Sei sulla pagina 1di 21

ARTICLE

Neighborhood Planning:
10.1177/1538513203262047
JOURNAL
Thomas / USES
OF PLANNING
OF ORAL HISTORY / February 2004

Uses of Oral History


June Manning Thomas
Michigan State University

Neighborhood planning for community improvement in America’s distressed central


cities is particularly difficult because the physical environment may have daunting
problems and the social environment may appear unapproachable. Oral history as a
technique can help access information from those “at the margins” of society who live
in distressed neighborhoods. This article analyzes the potential benefits of oral histo-
ries for neighborhood planning. It also analyzes interviews conducted with board
members of two Detroit community organizations to glean lessons about the impor-
tance of residents’ personal experiences within the neighborhoods. The author sug-
gests that collecting such historical insights could become a productive part of
neighborhood planning.

Keywords: oral history; neighborhood planning; neighborhood; African American,


Detroit

S
cholars are still exploring the connections between history and urban
and regional planning, an effort that this journal is aiding in great part.
We are beginning to learn more about specific historical events and
processes related to planning, as well as about how this evolution has
affected cities throughout the world. However, we are just beginning to tap
the potential uses of history as a tool for informing and guiding difficult
problems in contemporary urban planning in a way that moves beyond
description and toward prescription.
One area of concern is how to tap the experiences of neighborhood resi-
dents as a source of guidance for current and future efforts in neighborhood
planning. At this point, we know much about certain aspects of neighbor-
hood planning, for example, that effective planning is one of the skills that
effective community-based organizations must have. A few studies have
begun to explore the specific role and nature of the planning function in
organizations’ development and success,1 and case studies have provided
variegated knowledge about the history and development of neighborhood
initiatives.2 Still needed is additional information about how research
involving the residents themselves can help to start, maintain, and enhance
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was originally presented to the Society for American City and Regional
Planning History. It is supported in part by a research grant from the Aspen Institute.
JOURNAL OF PLANNING HISTORY, Vol. 2 No. 1, February 2004 50-70
DOI: 10.1177/1538513203262047
© 2004 Sage Publications
50
Thomas / USES OF ORAL HISTORY 51

neighborhood improvement efforts. Some texts3 suggest that the kind of


information systems necessary for neighborhood planning include demo-
graphics, history of the neighborhood, land use information, housing qual-
ity, and so on. Such texts seldom explain how planners and community
leaders can use localized historical information about the neighborhood or
the collective memory4 of residents to prepare for action.
One methodological realm that offers great potential for gaining addi-
tional knowledge and strategy is oral history. The value of oral interviews
has been revealed in a number of previous studies on community develop-
ment, notably by Herbert Rubin,5 but the use of oral history in community
development has been commented on less often. I will define specific narra-
tive-related needs for neighborhood planning, explore the potential for oral
history, offer examples from interviews in two Detroit neighborhoods, and
suggest ways in which professional historians might further aid this process.

SPECIAL NEEDS OF NEIGHBORHOOD PLANNING

We will begin with a short exploration of the concept of neighborhood


planning, which is based on the neighborhood as the primary unit of analy-
sis. As Peterman notes in his book Neighborhood Planning and Commu-
nity-Based Development, the concept of neighborhood used by urbanists
today is not agreed upon by all, in part because “the neighborhood” actually
is a relatively new concept in human history.6 Much of what the planning
profession accepts as a neighborhood really refers to a concept that is more
akin to a mid-twentieth-century residential subdivision, as designed for
middle- or upper-class families. Some refer to work such as Gans’s Urban
Villagers as proof of the existence of neighborhoods as a social construct,
but Peterman reminds us that Gans argues that “ethnic villagers” made up
only one type of at least five kinds of residents in contemporary cities and
that conglomerations of people varied widely.7 In a similar vein, Jane Jacobs
notes that city people are mobile and tend to pick friends and colleagues
from throughout the entire city, and so she argues that the concept of neigh-
borhood should be very fluid.8 Peterman reviews these various perspectives
and concludes by suggesting that a neighborhood, or what we consider to be
a neighborhood, may differ for different times and different places.9 This
might explain why the concept of neighborhood seems more compelling for
some residential areas (in some cities) than for others; the term “neighbor-
hood planning,” for example, is more likely to refer to central-city neigh-
borhoods than outer-ring suburban neighborhoods.
Peterman also points out that the definition of “neighborhood planning”
varies greatly among urban scholars. Jane Jacobs essentially views the
smallest level of neighborhood as the street level and therefore implies that
this is the level at which some planning should take place. Bernie Jones
defines neighborhood planning as a smaller version of citywide planning,
52 JOURNAL OF PLANNING HISTORY / February 2004

and many of his techniques are those used for municipal planning.10 But
Barry Checkoway suggests that neighborhood planning could be either top
down or bottom up.11 Bottom-up planning at the neighborhood level
involves grassroots organization and may include the creation of formal
organizations such as community development corporations (CDCs).
As Peterman notes, limiting neighborhood planning to areas in which
CDCs flourish is too exclusionary. He suggests that the planning that takes
place at the neighborhood level in today’s cities relates closely to advocacy
planning and equity planning. Both of these are theories of planning that
address issues of power; both imply that planners must see planning not as
value neutral and serving some general public but rather as requiring
acknowledgment of different publics, and both advocate planning repre-
sentation for disadvantaged groups. From the bottom-up perspective, neigh-
borhood planning therefore aims to plan for the future in a way that helps
create the process of capacity-building community development in affected
neighborhoods.
If we accept this definition of neighborhood planning, then the special
needs of such neighborhood planning become clearer. Peterman describes
three of these special needs. First, neighborhood planning must be a collab-
orative process, involving a number of experts including planners, but also
involving neighborhood residents and community organizers. True collabo-
ration implies that all parties should be equal because it is necessary for
everyone to respect everyone else’s opinion. The second requirement is
that the process of neighborhood planning should be relatively open and
transparent, so that residents can understand everything that is taking
place in terms of techniques and processes, and so that the planning pro-
cess is an educational one. Third, he suggests that all neighborhood plan-
ning be driven by the community, with focus placed on the neighborhood’s
agenda, not the planner’s agenda. The process of social change should be
one of empowerment, as defined in a number of ways, including increas-
ingly investing community members in the ability to make decisions about
the process and results of planning.12
To this list of three requirements for neighborhood planning, we can add
a few others from additional authors, requirements particularly appropri-
ate when neighborhood planning is being carried out in urban areas under-
going a process of social and economic change. In such circumstances,
Baum notes, neighborhood planning may need to overcome likely fractures
of race, class, and ethnic background. It may also be necessary, he suggests,
for the planning process to overcome residents’ grief over the changes that
are taking place in their neighborhood, if these are not for the better.13 Fur-
thermore, implicit in Peterman’s list and noted elsewhere, neighborhood
planning may need to involve organizational development, as described by
a number of authors including Vidal.14
Thus, neighborhood planning as here defined is a complex process, nec-
essarily involving an array of purposes and multifaceted requirements. We
Thomas / USES OF ORAL HISTORY 53

now turn to a discussion of the planning tools that might be helpful in this
process and of how historical methodology might assist.

NECESSARY PLANNING TOOLS

Mandelbaum has suggested that all planning relies on a toolbox of tech-


niques that falls into four major categories: models, theory, information
systems, and narrative.15 Of these four, theory and narrative seem espe-
cially useful for the special needs identified above, and history seems useful
for both theory and narrative, but particularly narrative.
In the venue of neighborhood planning, quantitative models are used
hardly at all, and other models, such as physical or architectural ones,
come much later in the process as plans are being implemented in a physi-
cal form. Conceptual (as opposed to quantitative or physical) models, in
this context, are essentially the same thing as theories. In the arena of the-
ory, referring to the theoretical underpinnings of planning for neighbor-
hood change can be quite helpful, particularly concerning some of the sub-
jects discussed above such as advocacy planning and equity planning.
Some examples also exist of planners using theories of organizational
change to guide their work with community development.16 Although gen-
eration of planning theory has relied not so much on historical work as on
theoretical frameworks constructed in other ways, a historical perspective
can lead to the development of theoretical concepts about how specific
social systems operate and change, as, for example, with Lawrence Vale’s
recent historical assessment of the evolution of change in several public
housing neighborhoods in Boston.17
Planners rely heavily on the third area, information systems, which
ranges from analysis of census data and other social survey results to geo-
graphic information systems. But this overall genre may not contribute to a
community development perspective, although for the actual act of neigh-
borhood planning, it is necessary to assess current conditions and past
trends in a quantitative sense, and involving residents in data collection
and analysis can be empowering. Information systems are historical, how-
ever, only in the sense that data are historical.
The fourth area, narrative, holds real promise for meeting the special
needs identified above by Peterman, as well as for helping us identify other
specific ways (besides theory building) that history can contribute to the
necessary tasks involved. What exactly is “narrative”? This term includes a
lot of potential approaches. We will briefly discuss four18: qualitative inter-
views, involving focused dialogue around a number of key questions of con-
cern; storytelling, which is the narration of some event or experience; his-
tory, a broad term that includes traditional mechanisms of exploring
written materials relevant to the subject at hand; and oral history, one
method of history and an approach that I suggest has special potential for
54 JOURNAL OF PLANNING HISTORY / February 2004

neighborhood planning. Although all of these techniques are related in


some way, each has its own special contribution to make to this discussion.
In terms of community development efforts, the qualitative interview is
very useful as it may directly address specific questions of importance, such
as what has made economic development in a specific neighborhood suc-
cessful or not. One could use the results of such interviews to create either
overarching theories or incremental suggestions for strategic action. Per-
haps the best example of this range of uses comes from Herbert Rubin, who
interviewed a series of community development practitioners to discern
key principles of practical applicability. His approach was to take various
pieces of his interviews that related to key themes and to use this collection
to advance theoretical and practical knowledge, as described in his book
Renewing Hope within Neighborhoods of Despair: The Community-Based
Development Model.19
In some circles of planning scholarship, storytelling has also emerged as
a tool. Eckstein defines stories as “verbal expressions that narrate the
unfolding of events over some passage of time and in some particular loca-
tion.”20 The communicative planning movement relies on dialogue that can
be framed, in many instances, as a process of storytelling, and authors such
as Forester, Mandelbaum, and Rein and Schon have illustrated some of the
possibilities.21
In the book Story and Sustainability: Planning, Practice, and the Possi-
bility for American Cities, edited by Eckstein and Throgmorton, several
authors suggest the benefits of storytelling, which would appear to be more
incident specific or context specific than qualitative interviewing and more
cohesive in describing a given set of events. Rotella provides a personal nar-
rative account of her interactions with a Chicago neighborhood environ-
ment that describes social and economic decline in a way that models and
information systems could never do.22 Just as compelling a chapter comes
from author Joe Barthel, who relates stories of people traumatized by urban
decline and then creates his own theoretical framework for explaining why
people react to neighborhood conditions in a way that leads them to crimi-
nal activity.23 Throgmorton’s other book Planning as Persuasive Story-
telling: The Rhetorical Construction of Chicago’s Electric Future narrates
events surrounding community-based protests against utility plans by a
prominent corporation to comment on community power and social
change.24
In a few cases, history that relies on traditional, largely written sources of
information has been used as a vehicle for understanding neighborhood
planning. This is particularly true when the history of efforts in specific
neighborhoods can be woven into a more general assessment of planning
history. An example is Thomas’s Redevelopment and Race, which uses the
experiences of Detroit’s Mack-Concord—one particular neighborhood
that did not experience traditional urban renewal—to analyze how racial
Thomas / USES OF ORAL HISTORY 55

change affected neighborhood planning efforts during the 1950s and 1960s
and how neighborhood planning failed because of racial turnover.25 A reli-
ance on a few contemporary interviews and largely written sources record-
ed in the past, however, as in that narrative about Detroit, makes it difficult
to envision how such history can help inform community development
within the context of contemporary neighborhood planning.
Oral history is a technique that is quite allied with qualitative interview-
ing and with storytelling, and it is a form of history that may be potentially
well suited for the needs of neighborhood planning as defined here.
Although thus far in planning scholarship, oral history appears to have been
used either to create narrative accounts of prominent planners26 or, in a few
cases, to illuminate the role of minority citizens whose accounts would not
otherwise be known,27 other potential exists.

ORAL HISTORY AND NEIGHBORHOOD PLANNING

One pair of authors has suggested that “oral history does not differ from
the unstructured interview methodologically, but in purpose.”28 Some have
suggested that oral history involves a range of strategies, from using a list of
preconstructed questions to asking a person to tell his or her story in the
way he or she chooses, but that in general it shifts attention away from “the
right questions” to “the process,” which is to engage in dialogue about
events and experiences.29 Perhaps the best introduction to oral history
comes from examining several well-regarded oral history works. A particu-
larly powerful compendium of accounts is Portelli’s The Death of Luigi
Trastulli, and Other Stories, in which the author uses oral histories he col-
lected from workers in Italy and Kentucky to draw compelling lessons about
history, social change, and research, in ways that in effect rewrite official
accounts of major events from the perspective of the working class.
From this book and other allied writings, we may anticipate several bene-
fits of oral history, many stemming from the method’s ability to involve
unheard voices in a dialogue about planning. Oral historians, for example,
have offered extensive insight into the need to place researcher and subject
on an equal basis for trust to facilitate dialogue, a topic explored in some
depth by Portelli.30 The technique can become an extraordinary tool for
empowerment, as with Kerr’s work with the homeless in which a massive
oral history project led directly to a movement for social change.31 And oral
history is particularly adept at soliciting input from those for whom no writ-
ten records exist or who are unlettered or relatively powerless, as illustrated
by both these authors. As argued forcefully by John Stanfield II, method-
ological approaches such as oral history have particular potency among
peoples at the “margins.” Oral data gathering is important, he notes, for
understanding the nature of people affected by “the marginalization and
56 JOURNAL OF PLANNING HISTORY / February 2004

exclusion of populations from centers of capitalistic modes of production,


such as inner-city residents and Appalachians.”32 He advocates “the collec-
tion of oral histories that allow the examined people of color to articulate
holistic explanations about how they construct their realities.”33 Such an
approach also connects with recent efforts to view planning history as an
activity involving ordinary citizens, such as women and marginalized
minorities who have striven to improve their communities, rather than just
professional planners or prominent city leaders.34
The need to tap resident knowledge is particularly important in dis-
tressed central-city neighborhoods precisely because they need whatever
resources may be available. Resident initiative, wisdom, and participation
are important potential resources. It may be possible to use dialogue with
neighborhood residents as one way to assist with this task.
Oral history offers a potential avenue for providing such dialogue. The
technique is fairly simple, or can be: it largely involves finding knowledge-
able people to talk about the history of their lives or their communities, pro-
viding a framework for conversation, and then listening very carefully to
what they have to say.35

EXPERIENCING DETROIT NEIGHBORHOODS

We will offer some of the results of one project as a way of generating addi-
tional thoughts about the potential linkages between neighborhood plan-
ning and oral history. The overall study that generated the data tapped for
this article involved interviewing approximately thirty people associated
with five active community-based development organizations (CBDOs) in
Detroit and Battle Creek, Michigan. The research was based on qualitative
interviews containing questions about vision and strategy in neighborhood
planning.36 People associated with these organizations who were inter-
viewed ranged in age from their early twenties to well more than eighty
years old. Some were staff members, such as community organizers and
housing directors, and others were board members; they were of different
races, and all were significant players in their organizations.
Something unanticipated happened with four of the interviews.
Although these four residents seemed willing to answer the questions,
which were set to elicit only cursory information about the person’s back-
ground and much more about neighborhood planning, in these cases peo-
ple themselves turned the interview into an oral history session. (Oral his-
torian Portelli notes that when people seem to “take over” an interview, it is
often best to let them because the researcher must be able to listen and
“show your respect for what people choose to tell you.”37) The four people
whose opinions we feature in the present discussion focused heavily on the
Thomas / USES OF ORAL HISTORY 57

history and evolution of their neighborhoods, or rather on their experi-


ences in their neighborhoods, drawing in particular on autobiographical
experiences.
The four included two African American women of mature years (“Esther”
and “Maple”), one African American man (“Eric”), and one mature Anglo
American priest (“Father Bill”). The oldest was Maple, eighty years old; Eric
was in his thirties.38 According to the executive directors and staff of the two
central-city Detroit CBDOs in which they served, all four were pivotal play-
ers in helping to create plans for neighborhood improvement; her CBDO
director called Maple “the heart and soul” of the organization.
Maple and Esther were the two who most completely launched into oral
histories, escaping the confines of the structured interview and instead
relating extensive personal histories that offered portals into the collective
memory of the neighborhood, and most of the commentary to follow comes
from them. Maple and Esther lived near each other in a predominantly Afri-
can American area of west-central Detroit that has had mixed success in
neighborhood improvement. A capable CBDO has existed since 1984,
staffed at first by volunteers from a religious order. It has accomplished a
number of things, including rehabilitation of apartments and development
of new multifamily housing, but this came after years of progressive socio-
economic decline, abandonment, and demolition. As did Williams in her
intense description of oral history dialogue with two female, African Ameri-
can public housing resident leaders and Richer and Abron in their oral his-
tories of two women in the Black Panther Party, we will use lessons gained
from these conversations to extrapolate to more general situations.39
The two men also provided historical narrative. Eric belonged to the
same CBDO as Maple and Esther. He moved out of the neighborhood but
came back to participate and serve as president of this west side CBDO;
Father Bill served on the board of another CBDO, on the east side of Detroit,
in a largely African American neighborhood that witnessed progressive
physical deterioration but also benefited from a CBDO’s presence.
The thirty interviews (including each of the four described here) were
taped over two hours for each subject, but in no sense did these interviews
involve exhaustive narrative over several hours or days, as in many oral his-
tory projects. The results reported here, then, are exploratory. We should
also note that the author and her graduate assistant were both African
American and that the tone of the interview was such as to suggest some
rapport based on race and perhaps gender for the women, which raises
issues addressed by oral historians such as Portelli and DeVault.40 We will
revisit these issues in the Conclusion’s summary of practical applications.
We can classify their comments in general into three thematic areas: a
sense of what was, focusing on the positive and negative trends they had
personally witnessed over time in the neighborhood; a commentary on
58 JOURNAL OF PLANNING HISTORY / February 2004

organizational development, looking at what had changed with their neigh-


borhood group; and a dialogue concerning the potential of triumph over
adverse conditions.

A Sense of What Was

As these four, in particular Maple and Esther, narrated much of their life
histories, a consistent theme was a longing for the past, when the neighbor-
hood was in better condition. In Maple’s youth, the west side and another
neighborhood near Pershing High School “were the nicest neighborhoods
for black people. And I have been fortunate enough to live in both neighbor-
hoods.” She noted that people were more self-sufficient at that time: “My
daddy used to rent a mule and plow and would cultivate a whole city block
[to feed] momma, daddy, and eight kids.” She evoked her memories of a
time of flexible adjustment and entrepreneurship in a conscious effort to
show that strengths of Depression-era parents deserved to be emulated, if
possible, in a neighborhood where hopelessness was too common.
Father Bill was an elderly priest who had a strong sense of the neighbor-
hood’s history that translated into his attachment and dedication to its revi-
talization. He knew that most of the founders of his congregation’s church
building had originally come from the British Isles and that they were work-
ing-class laborers. A motivating force behind his many hours of volunteer
service to the local CBDO appeared to be his desire to help bring back a
semblance of those better years, which he described in some detail.
Eric, the fairly young president of his CBDO, did not know neighborhood
history that took place before his three decades of life, but he remembered
his experiences well enough to use that memory as part of his vision of the
future. He narrated accounts of what it was like to grow up in the neighbor-
hood when it had more people and services. “I grew up here, and my broth-
ers and sisters grew up here . . . making it obviously a family, a community-
type area.” His concern was to make the community like that again, “but
that means you’ve got to have resources that make a lot of people want to
make it a community. That means you’ve got to have commercial [uses] in
the sense of being able to go to stores and things like that; and cleaners and
banks and things like that. So that’s why [Project X] includes a commercial
center, a potential area for jobs.”
Negative memories of the past seemed just as important to the respon-
dents as the positive ones. Father Bill was able to contrast the origins of the
parish with conditions just before and then after he appeared.

There were some attempts at outreach in the 1980s, early 80s and so there was some
community meals, those kinds of things, trying to get people to just meet each other
because at that point people . . . were pretty much living inside their homes with bars
on the windows and, you know, all of that. . . . There were kind of continual drug
houses . . . I remember they used to stop, drop somebody off over here on [X Road].
Thomas / USES OF ORAL HISTORY 59

They’d come and walk down the alley into a drug house, get their drugs and then get
picked up over here on [X Road]. And the prostitutes, when they got hassled on [Y and
Z Roads], they’d come back into this area.

Esther grew up in the neighborhood but then moved to California for a


number of years. When she and her husband returned in 1981, taking over
Esther’s deceased mother’s house, they were surprised to find how far the
neighborhood had declined. The physical devastation was bad enough, but
Esther also presented a series of stories to illustrate social disintegration. In
one part of her narrative, she recounted what it was like to live next to a
house filled with criminal activity: “They used to have knife fights. My hus-
band got in the middle and stopped an actual knife fight going on. . . . There
was a house next door to us and they ran three shifts. There were three,
eight-hour shifts. It was the fencing house. That’s where they brought stolen
goods, next door. Prostitution. They sold dope.” As she continued, “See, my
mother was still back here [before we returned]. My ears were deaf to what
she was saying about how the neighborhood has changed.”
Her mother remembered the better times and saw the changes, pointing
them out to her emigrant daughter Esther, who for years was “deaf” and did
not understand; but Esther eventually became a convert to neighborhood
improvement.

Organizational Change and Direction

Another theme that emerged in the accounts was the changing nature of
neighborhood organizations. Esther’s organization, for example, has been
more active than most in Detroit in combining preparation for new con-
struction with selective rehabilitation. To understand why, consider how
she interwove the story of her CBDO with her personal history to show how
she was able to help change the organization’s programmatic direction.
One of Esther’s stories is how she, under newly destitute financial cir-
cumstances, had become a champion of historical preservation on her
organization’s housing board. In part she supported preservation because of
her growing interest in salvaging what she could of her mother’s house, as
she and her husband struggled with unemployment. She noted that her old
house had many of the same features that middle-class urban pioneers val-
ued: wood floors, magnificent doors and high ceilings, a clawfoot iron bath-
tub, and most particularly a huge, old-fashioned kitchen sink. Piece by
piece she collected articles and photos displayed in home improvement
magazines and created a scrapbook showing what upscale preservationists
wanted and what she was able to do in her own house that was comparable.
This scrapbook she carried around and showed freely to all interested par-
ties, along with her before-and-after pictures of nearby lots that her hus-
band began to clear of weeds and debris. Her home became, in many ways, a
showpiece.
60 JOURNAL OF PLANNING HISTORY / February 2004

Becoming more attuned to the innate beauty of what others had begun to
accept as a ghetto, she realized that tearing down all the older housing was
not necessarily the best strategy. Her older neighbors and brother helped
her see the light:

Interviewer: What do you see the residents want? What is their vision of what they
want?
Esther: They want, they want their houses that can be saved to be saved. They want
help with doing that. The houses that need to go, everybody’s in agreement. Tear down
anything that’s raggedy and that’s an eyesore. . . . But the few that stood here and
stayed through all the turmoil, trying to hold on, help us. The older blacks, they’re
looking, saying okay, we helped you get an education. [My brother said] blacks are
labeled as tearing up property or tearing up neighborhoods, but you educated ones are
no better. You are no better than those who tear down, because . . . what you all want to
do now is come and tear down our remaining houses and just put up something new
without keeping what’s here, restoring, building up. . . . We want new housing but keep
something as a reminder of where our parents came from.

At one point, her CBDO planned only projects based on clearance of


large tracts of land and construction of townhouse complexes, with isolated
and half-hearted housing rehabilitation designed to “modernize” older
homes. The overall strategy, reminiscent of urban renewal, was to bring in
the bulldozer to the few remaining houses and build new complexes from
scratch. In contrast, the approach this woman advocated, with her scrap-
book-based storytelling campaign, was to keep those houses standing that
could be kept and then to rehabilitate them in a manner that acknowledged
their historical roots. Gradually, she was able to move her organization’s
agenda toward a more mixed-use strategy, one that combined new con-
struction with rehabilitation based on the model of historic preservation.
The history of this effort helps explain the reasons behind the evolution of
the CBDO’s strategy and helps give this strategy legitimacy.
Father Bill remembered well the hiring of his CBDO’s first permanent
executive director and saw the continual surveying of needs assessment
each summer as a repeat of a successful strategy. As he noted, early efforts
involved getting a community person to go out and do a door-to-door sur-
vey, which they barely accomplished because of timidity and fear. They
thought the primary need was housing, but those issues were “way over our
poor little heads. . . . We also saw the need for the youth, a place to play.”
They put together a job description and received funds from various faith
organizations. “We looked for six months and got every kook in the world . . .
all of a sudden we had four applications . . . all of whom were well-qualified.”
“Mrs. Floyd,” the winner, was the outstanding candidate because of her
optimism, “street smarts,” and familiarity with the community. The ease
with which she was able to knock on doors for needs assessment, organize
block parties, and start youth programs helped create a strong resident-
based organization that pursued a number of strategies including housing
development, for which Mrs. Floyd was not particularly well trained. Father
Thomas / USES OF ORAL HISTORY 61

Bill’s memory served as commentary on the roadmap that led to organiza-


tional development and leadership.
Maple’s memories of organizational capacity were quite specific, of long
standing, and prescriptive. She remembered strategies dating well before
the CBDO’s 1984 founding, during the time when block clubs and neighbor-
hood associations blanketed Detroit. Shortly after describing her father
plowing vacant land, she noted that the Westside Human Relations Council
“was a first-class organization . . . made up of block clubs. I bet you there
was a hundred block clubs or more. . . . The leadership was good and the
people, you know, they kept up their property; it was just a different thing
than what Detroit is now.” She wanted to see this as a current strategy:

Maple: I tell my neighbor next door all the time; I say, “I want your house to look just
as nice as my house.”
Interviewer: So you’re saying it’s important for them to get involved in block clubs
and join various associations.
Maple: Not various associations; whatever association is over [this area]. See, first
you have all of these different, little block clubs. . . . Then you have the association as a
combination of all of those, so whatever the association does . . . can pull from all of
these people here. And that’s what I would like to see [my CBDO] do. As a matter of
fact, they have said this is what they have wanted to do, but in order for them to do
that, we need to have a plan to go back into the neighborhoods now and to encourage
people to have their individual block club.

Maple is harking back to days no young people remember, when neigh-


borhood associations were a vital part of black Detroit. One image of associ-
ations in that city is of the white homeowner’s associations, which built up
during the middle of the twentieth century to guard against black intru-
sion.41 In fact, however, Warren in 1975 documented the existence of an
extraordinary network of block clubs and associations created by blacks,
and Thomas has noted that the city’s social planners, in the 1950s, played a
significant role in organizing such groups.42 Proponents of social capital
have suggested that organizations such as block clubs can indeed serve as
the foundation for neighborhood empowerment.43 Maple was advocating a
strategy, based on her memories, that she saw as part of a successful effort
carried out decades before.
Eric’s main contribution to the discussion on organizational change was
to explain how he, himself, elicited personal historical accounts as a means
of building organizational capacity. In a remarkable passage, he described
this in some detail:

I think the second thing to do is to, to try to go out and talk to people in the community.
What do you like, what don’t you like, how are things. Think back to a time when,
when you really enjoyed living in the neighborhood: What do you know, what do you
remember about the community during that time? So maybe it was twenty-five years
ago, and maybe they remember that, you know, there was white people living in the
neighborhood as well as black people living in the neighborhood. And maybe they
remember that every lot was filled with a house, and maybe they remember that the
department of transportation buses ran up and down the streets on a regular basis, or
62 JOURNAL OF PLANNING HISTORY / February 2004

whatever they remember, and try to pull back some of those [good things]. You can’t
bring back all of those things, but you can start to focus on what made people happy;
that’s, that’s an important thing, trying to revitalize a neighborhood is [bringing back]
what . . . made people feel happy.

Dedication and Triumph

The third theme that seemed to emerge was of dedication and triumph
over adversity. Father Bill, for example, told about a corner that was “over-
grown with bushes”; his church bought two lots, and their neighborhood
organization obtained funds to build a park. A number of residents pitched
in to construct the park, and it remained well maintained over many years.
Father Bill then went on to describe other changes made in the distressed
neighborhood, changes that related to far more important issues than cre-
ation of a park. Citizens had gone on to make important statements about
crime and the social order in their neighborhood.

So a couple of things happened during that same time. One was a woman . . . had her
purse snatched and an old guy about seventy, eighty years old took after the young
man and the fire truck was coming back from a run and saw it and so they joined in and
so that was one thing. [Another example:] A prostitute came back in one of these
streets here with her John and the ladies in the neighborhood ran her out. So to me it
just said, you know, things are changing. You notice the sign, the weathered sign on the
front of the community center, change is coming.

Father Bill’s stories of these triumphs served to offset the stories of how bad
things had been.
It is a short step from stories of dedication and triumph to a sense of
vision. Note Maple’s comments as she describes how her neighbors and
their “spirit” were affected by bad times and then moves on to praise those
who stayed:

The drugs that have been thrown in on us and all this violence and all this stuff, it has
done something to the spirit of the . . . neighborhood; it’s made a lot of people cynical
and . . . feeling hopelessness and all that. And then the people who could move out—
first you had “white flight,” then it’s followed by “black flight,” and “black flight” is still
in progress. . . . The people who remain, we have the faith, we believe, we have a vision,
and we have faith. And one thing the neighborhood planning process can do, it can give
people faith and it can give them a vision and it can give them hope.

Maple had a vision, and she recognized that others did as well. She served as
an inspiration to her comrades because she still planned to keep on working
to improve the neighborhood despite the fact that she had already lived
eight decades. This explained her continued work with her neighborhood
and her organization:

There are things that I personally have committed to myself to do, and this is what [my
CBDO] is doing. And you asked me about the vision of what I see for [my CBDO]. I see
[it] reaching out and touching the people in a way to make it a beautiful community.
Thomas / USES OF ORAL HISTORY 63

Because we can. . . . I try to sell them on the idea that it isn’t how much you pay for your
house, ghetto is a state of mind and we could have our beautiful spirit of a community
right here. And the spirit that I have, I try to engender it to the people that I come in
contact with in every way that I can. Where I live over there, I bought the house next to
me, the house next to that, and right now I have, I have planned to have a center for the
kids in the community. I want to do something for the children, because, see, if we
don’t try to help save our children, we can forget it.

Esther, who also represented this spirit of triumph, told many stories
about herself and her husband during her verbal autobiography of life in the
neighborhood that illustrated great courage and dedication. As an example,
she talked about an alcoholic neighbor. Esther, noting that the children had
not been bathed in months, sent soap and washcloths to their house. When
that did not work, she went to the woman and “very lovingly and kindly [I]
started working with the children and lovingly telling them, now this is
what you do every day; wash up here, this is for that, bring the clothes back
to us. We’ll wash them.” The mother watched warily. The pastor and his
wife began to buy clothes for the children and to teach them how to buy
food cheaply when the wife noticed they were hungry and stealing food.

I felt a need to show these children how to survive without stealing and I went to the
Eastern Market and I’ve never done anything like this before because I didn’t have to.
At the end of the day the farmers, they leave food out. People can come in afterwards
and you could pick some good food up off the ground or at the end of the day you can
get food very reasonably priced. . . . But it dawned on me they may not even have a dol-
lar or two. . . . I said [to the children], you may get in a position where you don’t have
money to buy food for your family. I said, but always remember what I’m telling you,
you never have to steal food. You can always come down here and get you some fresh
food for yourself and for your family. And people started giving us crates of food.

Esther’s husband, a transplant to his wife’s mother’s neighborhood, was


concerned because all of the vacant land in the neighborhood, which
included a considerable amount of acreage, was unsightly, producing weeds
five to six feet tall. Esther was concerned only about getting the grass cut in
front of their house and in the vacant lot next door, which they bought.

Well, my husband saw beyond that. He said, “No, honey. I’m looking at [an area] as far
as my eyes can see; when I look out my front window I want everything nice.” I said,
what are you saying? He said, “I’m saying, every lot in the —00 block and every lot in
the —00 block is gonna be cut.” . . . Now that was his vision, and you had lots that had
been grown over. Up to twenty years you had broken bottles, debris, tires, furniture
[accumulating], because the city didn’t pick up bulk but once a year. So now you’ve got
all these sofas. You’ve got all this junk. It looked like hell. That’s exactly what it looked
like. And you can almost . . . it looks hopeless and if you pass by that every day, you
almost accept it. You figure, well, that’s the way it is.

The husband began a systematic campaign of neighborhood cleanup.


Despite heart problems, he first used an old-fashioned sickle to cut the high
weeds. When the city did come finally to cut the big lots, they left the junk
behind, and so things actually looked worse. So the two of them began to
64 JOURNAL OF PLANNING HISTORY / February 2004

rake and bag all the junk, even though each lot was 145 feet long. This is the
reaction he got from neighbors:

People came from literally everywhere to look because he started doing this day after
day after day. He’d get out there at six in the morning, all way to night, all though the
heat of the summer day after day, so people started coming out. So they would come
out and they would say: “Who’s paying you to do this? You know,” they say, “you a fool.
That’s city property. Let the city cut it.” So he would say, “People don’t [should not]
live like this. We live here. Something must be done.” Others would come out and say,
“Oh, you’re really blessing us. You’re encouraging us. We can see light now. We’ve seen
it like this for so long we sort a like accepted it.” Most of them are senior citizens. One
lady came out and gave him sixteen dollars. A guy on a corner who owned a store, he
gave him a couple of Vernor’s Ginger Ale [drinks] a couple of times. Here’s some pic-
tures he had taken. This is before, all of it was like was five or six feet [tall], but you can
see the trash.

In this one-man campaign to transform the neighborhood, Esther’s hus-


band succeeded as best he could. His key victory was in rousing his neigh-
bors to action. He started alone, digging up old sidewalks with a shovel and
trimming trees with a saw, so that people could finally walk down the side-
walks. He continued to cut the lots he had cleared. Finally, he convinced
people on those blocks—all of whom lived on limited incomes, including
themselves—to donate fifteen dollars a month to the effort to cut city-
owned lots. People came and helped rake or pick up papers. When he died,
in 1994, a young man in the neighborhood who had been a drug addict
bought a new mower and continued his work. In the meantime, their CBDO
had begun a program, in large part inspired by this effort, to contract with
the city to cut on their behalf the lots that they owned. Soon that CBDO
began to cut hundreds of acres every summer. Esther proudly carried and
showed her before-and-after pictures of the neighborhood the way some
people proudly show pictures of their grandchildren.

ASSESSMENT

The accounts about “what was” offered both positive and negative mem-
ories about the past. Portelli noted in his accounts of Italian workers that
many of them who had gone through the same traumatic times—labor
repression, as opposed to our neighborhood degeneration theme—recalled
the events in differing ways that were in fact instructive. The fact that peo-
ple wanted to remember good times in the past may have been a natural
part of surviving in a neighborhood with obvious problems. But Baum has
noted that nostalgia can be a barrier, a way of failing to link the past and the
future in a proactive way, which required forgetting much of the past. He
would suggest that the need is to allow people to share pleasant memo-
ries of the past but to encourage hard assessment of current realities and
likely futures.44 Some oral historians have noted that older people tend to
Thomas / USES OF ORAL HISTORY 65

overlook the obvious poverty of the past and inflate such moral values
such as fortitude and adaptation, as described by Maple, as an indulgence
in nostalgia.45
In this case, the respondents seem to balance good and bad memories,
however, and use this balance in positive ways. They understood that the
neighborhood had indeed gone down, and yet they had also seen positive
movement from some very bad times and appeared to be using these as a
way to support neighborhood redevelopment efforts. Eric, for example,
used his memories as a visioning exercise: part of his vision included a
neighborhood with families that included people of all ages. This vision,
which was also a historical memory, made his hard work to support the con-
struction of new family housing all the more important. It also spurred
action to build commercial facilities, in testimony to the days when resi-
dents could easily go to local stores (which are almost absent from the
neighborhood now).
Images of the past and how good life was previously drove the priest to
work to improve the present. Images of past horrors provided a benchmark
for measuring the quality of life in the area, which had improved somewhat
in both neighborhoods. Such memories suggested how bad things could be
and served to help motivate these actors to become involved in progressive
efforts to change things for the better.
In the case of the second theme, organizational development, the linkage
between personal histories and positive change seems even stronger. Here
accounts of scrapbooks, personnel hires, and previous organizational strat-
egies provided direct feedback concerning what had worked in the neigh-
borhood and what had not. One could easily argue that such knowledge
could be extremely useful; it might be possible to collect such accounts as
one form of organizational analysis. In this case, all of these people served
actively on CBDO boards with which they shared such knowledge, but the
question arises concerning how many other people in the neighborhood,
not currently serving on boards, might retain such organizational history
wrapped up in their personal stories and how tapping such knowledge
might influence current strategy. Eric asked about personal memories as a
way of influencing organizational development, but it is not clear how
deeply he probed.
Comments on the third theme, concerning experiences of dedication
and triumph, showed that people had experienced changing very bad cir-
cumstances with efforts that generated a sense of pride and accomplish-
ment. Remembering earlier terrible conditions, which the community
organizations have helped to allay, conceivably gave these residents a sense
of power and allowed them to feel optimistic about their continuing efforts
to improve the future.
In the context of abandoned housing and weeded lots, it is not hard to
understand why a neighborhood griot who tells about acts of kindness
66 JOURNAL OF PLANNING HISTORY / February 2004

toward neighborhood children and acts of heroism in the face of ridicule


would have power. It is little wonder that Esther had influence in her organi-
zation. It is probably not uncommon, particularly among the oldest resi-
dents of such neighborhoods, to find people who could cite such stories,
when asked.
Like Maple, Esther began to tell her stories in the context of discussion
about the history of planning and change in her neighborhood. She obvi-
ously saw her and her husband’s efforts as being precisely what “neighbor-
hood planning” was all about: creating a sense of community and responsi-
bility for one’s neighbors. It is also significant that her CBDO steered the
researcher to talk to Esther and Maple as a means of understanding the leg-
acy of efforts to improve their neighborhood. The CBDO looked to these
local residents as repositories of information and motivation.
Unearthing such experiences of dedication and sacrifice could help lay
the groundwork for future improvements. To the extent that such stories
are shared among other residents, they have the power to motivate further
action, just as the example of individual initiative—one man cutting grass
alone—spurred other residents to action. Stories of battle and triumph
from the inner city—stories from people struggling to revive neighborhoods
abandoned by everyone else—allow us to analyze and to better understand
as well as to more effectively plan for the future. Not incidentally, they also
help us to admire the power of the human spirit.
Of the six requirements that we identified for bottom-up neighborhood
planning at the beginning of this article (collaborative process, open and
transparent methodologies, community-driven impetus for change,
ascending above fractures of class and race, overcoming grief, and organiza-
tional development), these conversations suggested a potential contribu-
tion of oral history to at least three specific needs. Contributions to creating
a collaborative process could come from engaging people in interpreting the
past and envisioning the future by means of accessing their personal histo-
ries. Esther’s narration shows the potential for using personal history as a
force for empowering individuals to direct community change. And the
commentaries on organizational development relate, of course, to the
potential for aiding organizational development. It is also possible that such
narrations, when guided by skilled local leaders such as Eric, could help
with a fourth task, which is creating a more open and transparent process
for neighborhood planning. To do so, however, would require understand-
ing some practical considerations concerning the use of oral history in such
a context.

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

The question might here arise concerning how exactly such use of oral
history would come into being. One should note that some historians, years
Thomas / USES OF ORAL HISTORY 67

after having developed elaborate and reflective studies to collect neighbor-


hood oral histories, have been frankly disappointed in the results. Difficul-
ties include the tendency of respondents to veer into topics of importance
to their individual lives but not to the broader picture and the inability to
use resulting interviews in any meaningful sense.46 And yet we know from
the text above and from authors such as Delores Hayden47 that memory of
place and experience can be a powerful tool for present-day improvements.
And so we will end by considering two things: first, what conditions might
be necessary to create greater usage of oral history in neighborhood plan-
ning and, second, what specific contributions professional historians might
make to this process.
Concerning conditions needed, what may be necessary is to consider
oral history as a tool only in a context in which an active program of com-
munity development is taking place. While it would be interesting and
instructive to collect oral histories in key neighborhoods as a way of record-
ing lost voices, it is not difficult to envision such a project becoming an exer-
cise in simple collection or in futility. An alternative would be to look at oral
history as Eric does, that is, as a way to gain insight needed for the advance-
ment of an existing community development agenda. This implies, in U.S.
cities, the existence of a formal community organization charged with for-
warding such an agenda, and so this might also be a condition. This also
implies that this organization would be active in community organizing
or in otherwise engaging residents on an ongoing basis in the process of
envisioning a better future, that is, in planning. It would be necessary for
at least some residents to live in the neighborhood who have historical
memories to tap, not a frivolous requirement given the turnover in some
areas. And it would be necessary to have someone involved in the situation
with some expertise in oral history (or in other qualitative, narrative-based
techniques).
Hence, we come to the second consideration: the role of historians. We
might envision two sets of contributions, the first by professional historians
who write about oral history as a method and the second by professional
historians who could help with training neighborhood planners. Both of
these contributions revolve around the fact that not many people know how
to participate in an oral history project, much less to direct it and integrate
it into community development efforts. And as I have discussed above, I am
not talking so much about what one might call full-scale oral history pro-
jects as about using the technique for specific planning purposes.
The historical literature offers many methodological findings important
for situations in which oral history is being used. One set of comments, for
example, concerns how to observe and analyze the relationship between
the person who is interviewing and the person who is being interviewed. As
we noted, shared African American heritage appeared to affect our inter-
views in positive ways. Sometimes race can be a source of rapport, as can
class, birthplace, gender, political leanings, and so forth, but it is possible
68 JOURNAL OF PLANNING HISTORY / February 2004

with conscious understanding of the factors at work to build bonds without


comparable personal characteristics, or in spite of them.48 One way to do
this is to frame questions in such a way as to free the respondent to open up,
in a manner described by several oral historians. Another allied discussion
is the problem of using written transcripts, which is a feeble way of record-
ing the complex dynamics of what takes place in interviews.49 These
findings could be of great benefit to others besides oral historians.
Another potential contribution is training. Since these techniques are
not widely known, it may take focused efforts to bring them into use. Both
professional planners (who are likely trained only in quantitative tech-
niques for data collection) and neighborhood leaders (who may have a nat-
ural affinity for narrative techniques but not recognize their applicability)
could benefit from such training. They would then be more likely to use the
method.
If we can work out these concerns, we may thereby gain great insights,
sources of inspiration, potential strategies, organizational analysis, and
visions. Collecting oral histories could become an additional source of sup-
port, encouragement, and guidance. Such histories could not merely docu-
ment neighborhood experiences but could also enhance organizational
ability to help improve future conditions. This is, indeed, an appropriate
role for history: “By tracing one’s personal roots and grounding one’s iden-
tity in some collectivity with a shared past . . . one acquires stability and the
basis for community. . . . The necessity of history is deeply rooted in per-
sonal psychic need and in the human striving for community.”50

1. B. Checkoway, “Six Strategies of Community Change,” Community Development Journal 30,


no. 1 (1995): 2-20. R. Stoecker, “The CDC Model of Urban Redevelopment: A Critique and an Alterna-
tive,” Journal of Urban Affairs 19, no. 1 (1997): 1-22.
2. P. Medoff and H. Sklar, Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood (Boston:
South End, 1994).
3. B. Jones, Neighborhood Planning: A Guide for Citizens and Planners (Chicago: Planners’ Press,
1990); W. R. Morrish and C. Brown, Planning to Stay: Learning to See the Physical Features of Your
Neighborhood (Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed, 1994).
4. For an explanation of the role of history as memory and characterization of history “as natural as
breathing,” see in particular G. Lerner, Why History Matters: Life and Thought (New York: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 1997), 199.
5. H. J. Rubin, Renewing Hope within Neighborhoods of Despair: The Community-Based Develop-
ment Model (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000).
6. W. Peterman, Neighborhood Planning and Community-Based Development: The Potential and
Limits of Grassroots Action (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000), 11-12.
7. H. Gans, The Urban Villagers: Group and Class in the Life of Italian-Americans (New York: Free
Press, 1962).
8. J. Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage, 1961).
9. Peterman, Neighborhood Planning, 22.
10. Jones, Neighborhood Planning.
11. B. Checkoway, “Two Types of Planning in Neighborhoods,” Journal of Planning, Education and
Research 3 (1984): 102-9.
Thomas / USES OF ORAL HISTORY 69

12. Peterman, Neighborhood Planning, 165-66.


13. H. S. Baum, “Forgetting to Plan,” Journal of Planning Education and Research 19, no. 1 (1999):
2-14.
14. A. Vidal, “Can Community Development Re-invent Itself? The Challenges of Strengthening
Neighborhoods in the 21st Century,” Journal of the American Planning Association 63 (1997): 429-38.
15. S. Mandelbaum, “Narrative and Other Tools,” Story and Sustainability: Planning, Practice, and
Possibility for American Cities, eds. Barbara Eckstein and James A. Throgmorton (Cambridge, MA: MIT
Press, 2003), 185-94.
16. See Peterman, Neighborhood Planning, chap. 5.
17. See both L. Vale, From the Puritans to the Projects: Public Housing and Public Neighbors (Cam-
bridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), and L. Vale, Reclaiming Public Housing: A Half Century of
Struggle in Three Public Neighborhoods (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).
18. A number of other techniques exist as well, notably case studies. For a full listing of several quali-
tative techniques, see V. J. Janesick, “The Dance of Qualitative Research Design: Metaphor, Metho-
dolatry, and Meaning,” in Handbook of Qualitative Research, ed. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lin-
coln (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994), 212.
19. Rubin, Renewing Hope.
20. B. Eckstein, “Making Space,” in Story and Sustainability, 14.
21. Ibid., 23, 25.
22. C. Rotella, “The Old Neighborhood,” in Story and Sustainability, 87-112.
23. J. Barthel, “The Meanest Streets,” in Story and Sustainability, 227-42.
24. J. A. Throgmorton, Planning as Persuasive Storytelling: The Rhetorical Construction of Chi-
cago’s Electric Future (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).
25. J. M. Thomas, Redevelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).
26. See A. Garvin, “Philadelphia’s Planner: A Conversation with Edmund Bacon,” in Journal of Plan-
ning History 1, no. 1 (2002): 58-78.
27. Authors C. Connerly and B. Wilson used oral histories to help construct “The Roots and Origins
of African American Planning in Birmingham, Alabama,” in Urban Planning and the African American
Community: In the Shadows, ed. June Manning Thomas and Marsha Ritzdorf (Thousand Oaks, CA:
Sage, 1996), 201-19.
28. A. Fontana and J. Frey, “Interviewing: The Art of Science,” in Handbook of Qualitative Research,
184.
29. K. Anderson and D. Jack, “Learning to Listen: Interview Techniques and Analyses,” in Women’s
Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History, ed. S. Gluck and D. Patai (New York: Routledge), 11-26,
cited in D. Jean Clandinin and F. Michael Connelly, “Personal Experience Methods,” in Handbook of
Qualitative Research, 419.
30. Alessandro Portelli, The Death of Luigi Trastulli, and Other Stories (Albany: State University of
New York Press, 1991), chap. 2.
31. D. Kerr, “‘We Know What the Problem Is’: Using Oral History to Develop a Collaborative Analysis
of Homelessness from the Bottom Up,” Oral History Review 30, no. 1 (2003): 27-45.
32. J. Stanfield, “Ethnic Modeling in Qualitative Research,” in Handbook of Qualitative Research,
184.
33. Ibid., 185.
34. Lerner, Why History Matters, 368; L. Sandercock, Making the Invisible Visible: A Multicultural
Planning History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).
35. This is of course an oversimplification of what can be a very demanding venture. Even seasoned
oral historians may stumble over the manner and approach they should use to talk to subjects; see, for
example, the confessional K. Anderson and D. Jack, “Learning to Listen: Interview Techniques and
Analyses,” in Women’s Words. However, the technique does not require extensive training and can be
used as simply another framework for extensive interviews of interesting subjects, chosen well and with
purpose: see the diversity of approaches in a special issue of Oral History Review 29, no. 2 (2002). See
also Studs Terkel’s comments in Envelopes of Sound: Six Practitioners Discuss the Method, Theory and
Practice of Oral History and Oral Testimony, ed. S. Terkel, J. Vansina, D. Tedlock, S. Benison, A. Harris,
and R. Grele (Chicago: Precedent, 1975).
36. The line between oral histories and oral qualitative interviews is not a strong one. H. Rubin and
I. Rubin, Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1995). See the
70 JOURNAL OF PLANNING HISTORY / February 2004

similar but contrasting definitions of “oral history” and “research interviews” in D. Clandinin and
F. Connelly, “Personal Experience Methods,” in Handbook of Qualitative Research, 413-27.
37. Portelli, Death of Luigi Trastulli, p. x. Oral histories need not “guide” subjects and may indeed
seek spontaneity. See, for example, Hoberman’s description of his methodology when interviewing resi-
dents of a New England town. M. Hoberman, “High Crimes and Fallen Factories: Nostalgic Utopianism in
an Eclipsed New England Industrial Town,” Oral History Review 28, no. 1 (2001): 17-39. In terms of sto-
ries, compare these with the “fairy’s tales” told by the women in Ritzdorf’s class, who offered keen
insights into issues of gender and personal security in urban situations. M. Ritzdorf, “The Fairy’s Tale:
Teaching Planning and Public Policy in a Different Voice,” Journal of Planning Education and Research
12, no. 2 (1993): 99-106.
38. Real names are not used because under federal “Human Subjects” guidelines administered by my
university, these informants were told that their names would not be publicized. For the same reason,
their organizations are not named since their specific roles within the organizations are sometimes
described.
39. R. Y. Williams, “‘I’m a Keeper of Information’: History-Telling and Voice,” Oral History Review
28, no. 1 (2001): 41-63. “‘Comrade Sisters’: Two Women of the Black Panther Party,” in Unrelated Kin:
Race and Gender in Women’s Personal Narratives, ed. G. Etter-Lewis and M. Foster (New York:
Routledge, 1996).
40. Portelli, Death of Luigi Trastulli; M. DeVault, “Talking and Listening from Women’s Standpoint:
Feminist Strategies for Interviewing and Analysis,” Social Problems 37, no. 1 (1990): 96-116.
41. T. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).
42. D. Warren, Black Neighborhoods: An Assessment of Community Power (Ann Arbor: University
of Michigan Press, 1975); J. M. Thomas, Redevelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar
Detroit (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).
43. S. Cochrun, “Understanding and Enhancing Neighborhood Sense of Community,” Journal of
Planning Literature 9, no. 1 (1994): 92-99.
44. Baum, “Forgetting to Plan.”
45. M. Hoberman, “High Crimes and Fallen Factories: Nostalgic Utopianism in an Eclipsed New Eng-
land Industrial Town,” Oral History Review 28, no. 1 (2001): 17-39.
46. L. Shopes, “Oral History and Community Involvement: The Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage
Project,” in Presenting the Past: Essays on History and the Public, ed. Susan P. Benson, Stephen Brier,
and Roy Rosenzweig (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986).
47. D. Hayden, The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (Cambridge, MA: MIT
Press, 1995).
48. Portelli, Death of Luigi Trastulli, chap. 2.
49. Ibid.; Kerr, “We Know What the Problem Is”; DeVault, “Talking and Listening.”
50. Lerner, Why History Matters, 118.

June Manning Thomas, PhD, FAICP, is a professor of urban and regional planning at Mich-
igan State University (MSU), with a joint appointment at the MSU Extension, where she
codirects an outreach initiative titled Urban Collaborators. She has published books and
articles on topics related to social equity, notably Redevelopment and Race: Planning a
Finer City in Postwar Detroit (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), which has won the
ACSP Paul Davidoff award, and Urban Planning and the African-American Community: In
the Shadows (Sage, 1996), coedited with Marsha Ritzdorf.