Taubman College

Faculty Directory

  • Lucas Owen Kirkpatrick
  • Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning
  • Postdoctoral Scholar, Michigan Society of Fellows
  • Office: 2223B
  • lucasok@umich.edu
  • CV

Teaching Areas:

  • Housing
  • Community & Economic Development

Lucas Owen Kirkpatrick, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Michigan Society of Fellows. His research interrogates the political economy of urban decline, with a special focus on the relationship between the reconfiguration of urban citizenship and the retrenchment of public space. His research agenda consists of three analytic strands corresponding to the (1) political, (2) economic, and (3) socio-spatial dimensions of urban change, respectively.

First, Lucas studies cases of fiscal crisis that lead to a formal “state of emergency”, whereby democratic and legal-juridical norms are suspended and policies deemed sufficiently austere are implemented. Detroit’s current emergency manager (EM), for instance, enjoys powers that nullify the principles of local self-determination. The proliferation of quasi-public spaces and hybrid modes of governance/citizenship also fuel this crisis of local democracy. Among the many pressing questions raised by the suspension of urban democracy is one of racial equity – as, in fact, over half of the state’s African American residents are now effectively disenfranchised vis-´-vis local self-governance. Using multivariate logistic regressions, he tests the claim that EMs are assigned based solely on the fiscal health of the municipality. Lucas finds, to the contrary, that the local proportion of black residents is also an important determining factor, as every 10% increase in a municipality’s black population (a common scenario in rustbelt cities) leads to a 20% increase in the likelihood that an EM will be assigned (Kirkpatrick and Breznau, in progress).

A second strand of Lucas’ research examines the role of capital flows and financial markets in the restructuring of urban space. For example, he traces the relationship between financial instability and urban fiscal crisis, arguing that the financialization and de-democratization of local capital budgets and extra-local bond markets led to systemic crisis (a “Muni-Minsky-Moment”) with profound reverberations within and across U.S. cities. Another project examines urban “innovation zones” and other specialized districts fostering high-tech entrepreneurialism that are being increasingly deployed in central cities. Here, he highlights the role of localized “triple helices” (university-firm-government partnerships) in leveraging federal (R&D) funding streams. This intervention physically reshapes the socio-spatial core of the city and paves the way for a hoped-for influx of venture capital.

A third line of inquiry concerns the socio-spatial effects of urban decline. Specifically, Lucas develops the concept of urban “sacrifice zones” – spaces deemed harmful to the social, fiscal or ecological health of the city-as-a-whole and subsequently abandoned. In Detroit, current plans coalesce around a vision of a “smaller, greener” city, but the tactic pivots on the socio-spatial erasure of the poor and minority communities located in areas slated for “greening” (some 88,000 residents). This strategy is termed “sacrificial urbanism” &ndsah; while the Keynesian state helped cities by lifting-up the poorest neighborhoods (via infrastructural interventions, the war on poverty, etc.), neoliberal austerity promises that salvation for fiscally distressed cities can be attained only by sacrificing the most vulnerable neighborhoods.

Dr. Kirkpatrick’s published work can be found in various edited volumes, as well as journals such as Politics & Society, the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, and the Journal of Urban History. He is currently co-editing (with Michael Peter Smith) a forthcoming book entitled Reinventing Detroit (expected Spring 2015).

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