Henry Taylor is a tireless advocate for racial justice through urban planning

 A member of the UB faculty for more than 30 years, Henry Taylor continues to bring his impassioned perspective on urban life and racial justice to both the university and the city he calls home. 

by Liya Rachal Chandy (MArch '22)

Published February 26, 2021

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An award winning activist-scholar, Henry Louis Taylor Jr., PhD, is founding director of the university’s Center for Urban Studies and professor of urban and regional planning in the UB School of Architecture and Planning. His research touches on both theoretical studies and practical matters like addressing distressed urban areas and studying the factors behind their exploitation and underdevelopment. A member of the UB faculty for more than 30 years, Taylor continues to bring his impassioned perspective on urban life and racial justice to both the university and the city he calls home. 

Henry Taylor standing behind a podium.

Henry Taylor's research and scholarship currently focuses on formulating a theoretical framework to understand the association among land values, racial residential segregation, and the city-building process. 

His understanding of Black cultural frames, the urban experience and its potential as a guide to reimagine and regenerate African American communities is deeply inspired by Clyde Woods’ notion of blues epistemology and Lisa Bates’ work on the Black Spatial Imaginary. As a planner and an ‘activist scholar’ he believes that, urban planners can advance racial justice by finding ways to disrupt market-driven patterns of city-building, and by building collaborations and partnerships with health professions in the fight to transform underdeveloped neighborhoods into healthy places to live. He says, “The way we build cities in the United States creates racially segregated, marginalized, and underdeveloped neighborhoods, which spawn needless hardship, disease, dying, and premature death among African Americans and people of color.  Racial residential segregation is the linchpin in this city-building process.”

“The way we build cities in the United States creates racially segregated, marginalized, and underdeveloped neighborhoods, which spawn needless hardship, disease, dying, and premature death among African Americans and people of color.  Racial residential segregation is the linchpin in this city-building process.”

His current research and scholarship focuses on formulating a theoretical and methodological framework to understand the association among land values, racial residential segregation, and the city-building process. Two pilot studies are under way - the first will test and refine the model by studying the role of land valuation in the metropolitan residential development process. The second will use the model to study five cities: Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Cincinnati, with a focus on the role of lhousing laws and building codes in the underdevelopment of Black spaces.

The second line of inquiry is more directly associated with Taylor's work on health and the built environment. The work will focus on forging indicators to identify underdeveloped neighborhoods most at-risk for various morbidities, especially infectious diseases. This investigation centers on using a variety of demographic and physical indicators to assess built environment risk. The intent is to identify the hotspots for various morbidities and determine the physical environment attributes, including housing, that place that community at risk. 

Additional applied research in the Buffalo region includes Turning the Corner: Monitoring Neighborhood Change to Prevent Displacement, to drive informed government action and support displacement prevention and inclusive revitalization in five U.S. cities, including Buffalo.The project was guided by the Urban Institute’s National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership and the Federal Reserve-Philanthropy Initiative. Taylor also recently published research on perceptions of residential displacement and resistance to anchor-driven development in Buffalo (Urbanities, Nov. 2018). The Center for Urban Studies' “East Side History Project” is a heritage archival effort collecting historical documents, reports, plans, photos and oral histories from community members across the East Side. The Center’s ongoing “Community as Classroom” initiative engages students at Buffalo’s Futures Academy in urban planning and design projects in the surrounding Fruit Belt neighborhood. 

As an advocate for centering the work of black heterogeneous communities, he urges planners to delve into the mundane, the day-to-day realities of a single mother raising two children, and the varying challenges of multi-generational Black households. In the context of the pandemic and the fight against health disparities he plays a pivotal role as associate director of The Community Health Equity Research Institute, which brings UB faculty members and community leaders in Buffalo to address the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color.​