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Karen Gibson
Karen Gibson

Associate Professor, Urban Studies and Planning

Exploring the political economy of racial economic inequality in the urban setting.

Ph.D. City and Regional Planning, University of California
at Berkeley
M.S. Public Management and Policy, Carnegie Mellon University
B.A. English Literature and Creative Writing, San Francisco
State University


  • Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Planning

Racial economic inequality, community development, housing policy

  • USP 312 Urban Housing and Development
  • USP 410/510 Community Organizing and Social Change
  • USP 451/551: Community Economic Development
  • USP 528: Concepts of Community Development

Income, Race and Space: A Comparative Analysis of the Effects of Poverty Concentration on White and Black Neighborhoods in the Detroit and Pittsburgh Metropolitan Areas, 1996.


Office: Urban Center, Room 370J
Phone: (503) 725.8265

Professor Karen Gibson specializes in the subjects of housing and community development, black urban history, and economic inequality. Her courses include urban housing and development, concepts of community development, poverty in the urban community, and community economic development.
She is currently conducting an analysis of neighborhood change, specifically the processes of segregation, housing disinvestment, reinvestment, and gentrification, in Portland’s historic African-American community, the Albina District. Her 2007 article on the topic, “Bleeding Albina: A History of Community Disinvestment, 1940-2000,” published in Transforming Anthropology, has been widely circulated within Portland and has become a valued community resource. Her article, "Black and Blue: Police-Community Relations in Portland's Albina District, 1964-1985," co-authored with Dr. Leanne Serbulo, won the 2013 Joel Palmer Award for best article in the Oregon Historical Quarterly. A book chapter which revisits and updates Portland's 1968 Racial Justice Report appears in the edited volume "Reinventing Race, Reinventing Racism" (Brill, 2012).  Her work has also appeared in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, Cities, and Feminist Economics.

Dr. Gibson’s applied social research has involved a partnership with Home Forward (formerly the Housing Authority of Portland) from (2001-2010), in which she evaluated both their anti-poverty program (GOALS) and the social impacts of their public housing redevelopment HOPE VI projects. She appears in the film Imagining Home: Stories of Columbia Villa, which documents the transformation of Oregon’s largest public housing development, Columbia Villa into the mixed-use development, New Columbia. She traces racially discriminatory housing policies in the 2015 film, Portland Civil Rights: Lift Ev'ry Voice. 

She has been an advisor to local non-profit housing providers and served on the Governing Board of the Urban Affairs Association from 2006-2012. She will join the Editorial Advisory Board of the Oregon Historical Quarterly in December 2015. Using documentary film and compelling case studies, Dr. Gibson introduces students to subjects that often illicit strong emotions. She enjoys watching students grow in their awareness of the historic and contemporary economic injustices faced by the poor and people of color.

As part of the Master of Real Estate Development Curriculum Committee, she is guiding the development of a new focus in affordable and sustainable housing, a specialty unique to real estate business programs. She served as Ph.D. Program Coordinator, in Urban Studies during AY 2013-2015. 

Dr. Gibson grew up in San Francisco’s Mission District. Throughout the course of her academic career, Dr. Gibson is proud to have juggled her professional demands with the active parenting of three--now grown--children.

What Professor Gibson has to say...

We are unique because we combine urban studies and planning; most planning programs stand alone or are combined with architecture.  I also like that we get working class students; people who have experienced poverty. There is also a permeability between the community and the university; and I appreciate that the School values community practice. This position allows me to combine community development, research, and practice. Here, community work informs my teaching.

I like students that are eager to learn, that ask questions and are curious. I appreciate it when students show emotion when learning about difficult things. The subjects I teach can elicit a strong reaction. I like to see things compute in a student’s mind and see that they have a passion for the topic. I am motivated by issues of justice and fairness.

San Francisco: my home town. I grew up there in the 1960-70’s; a great era. So much to do... wonderful parks, interesting people, great music, and the beautiful scenery of the Golden Gate or the Bay. I remember going to Aquatic Park in North Beach, Speedway Meadows for concerts in Golden Gate Park, and listening to congas in Mission Delores Park during the summer. These are some of my fondest memories. 

That they can be safe and nonviolent.

Family Properties: How the Struggle over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America, by Beryl Satter
The Undeserving Poor: From the War on Poverty to the War on Welfare, by Michael B. Katz and Manchild in the Promised Land, by Claude Brown

The housing crisis. I’m deeply concerned about the significant loss of wealth in Black and Brown communities since 2007, which was largely caused by predatory and discriminatory mortgage lending practices. I also follow police excessive force and misconduct issues.

Spend time with my family, listen to jazz and rhythm and blues, and go for walks. 
Beryl Satter. She wrote Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black America, an influential book for me. She is a historian whose work we in urban studies don’t know as well as we should.

Dr. Gibson will be a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley's Institute of Urban and Regional Development during AY 2015-16. She will teach during Spring 2016 in the Toulan School.