Gordon Douglas

Gordon Douglas

Associate Professor

Department of Urban & Regional Planning



Urban Design, Neighborhood Identity, Urban Planning, Urban Development, Homelessness, Housing, Architecture, Gentrification

Current Research Activities

I am currently engaged in a multi-year study of architecture and place in the Bay Area. Looking at the concepts of inside and outside, space and place, core and periphery, I have been conducting ethnographic and photographic research on sites ranging from tech campuses to tent encampments for the past five years. A first piece of this research was published in 2023, but the culmination will be my second book, tentatively titled insideOutside: Architectures of Exclusion and Places of Hope in the Bay Area. Through a combination of in-depth ethnography, rich social and economic spatial data analysis, and architectural and cultural criticism, it aims to present a unique look at the urban challenges and opportunities facing the region. Cases range from land use at the urban-wildland interface to the placelessness of new-build suburbs to the self-built homes of unhoused people on urban streets; more hopeful examples include Indigenous land rematriation, the dream architectures of Afrofuturism and other speculative urban imaginaries, and everyday successes in affordable housing production and human- and ecologically-centered urban design. The book itself will be highly graphical in presentation, featuring renderings, maps, data visualizations, and other illustrations throughout. Other recent projects include two methodological papers on conducting urban planning research, and a study with one of our awesome graduate students on the preponderance of mobile homes in Silicon Valley.

Research Connections to Current Events

My current projects are both very much concerned with current events. The research on Covid urbanism is of course directly relevant to the current moment (I am also currently teaching a course on this topic) and the Oakland Slow Streets study in particular will be of great use to the City of Oakland (the director of Oakland's Dept. of Transportation has already written his support for my study). My ongoing study on the architectures of inequality in the Bay Area is also highly timely, with its focus on both the increasingly sizable informal settlements of our region's unhoused population as well as the spatial impacts of the tech industry (only changing further now in light of the pandemic's implications for office work environments).

Personal Connections to Research

My work has long focused on the intersection of urban space and local culture and identity. My first book, The Help-Yourself City, examined people who make unauthorized but ostensibly civic-minded improvements to the streets in their communities, from guerrilla gardens to hand-painted bike lanes and street signs. Since coming back to Northern California in 2017, it has been impossible to ignore how the stark social challenges facing our region are manifest in the physical landscape, from the fortresslike citadels of the tech economy to the informal settlements lining our streets. Living in Oakland, working in San Jose, and commuting around our region by bike and transit has compelled me to document and learn more about these realities, with the goal of helping communities, scholars, and future placemakers working to make things better.

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