Black Belongingness – Lessons on Culture, Commerce, and Creativity from South Los Angeles
Few works in urban planning and design explore the geography of Black entrepreneurs with attention to how they claim, make, and keep spaces; even fewer make meaningful connections between those Black geographies with arts and culture. Dr. Miller’s mixed methods research – from photography to spatially-weighted regressions – maps the spatial practices of the Black creative class (BCC), particularly within local scenes for music, visual art, food, and fashion in Los Angeles. By answering research questions around 1) where Black-owned businesses cluster in California comparatively, 2) what their social relationships are to those locations in clusters like South Los Angeles, and 3) how they engage with political processes to reshape them according to innovative community visions, Miller’s work makes explicit how Black culture combines with the economy to create different forms of belongingness at various scales of geography. Namely, Miller’s 34-month case study of Leimert Park Village in South Los Angeles reveals the ongoing challenges (i.e. aversion to commercialization, intergenerational lack of access to debt financing) and opportunities (i.e. refuge from leisure restraints, countering depreciation) in Black placemaking.
At the core, Miller is redefining an under-developed theoretical framework to expand our understanding of Black belongingness in the city called Black urbanism, which he assert as a transdisciplinary, assets-oriented approach to studying the civics, stories, and spaces of Black life. As such, his various employed methods correspond to different forms of belongingness: spatial belonging explored through econometrics (i.e. clustering, spatial correlations), cultural belonging explored through visual ethnography (i.e. participant-observation, oral history, visioning), and civic belonging (i.e. photography, archival work). By reframing Blackness as a dynamic resource that communities draw upon to foster value rather than a fixed liability, Black urbanism provides a counterweight to balance deficit-driven narratives in Black geographies, economic development theory, equity planning, and urban humanities to inspire what he calls the “Afrofuturist turn” in urban planning.
Matthew Jordan Miller is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Design’s Department of City and Regional Planning. His intellectual interests are cultural economic development, placemaking and place-keeping, and visual/spatial analysis, particularly on and for Black/African diasporic communities. He is a photographer, storyteller, and geographer who approaches these topics using mixed methods for producing insights that he weaves into his essays, presentations, teachings, and research. Dr. Miller has worked through fellowships and consultancies at governmental agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the City of Stockton, the City of Los Angeles' Economic and Workforce Development Department, and most recently the National Endowment for the Arts as a Panelist. He is working on his first book, based on his doctoral dissertation, exploring and theorizing around the geography of Black commerce, culture, and creativity in the United States. His intellectual work has been honored by the National Academy of the Sciences and the Association for Collegiate Schools in Planning and published in the journals like Planning Theory and Practice. His civic work has been recognized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the California State Legislature. His artistic and cultural work has been featured in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Philadelphia Tribune and exhibited in galleries in Seattle and Philadelphia. He is first-generation college graduate who has earned degrees in African-American and Urban Studies from Stanford University, City Planning from MIT, and Urban Planning and Development from USC.