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Congratulations to Dr. Jason Rhodes

July 10, 2013

Happy to congratulate Jason Rhodes on successfully defending his Ph.D. Dissertation that is entitled “Finding Value in Racism: The Spatial Choreography of Black & White in Early Twentieth Century Atlanta.”

Much appreciation to his committee members Drs. Amy Ross, Steve Holloway and Josh Barkan.


In recent decades a powerful narrative has taken shape which explores the impact of
federal housing policies in shaping the highly racialized geography of poverty and privilege
which forms the landscape of today’s American city. Called the “New Suburban History,” it
documents the racial discrimination written into the subsidized home loan policies of the federal
government after WWII, based upon the assumption that property values depended upon the
maintenance of neighborhood homogeneity on the basis of race and class. By lavishing
neighborhoods comprised exclusively of white homeowners with federal subsidies, while
targeting the neighborhoods of non-whites and renters for red-lining, these programs, it is
argued, became self-fulfilling prophecies of growth and decline, and it is generally assumed that
the racism of both policy-makers and white homeowners distorted their conception of “value.”
This dissertation argues that the problem with this narrative is that “value,” so central to the
story, in fact is never defined. It asks what urban planners actually meant by the term “value,”
which they explicitly stated to be what their exclusive land-use regulations were designed to
pursue. It does this by connecting a history of the changing definition of “value” in 19th and
turn-of-the-20th century economic theory to the development of exclusionary land-use
regulations at the National Conference on Urban Planning, developed in pursuit of “value,” and
argues that privilege and exclusion are essential to the category of “value” itself, regardless of
whether they are distributed on the basis of skin color. Against the standard narrative, which
holds that racism distorted conceptions of “property values” in the 20th century American city,
what is argued here is that the institution of value, and the social categories of privilege and
exclusion which it requires, has fundamentally shaped our categories of race.