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Seminar: Dr. Andrea Roberts on Co-Creating Counternarratives

Foundations for Just Planning & Preservation



Date & Time

March 29, 2023, 12:00 pm1:00 pm


The GES Department cordially invites you to join us for the next seminar of Spring 2023.

Topic: Co-Creating Counternarratives: Foundations for Just Planning & Preservation

Speaker: Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning and Co-Director, Center for Cultural Landscapes, School of Architecture, University of Virginia, Founder of The Texas Freedom Colonies Project

Abstract: America’s operating assumptions about people, places, and power are embedded in various narratives that inform the discourse on climate adaptation, systemic racism, gender identity, and infrastructure needs. Consequently, planners, preservationists, and infrastructure planners must contend with operating assumptions. This process must make space for co-creating counternarratives to help prevent cultural erasure, yield intersectional solutions, and foster authentic consultation with all stakeholders. Co-creating new creation and policy narratives are foundational to equitable practice.

This talk presents The Texas Freedom Colonies Project Atlas, a case study in applied, justice-centered counternarrative and countermapping work. Freedom colonies, historic Black settlements whose dispersed, surviving descendants endeavor to preserve their communities, exist at the intersection of growth pressure, chronic underdevelopment, and co-located endangered historic sites. The Project’s Atlas crowdsources public data, memories, and stories about disappearing, previously undocumented settlements and co-constructs counternarratives arguing for settlements’ historic significance, thereby correcting planning and preservation assumptions that lead to the erasure and destruction of these places. The Project’s documentation, surveying, and engaged scholarship have identified previously unrecognized historic settlements, illuminated infrastructure needs—broadband, improved water and sewer systems—and increased the likelihood that preservation and planning confront the existence of vulnerable Black cemeteries and structures during transportation planning. The presenter discusses plans to expand the lessons learned in new contexts, including the mid-Atlantic region. 

Speaker Bio: Dr. Andrea Roberts is Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning and Co-Director of the School’s Center for Cultural Landscapes at the University of Virginia’s (UVA) School of Architecture. Before joining UVA, Dr. Roberts was Associate Professor of Urban Planning at Texas A&M University (TAMU). She holds a Ph.D. in planning from The University of Texas at Austin (2016), an M.A. in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania (2006), and a B.A. in political science from Vassar College (1996). As a scholar-activist she brings 12 years of experience in community development, nonprofit administration, and advocacy to her engaged research and public scholarship. In 2014, she founded The Texas Freedom Colonies Project, through which she mentors and trains future planners, preservationists, scholars, and community-based researchers to challenge freedom colony invisibility, environmental injustice, and land loss. She and her team map these settlements via The Texas Freedom Colonies Project™ Atlas and Study, propagating interdisciplinary research and pedagogical frameworks, including Critical Place Studies and Diasporic, Black Feminist, and African American Planning Studies. Roberts was a 2020-21 Whiting Public Engagement Fellow, an African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund grant recipient, a 2020 Visiting Scholar at Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, Abolition, and Co-Project Director for the 2022 NEH Summer Institute for Higher Education Faculty. She is a Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies Advisory Board member an is currently authoring a book, Never Sell the Land, for The University of Texas Press.