Posted on April 4, 2021 by Kelwin Harris

Much controversy has been raised over the recent decision by Dr. Seuss Enterprises to discontinue publishing 6 of its books due to racist representations. I applaud their reevaluation of the content and commend them for taking action. Some however feel that this a part of an overblown “cancel culture” or obsession with race. I reflected on this while I was rummaging through my parent’s basement and discovered an old children’s book that likely belonged to one of my older siblings. The book is called This is My Country by Jene Barr. First…


“Some of the ‘educated’ Negroes do not pay attention to such important matters as the assessment of property and the collection of taxes, and they do not inform themselves as to how these things are worked out.”

– Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro

“…reorganizing the tax systems in the counties…that kind of thing’s pretty dry to most men”

– Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird

The Kerner Commission report, released in 1968, studied the cause of massive race riots that disrupted cities across America in places like, Newark, Detroit and Chicago. The report concluded that, “What white…


My Case for Reparations: Decoding the Matrix


With the recent reevaluation of racist images throughout American culture, from confederate statues to Aunt Jemina syrup and Uncle Ben’s rice, I took a look in my own closet to see what racist ghosts might still live. When I first graduated from college and got my first real job in Chicago, I set out to establish a professional business wardrobe. Like most young professionals, I wanted something that would set me apart with a certain sense of style. I thought — what’s more stylish than Brooks Brothers. The oldest clothing brand in the United States that’s outfitted presidents (Lincoln wore…


Originally published by the American Planning Association 11/14/2019

Certain concepts in the planning sphere can be hard to make tangible for residents, but property taxes is not one of them. Kelwin Harris knows this reality well. As the director of outreach and engagement for the Office of the Cook County Assessor — which is responsible for valuing 1.8 million properties for tax purposes in and around Chicago — he and his team have been eagerly getting out the word that the the office, with all its political baggage, is changing. …


I recently had the privilege of hearing one of Chicago’s eldest and most important oral historians of our time, Dr. Timuel Black, speak about his life and new book, Sacred Ground: The Chicago Streets of Timuel Black. The book is part memoir, part lovingly written tribute to the “Black Belt” of the south side of Chicago, now considered “Bronzeville”, where blacks were forced to concentrate when they came from southern towns in the early 20th century. Dr. Black sees it his responsibility to transfer the stories from his lived experiences to the next generation. …


Robbins’ origin story is one of a small village with a big history. It’s the oldest primarily African-American suburb in the Chicago region and one of only a few in the nation. Having recently celebrated its centennial, the village reflects the pioneering spirit of its early settlers who incorporated it in 1917 to be an independent and self-sustaining African-American enclave buttressed from forced segregation and discrimination in big cities.

Robbins was started with the ethos of black self-determination rooted in the philosophies of black leaders like Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey who promoted self-reliance, black empowerment, collective work and…


Zoning has been used by municipalities for the past century to steer environmental growth and direct land use agendas. It can be used for progress or peril but always to serve one group at the expense of another. On the surface, zoning was designed to prevent certain negligible land uses, like hazardous industry, from encroaching on residential and common areas. Although the language in many zoning ordinances historically expressed the desire to create spatial order and prevent environmental nuisances; it was in fact, used as a tool to divide the races and keep blacks out of white neighborhoods. The first…


The following was written after participating in the US-Mexico Leaders Initiative with the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Mexico City.

Much has been written about subnational and local diplomacy as a foreign policy strategy and antidote to populist xenophobic rhetoric. Urbanists and mayors from Bruce Katz to Mike Bloomberg have sounded the clarion trumpet that we no longer have to wait for our federal governments; we can build allies ourselves. This is especially true for the US and Mexico. As John Creamer, the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy Mexico City shared with me recently, citizen diplomacy is the…


During my recent Marshall Memorial Fellowship with The German Marshall Fund of the United States, I had the opportunity to learn how European cities solve similar challenges we face in Chicago in the context of the transatlantic relationship and our shared national interests. The German Marshall Fund was founded in 1972 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization by a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to the assistance of the Marshall Plan, which provided economic assistance to rebuild western Europe after World War II. The German Marshall Fund created the Marshall Memorial Fellowship in 1982 to introduce emerging leaders from…

Kelwin Harris

Kelwin Harris is a city planner in Chicago.

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