Long-time UAAer, relentless social justice fighter, and all-around phenomenal colleague, Janet Smith, died yesterday after a battle with cancer. Janet served as Professor in the Department of Urban Planning and Policy, and Co-Director of the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois Chicago. Within UAA, Janet was an outstanding leader and mentor to both students and faculty. From 2001 to 2007, she served on the UAA Governing Board, becoming Vice-Chair in 2005 and Chair in 2006. Throughout her UAA engagement, Janet chaired countless committees and shared her insights with early career scholars in workshops and professional development sessions.
Janet’s tireless service within UAA was surpassed only by her engagement in housing advocacy within Chicago’s communities. In 2020, her career-long work on behalf of housing justice was recognized with her receipt of the UAA-SAGE Marilyn J. Gittell Activist Scholar Award. The award citation summarized her Chicago work and impact:
Professor Smith has exhibited a research profile and scholarship that is firmly committed to the spirit of the Marilyn J. Gittell Activist Scholar Award and the work of UAA. Her research and praxis are situated at the intersection of housing, social justice, and urban policy. Professor Smith has co-edited two books and written numerous articles, book chapters, and reports. Much of her research addresses systemic inequities in housing, with a particular emphasis on the affordability issue. Her publications have deepened and provided new insights into the ways that city-building and land markets impact housing and neighborhood development.
Professor Smith has used the center she co-directs as a change agent and has found multiple ways to use her scholarship in support of community groups advocating for policy and programs to prevent displacement and promote more permanent affordable housing for lower- income families and individuals. For example, she provided support, data and research to help the Coalition to Protect Public Housing in their efforts to preserve and produce public housing in Chicago. Professor Smith is a member of the Chicago Housing Justice League, a large citywide coalition that helped shape the City’s affordable housing policy and is currently fighting for passage of a just cause for eviction code. While much of the public component of her work is centered in Chicago, she has worked across urban spaces in a global context. Her contributions and commitment to activist-scholarship are truly outstanding.
Her colleague, Nik Theodore praised her contributions:
Janet’s research and practice epitomize one of the hallmarks of UIC’s mission: “To create knowledge that transforms our views of the world and, through sharing and application, transforms the world.” An expert in local and national housing planning and policy, and with a focus on equity and social justice, Janet is known for her astute analysis – and fierce critique – of the political economy of housing production in the United States. One of the core themes of her research – that we cannot simply “build our way out of” the urban housing crisis without first addressing structural factors, including racism and class bias – directly challenges prevailing policy paradigms and exposes a central contradiction that policymakers must confront.
After earning her PhD in Urban Studies from Cleveland State University, Janet built a career driven by social justice principles. Through incisive research and analysis on critical topics such as displacement, gentrification, and income inequality, she exposed systemic injustice, and supported the efforts of residents that were being directly impacted by unjust policies.
As an urbanist who used her knowledge, skills, and energy to advance the cause of justice for all, she made a difference! UAA will hold special sessions in Janet’s honor at the DC conference in April.
I will always miss my friend Janet, but will continue to be inspired by her to keep fighting. I think that is what she would want of all of us.
UAA Executive Director