Plantation urbanism:

Legacy, property and policing in Louisville, Kentucky

Josh Poe and Jessica Bellamy

Published in Issue 2.2 // Retrospectives

Keywords: plantation urbanism, gentrification, racial capitalism, plantation capitalism, Louisville, racial banishment, radical geography, Louisville, Kentucky, Breonna Taylor


Louisville, Kentucky is one of many cities throughout the Southern United States that still celebrates the brutal legacy of plantation culture. From an economy dominated by the plantation dynasties of bourbon, horse racing and tobacco, to the centering of bourbon whiskey as a culturally significant economic development engine and tourist attraction, to the city’s flagship event, the Kentucky Derby containing elements of a memorial pageant to antebellum plantation regimes and their culture. This paper documents the legacy and consequences of urban redevelopment by Louisville’s plantation dynasties in the Russell neighborhood and the connections between investment, surveillance and policing in the murder of Breonna Taylor. We will define the concepts of plantation capitalism and plantation urbanism as components of racial capitalism and monopoly capitalism that originated and are kept alive in the Southern US. This paper will explore how the legacy of plantation regimes reproduces a particular social management system that reinvents itself through economic diversification in real estate, planning, policing and surveillance, that we call plantation urbanism. The Russell neighborhood in Louisville is currently experiencing massive investment through public and private funding. We use examples of how private developers launch nonprofits to access philanthropic capital, and state support of private investment to illustrate how plantation dynasties hoard resources and exercise political control over time. This paper will document the historical and material forces of plantation regimes that drive state-led gentrification to create the unhousing of Black residents and the interlocking relationships of institutional actors in that process of government, philanthropy, the nonprofit industrial complex and the police.

// Photo credit: Talesha Wilson

Jessica Bellamy is a Co-Principal Investigator at the Root Cause Research Center and an international speaker, Adobe Creative Residency alumna, and award-winning infographic designer, As a former Neurodevelopmental Science research analyst at the University of Louisville and community organizer, in 2015, Jessica created a social enterprise that combined grassroots organizing, research, and information graphics. She named that business GRIDS: The Grassroots Information Design Studio. She has since been featured in Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global, Forbes, Communication Arts Magazine, The Great Discontent, Create Magazine, Creative Mornings, Slack, The Dieline, Revision Path, and on Adobe’s Project 1324 (viewable through Facebook).

Josh Poe is a Co-Principal Investigator at the Root Cause Research Center and an urban planner, community organizer, and geographer. He has over 20 years of scholarship, activism and practical experience in planning, urban land policy and housing issues. Originally from Eastern Kentucky, he began his career doing grassroots organizing around housing, labor, and economic justice issues in Seattle, WA in the late 1990s. In 2017 he authored and published the interactive story map, Redlining Louisville: Racial Capitalism and Real Estate, which received recognition from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in its effort to recognize best-in-class data visualizations. His research and activism are foregrounded in poverty studies, exposing racial capitalism in real estate science, creating countermaps to institutionalized planning curriculum, and using cartography and organizing to combat dispossession and displacement.

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