Public Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization
Dr. Maggie Walker, Assistant Professor (Geography & Geosciences)
Dr. Carol Hanchette, Associate Professor (Geography & Geosciences)
The phrase “Geographic Information Systems” hardly conjures a people-centered approach to research. Data-driven and focused on capturing the big picture, research in geography and geosciences that uses GIS typically operates with a wide lens and a broad perspective.
Dr. Maggie Walker, Assistant Professor
(Geography & Geosciences)
Prof. Maggie Walker and Prof. Carol Hanchette sought a different approach to applied geography and GIS research. Their 2015 study, “Residents’ experiences in the aftermath of a HOPE VI revitalization project: A three-pronged, grounded visualization approach,” published in Applied Geography, incorporated “drive-by photography” – a process of working with residents to acquire photos and trigger visual memories – and personal histories collected through interviews with qualitative GIS. More than a dot on a map, Profs. Walker and Hanchette were able to construct residents’ multi-dimensional, lived experiences in connection with geographic data.
“Our approach is part of a shift towards more critical methods with greater potential to transcend cultural differences and allow for more ethical research,” Prof. Walker said. “Participatory research allows perspectives of marginalized groups to be brought to the forefront, and for processes of social exclusion to be actively confronted.
“Such methodologies can provide the springboard for building capacity through training workshops, as well as an impetus for some degree of action beyond the research.”
Please summarize your research.
A primary goal of our research has been to gain a nuanced understanding of what happens to residents after they are displaced from public housing due to HOPE VI revitalization projects (Sheppard Square and Clarksdale HOPE VI projects). We wanted this understanding to be based on residents’ everyday experiences which required an iterative approach.
At the same time, we wanted to advance mixed methods in the discipline of geography. We used grounded visualization that combined qualitative data with mapping and geographic information techniques. As an example we developed “drive-by photography,” a process of acquiring photos and triggering visual memories that were later linked to locations on a map.
Several salient themes emerged from residents’ voices and were presented in our paper.
Why did you choose this subject to research, and why is this topic of value in academia? In the public sphere?
We were inspired by readings and discussions that were part of the Housing Justice Reading Group at the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research. Other geographers had used narrative, statistical and mapping approaches, but we saw an opportunity to build on these methods by engaging the local community through incorporating residents’ stories.
From an academic perspective, the value of this research is that we’ve demonstrated how new theoretical approaches have practical applicability. In terms of the public sphere, an important element of our work was acting as a conduit among community organizations (e.g. Louisville Metro Housing Authority, Women In Transition, and Metro Housing Coalition) and historically marginalized groups.
How does this research and the findings impact your field, and the business and government interests associated with the topic?
We were able to show how theoretical approaches can be applied to community issues. In other words, theory and application can operate in isolation from one another and our contribution shows the value of using them in tandem.
As an academic researcher, do you think, and why, that it is important for your research to have a significant impact outside of academia?
Yes, especially since we are in an applied geography department in a large metro university, with a focus on addressing social and environmental issues.
What (or who) got you interested in studying geography and geosciences, and why did you decide to create a career in academia investigating these issues in particular?
Prof. Maggie Walker: I grew up outside of the US in Latin America, Africa, and Europe, and so I have always had an interest in how and why places are different from one another.
In graduate school, I took a course called “The Geography of Inequality,” which helped to explain socio-spatial differentiation. I came to see the tremendous explanatory capacity of geography.
One thing I always remember from my training is this silly but fun phrase: “space is what’s for dinner.” Social science has rightly focused on temporality but spatiality is just as important. Housing, issues of public space, and my own area, border studies, can all be understand through a spatial lens.
Dr. Carol Hanchette, Associate Professor
(Geography & Geosciences)
Prof. Carol Hanchette: My earlier careers in archaeology and land surveying led me to geography. My initial interest was in cartography, but I soon discovered what a diverse and synthesizing discipline geography was. I did my graduate work at the University of North Carolina, which was a stronghold for medical geography, a broad sub-discipline that includes not only the spatial distribution of health and disease, but encompasses social and environmental justice.
I consider myself first and foremost a medical geographer with a strong interest in developing new approaches to understanding health disparities and social justice issues.
Who or what inspires you?
Prof. Hanchette: The greatest inspiration in my academic career was my advisor, Melinda Meade, who was a true pioneer in medical geography. She was brilliant, with a holistic approach to research and an enthusiasm that never waned. She cared deeply about all of Earth’s inhabitants, both human and non-human.
Prof. Walker: I think like most of us, I find inspiration from many people, places, andthings. Right now I am inspired by social philosophers like Herbert Marcuse, so much so that I am writing a book about him.
All people fighting for social change regardless of the potential consequences are admirable too. When I am stuck and forget what inspires me, I combine all the ingredients in my fridge and see if I can concoct something edible.