by Princine Lewis
Find James Fraser hanging out in local neighborhoods, and it may be more than a new resident simply learning his way around. Fraser studies urban redevelopment, particularly how cities remake themselves in response to globalization and how citizens participate in these efforts.
Fraser joins Peabody College this year as an associate professor of human and organizational development. Previously, he was an associate research professor in the geography department and a senior research associate in the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The National Science Foundation recently awarded Fraser a $735,000 grant to study 30 Baltimore neighborhoods to see what impact neighborhood associations have on household behavior and the environment. To determine whether governance at this level can affect environmental behavior, he will specifically look at neighborhood-based organizations’ influence on how property owners maintain their land and use lawn fertilizer. Households impact water quality by applying fertilizers and pesticides, yet little is known about how neighborhood social norms and governance strategies operate to shape household-level land management practices.
Fraser also explores the complex layers beneath gentrifying neighborhoods.
“A lot of concrete, ethical questions need to be asked when cities are redeveloping neighborhoods because the responses will have long-lasting impacts on how our cities look in the future,” he said.
Fraser suggests that city officials revisit past U.S. policies and recognize that today’s impoverished neighborhoods are a product of “institutionalized and exclusionary practices.
“I want my work to help open up the politics of possibility – for us to think about what we want our cities to be like and how they should be a reflection of our good social relations,” Fraser said. “The legacy of segregation is that it affected a large group of people and left them without political power. However, low-income people can and should play a leadership role in decision making.”
Among Fraser’s other research interests are the Hope VI initiative and the state of public housing in the United States. Hope VI is a federally funded effort to revitalize public housing projects into mixed-income developments. He also conducted research for the Federal Emergency Management Agency when it was in the process of changing the National Flood Insurance Program’s policies relating to people living in flood plains who experience multiple floods.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, Fraser interviewed federal, regional and municipal governments’ staff and residents in flood plains in Louisiana’s parishes to discuss and gauge perceptions of FEMA’s mitigation offers – buyouts and structural elevations – in the event of multiple floods in an area.
“I am really motivated by helping people break down walls and connect in a meaningful way to create cities that are better for everyone,” Fraser said.
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