Suzanne-Juliette Mobley — Urbanist, Organizer, and Advocate
I'm the Visiting Fellow for Arts and Culture with the American Planning Association, Visiting Scholar at the Center for Art and Space at Penn's Weitzman School, Senior Research Scholar at Monument Lab, and Commissioner for the New Orleans City Planning Commission.
So clearly, I'm terrible at saying no to things! I am, however, really interested in the many ways in which history manifests in the built environment, as well as approaches to making that history visible, interrogating its ongoing manifestations, and collectively working to mitigate and repair brutally oppressive practices.
I'm not trained as a planner. My academic background is in anthropology and political science, and I first approached planning through the rigorous on-the-ground training that so many of us in New Orleans received in the years after Hurricane Katrina.
Which is to say, that I primarily approached planning from a place of critique of dehistoricized analyses of the city, of opaque processes and language, and of bureaucracy that served to consolidate land and wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the many.
Working for Tulane City Center, now Small Center, the community design center of Tulane School of Architecture, I brought that post-storm framework to bear as part of a multidisciplinary team of designers and planners collaborating with nonprofit organizations to serve their constituents and with neighborhoods to build their capacity for engagement with formal processes.
In that role, I developed exhibits, toolkits, speaker series, and graphic advocacy projects aimed at creating a more nuanced understanding of the city, civic issues, and social justice. I also gained a deep appreciation for working in collaboration with people who have a wide range of expertise, and for the necessity of defining an issue collectively using shared terms when approaching potential solutions.
Throughout, I've organized as a member of the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO) which advocates at the intersections of music and cultural practice meet policy, planning, and regulation, a frequently fraught intersection in a city known for its musical heritage, but often intolerant of the people who reproduce that heritage.
I was also co-director of Paper Monuments, a public art and public history project that invited residents to "imagine new monuments for New Orleans" in the period immediately following the removal of four Confederate statues in 2017.
I think my approach to planning is most heavily informed by my training in anthropology, both in the sense that mixed-method qualitative and quantitative research is a central element in how I approach understanding people's relationships to land use and planning, and in the sense that I'm very sensitive to positionality and power, so looking not just at the fact that different populations and people have different perspectives on planning decisions, but that historical and current practices give different weight and authority to those perspectives.
Certainly, the latter informs my role on the city planning commission, where I'm inclined to listen closely and invite more contribution from people who are less comfortable in formal public hearings due to historic and current marginalization.
And I am inclined to challenge status quo assertions of entitlement or racism and classism under the guise of proceduralism or design aesthetics.
Traits for success
A willingness to think that you might be wrong and the ability to hold multiple perspectives as equally valid, even when they contradict.
I'll let you know when I have one!
That being endlessly nosy about everything is somehow a marketable skill.
I enjoy getting to think, read, and write about public art and public space from various perspectives! In undergrad, I tried to have each semester have a central organizing theme so that classes across disciplines informed each other; I think the current roles I occupy have a similar complimentary coherence.
Schools and Education
Loyola University New Orleans, BA Anthropology
American University in Cairo, MA Political Science: International Human Rights Law
When I'm Not Working
I like to take the city bus, walk around different neighborhoods, spend a few extra minutes in the corner store, and listen to people talk about what matters to them.