Resisting the Wreckage in Houston’s Historic Fifth Ward: Gentrification, Eminent Domain, and the Church

Authors: Trushna Parekh*, Texas Southern University, Karen Kossie-Chernyshev*, Texas Southern University
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Land Use
Keywords: Eminent Domain, Gentrification, Houston, Churches, land use, property
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Calvert Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper examines the tactics used by two historic African American churches to challenge eminent domain in the context of gentrification. We unravel the entanglements of planning, power, and race (Rutland 2018) in a U.S. context—the historic Fifth Ward neighborhood in Houston, Texas, where the churches are situated and serve. Defending their right to free exercise of religion under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Latter Day Deliverance Revival Church and Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church questioned planning’s principle of betterment by arguing that the eminent domain proceedings against them would prevent the churches from providing a public good in the neighborhood, which both had done for decades. The churches strengthened their position by launching public forums about gentrification, eminent domain, and the city’s ongoing attempt to dispossess them. Although the court ultimately ruled in the city’s favor, the Houston Housing Authority dropped its suit against the churches, most likely due to the negative publicity. This case implies that although land use planning may exclude the prospect for conceptions of property and planning that recognize collective rights (Fawaz 2017, Blomley 2017), political strategies may be used to address the threat of dispossession.

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