Social justice advocate and urban designer Destiny Thomas to deliver Causier Lecture at UWM

MILWAUKEE – Destiny Thomas, a noted anthropologist, entrepreneur and social justice advocate, will deliver the 2021 Charles Causier Memorial Lecture at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at UW-Milwaukee.

Thomas’ talk, titled “Un-planning Cities: reparative design and atonement in the built environment,” will be take place online on Friday, March 5, at 2 p.m. Please register for the Department of Urban Planning’s annual keynote lecture at this UWM webpage.

Thomas, founder and CEO of the Thrivance Group, is recognized as a national thought leader in designing more equitable cities. Her perspectives help challenge the status quo of professional practices and envision a more equitable and just future.

Thomas’ ideas are particularly relevant for Milwaukee, often ranked as one of the nation’s most segregated urban areas, and in light of protests over racial and social inequality during the last year in southeastern Wisconsin and around rest of the country.

An anthropologist planner from Oakland, California, Thomas has a combined 15 years of experience in nonprofit management and project management in government agencies, including the California Department of Transportation and the City of Los Angeles. Thomas has led advancements in racial equity initiatives in California for more than a decade. She focuses on urban planning, policy writing and organizational development in communities most affected by racial inequities.

“Thomas challenges urban planners and other urbanists to examine their own role in creating racial injustice, particularly in the built environment,” said Robert Schneider, an associate professor of urban planning at UWM. The department recruited Thomas specifically for her emphasis on equity issues associated with planning.

Land-use and infrastructure patterns in southeastern Wisconsin play a role in erecting barriers and denying equal opportunities for residents, particularly those living in the central city, Schneider said. Actions by policymakers, residents, stakeholders and urban planners can contribute to segregated neighborhoods, limited opportunities to access jobs and health care via public transit and streets that prioritize high-speed traffic over local resident interaction and foot traffic for businesses.

Thomas’ interests include: harm-reductive planning, implementing the dignity-infused community engagement methodology, anti-displacement studies, healing environmental and infrastructural trauma, and bolstering agency and voice in marginalized communities within municipal planning processes. She launched the Thrivance Group in 2020 to address these issues. As a culturally rooted, trauma-informed enterprise, Thrivance works to build capacity for those values within municipal agencies, direct service providers and advocacy organizations.

“Milwaukee is an important place to begin the work of improving urban spaces for all, especially the groups Dr. Thomas identifies as marginalized,” Schneider said. “We welcome her to help open our minds to policies and practices that better advance equity and justice in the built environment.”

Thomas was featured on ABC’s “Good Morning America” in July 2020 for her work. Thomas and the Thrivance Group also host the Unurbanist Assembly, a 23-hour, digital event in which more than 8,000 people last year participated in a virtual teach-in that focused on anti-racist frameworks in urban planning, public health and social services sectors. The next Unurbanist Assembly is scheduled to take place in June.

Schneider is available for interviews ahead of the Causier lecture by contacting him at Thomas also is available for interviews and can be contacted through Schneider.