Theses Master's

Planning for Whom? How the Bias of Urban Planners Impacts Street Improvements

Mawdsley, Sarah

Street improvement projects have an unclear relation to gentrification and scholarship has yet to clarify causation, however lower income residents tend to fear displacement as a result of street interventions like bike lanes or street trees and will resist the projects. According to the American Institute of Certified Planners, the role of planners is to serve the public interest, however, if planners and residents hold different views on streetscape interventions in terms of their effect on gentrification, the line begins to blur between what the public interest is and how planners are serving it.

Through qualitative interviews with nineteen planning practitioners working in the realm of street and public space improvements, this thesis aims to understand how planners interpret the topic of gentrification within their roles as stewards of public interest and identify common factors that can impact a planner’s perception of public interest. Findings revealed that planners don’t see street improvement projects as gentrifying, and many believe gentrification to be a problem only for housing and community engagement planners. Thus, they don’t see much of a role for themselves in mitigating the negative impacts of gentrification.

An analysis of the interviews also show that lived experience is the most significant factor in how planners define public interest. Education plays a critical role in how planners perceive their roles as it provides the foundation of knowledge about the field. Lastly, workplace culture has the most impact when it comes to shaping how planners approach planning. These findings are intended to inform practitioners on how they should revise their planning process to better engage with communities in order to provide them with good planning and design without the fear of displacement.


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2024-09-30.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Devlin, Ryan
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 27, 2022