Urban Affairs Association honors Henry Taylor for scholarship that makes an impact

Henry Taylor meets with residents of Buffalo's Perry Choice Neighborhood as part of a comprehensive community planning initiative. Photo courtesy of the Center for Urban Studies

Henry Taylor meets with residents of Buffalo's Perry Choice Neighborhood as part of a comprehensive community planning initiative. Photo courtesy of the Center for Urban Studies

by David J. Hill and Rachel Teaman

Published July 11, 2018

Henry Louis Taylor Jr., UB professor of urban planning, has received the Urban Affairs Association's 2018 Marilyn J. Gittell Activist Scholar Award in recogntion of his more than 40 years of research-driven activism for distressed urban communities.

Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., professor of urban and regional planning at the University at Buffalo, with the Urban Affairs Association's 2018 Marilyn J. Gittell Activist Scholar Award. Photo: rhlphoto.com

Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., professor of urban and regional planning at the University at Buffalo, with the Urban Affairs Association's 2018 Marilyn J. Gittell Activist Scholar Award. Photo: rhlphoto.com

Co-sponsored by SAGE Publishing and UAA, the award highlights field-based urban scholarship, and promotes the dissemination of work by activist urban scholars.

The award’s namesake served as director of the Howard Samuels Center and professor of political science at The Graduate School at the City University of New York. Gittell was a scholar and community activist who wrote seminal works on citizen participation.

In addition to his role as professor at UB, Taylor is the founding director of UB’s Center for Urban Studies. His contributions to scholar-activism have been long-standing and deep, delving into both international and local urban issues with a mastery of critical scholarship and a love of community.

“Dr. Taylor fully embodies the connection between good scholarship and good activism and stands as a model for young academics hoping to make a difference in the world,” the award committee said of Taylor, who received the award during UAA’s 48th Annual Conference in Toronto, Canada, in April.

Taylor’s research explores the nexus between city building and racial and social class injustice. Within this conceptual scheme, he focuses on black urban history, underdeveloped neighborhoods, university-community relations, Cuban studies and issues of racial and social justice. Taylor blends together his research and practical activities by engaging in neighborhood planning, community development and racial justice activities.

"I am an activist turned scholar, not a scholar turned activist."

As an activist with the Black Workers Congress in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Taylor says he recognized the need for research-driven community action.

"[At that time,] my appreciation of the gulf between scholarly knowledge and the practical work unfolding in black neighborhoods increased. Organizationally, we approached our work in cities with limited knowledge of local conditions, including the political economy and population dynamics...I concluded that the schism between knowledge and the black freedom movement was a serious issue that needed addressing."

- Read the full text of Henry Taylor's acceptance speech, delivered at the annual conference of the Urban Affairs Association in April. 

He is currently engaged in a study of gentrification, displacement and neighborhood change in Buffalo, with UB colleagues Robert Silverman, professor of urban and regional planning, and Li Yin, associate professor of urban and regional planning. This project is part of a five-city initiative sponsored by the Urban Institute’s National Neighborhood Indicator Partnership.  

The Center for Urban Studies directs the East Side History Project, a collaborative with seven East Side churches and Buffalo State College to digitize oral and written histories on the East Side, including its religious institutions. The project seeks to deepen community understanding of its complex past and enrich future neighborhood planning efforts. 

Taylor has led neighborhood planning efforts for communities across Buffalo, including two-year HUD funded Choice neighborhood planning initiative for the Commodore Perry Housing Development. This planning initiative spawned the East Side History Project. Plans for the Masten District and the Fillmore and Bailey Avenue corridors have supported reinvestment in key cultural and commercial districts for the East Side. 

His work with the Fruit Belt neighborhood and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Corridor spans more than 20 years. 

Taylor's neighborhood planning research in the late 1990s and early 2000s, in particular a 2001 plan entitled "The Turning Point: A Strategic Plan and Action Agenda for the Fruit Belt/Medical Corridor," continues to underpin community reinvestment strategies. Among those orgnanizations assuming a leadership role in the implementation of the plan is St. John Baptist Church and its pastor, Rev. Michael Chapman.

The church and its development corporation manage 400 housing units and are building dozens of new units, as well as a Hospice for the neighborhood. Chapman has continued to consult with Taylor and the Center for Urban Studies on neighborhood planning research to inform its investment efforts and help residents navigate the development impacts of the surrounding Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Michael Chapman
"We have used his thinking and his insight all the way through this."

"We used his research to develop a $500 million comprehensive collaborative urban development model. Over the past 10 years we have invested almost $60 million. All of this came out of Dr. Taylor’s East Side study. We used that as a catalyst to form our whole social justice model. It has completely turned around the Fruit Belt. All the other developments draw from this as the foundation.

"Whenever issue of gentrification comes up he provides academic analysis. He found that you can do rental and prevent gentrification. We have used his thinking and his insight all the way through this."
 

 - Rev. Michael Chapman, paster, St. John Baptist Church, a spiritual and community development leader in the Fruit Belt neighborhood of Buffalo

More recently, Taylor and the Center for Urban Studies have led youth-engagement efforts with the Futures Academy, an elementary school in the Fruit Belt. The Community as Classroom project and Summer Academic Camp on Neighborhood Development directly engage children in neighborhood improvement efforts as diverse as the construction of "little libraries," urban gardening, and mural-painting to address the blight of abandoned buildings.

A constant partner and collaborator in Taylor's work is James Pitts, a former City of Buffalo councilmember and longstanding leader of Buffalo's black community. Now a consultant in urban planning, Pitts has collaborated with Taylor and the Center for Urban Studies as both a community representative and research partner.

James W. Pitts
"A voice demanding change in Buffalo's neglected and segregated East Side"

"Over nearly 50 years of our friendship and professionalism, Dr. Henry Taylor ("HT") has always been “that man apart,” grappling with the nitty gritty issues of race, class, and social injustice, unrepentant on the front lines. This is well known in our city where his work is so often the lone representative voice with the people demanding change on the neglected and segregated East Side. No doubt you will always find him not just in the ivory tower  but in the poorest neighborhoods locally and around the country using both his heart and mind to speak up, call out, and see a better way. No one deserves the award better."

 - James W. Pitts, community activist, planning consultant and former councilman for the City of Buffalo

The Urban Affairs Association award is one of several presented to Taylor for his community-based planning scholarship. In 2016, Taylor received UB's Excellence in University-Community Engagement Award. He is also a recipient of the Lee Benson Activist Scholar Award from the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, University of Pennsylvania. In 2009, the U.S. Small Business Administration honored Taylor for his work in founding and developing Buffalo's Allstate Minority & Women Emerging Entrepreneurs Program, one of the top minority & women business support programs in the United States.