disinvestment over the years


Fredrick Douglass

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