Robert W. Pfaff
Co-Coordinator: Detroit School Series
Dissertation: Region, Race, Rail, and Rubber: An Analysis of How Transportation Planning Decisions Contributed to Regional Segregation, 1925 - 1970
Dissertation Committee: Joe Grengs (Chair), June Manning Thomas, Scott Campbell, Heather Ann Thompson
Areas of Interest: Public Transportation, Planning History, Suburbanization, Racial Equity, Metropolitan Segregation, Regionalism, Transportation Policy, Rust Belt Cities, Detroit
Rob is a metro-detroiter by birth, and has spent his entire life in Southeast Michigan region. His dissertation investigates the history of public transportation decision making through a historical case study of Detroit, Michigan. His work argues that public transportation has tacitly influenced metropolitan segregation by limiting transit access to minority and underserved communities during suburbanization. The primary source archival findings of his research demonstrate that the City of Detroit scaled back public transportation to suburban destinations shortly after the violent 1967 rebellion, despite having ample resources and legal mandate to operate beyond city limits. This contributes a new possible literature to how urban planning has been involved in regional segregation beyond the well-known histories of redlining and urban renewal.
His future research will look at the history of bussing as a tool of school integration after Brown v. Board of Education. This project will leverage existing research connections in Detroit as a starting point, but will become a national study that compares the successes and failures of bussing as a tool of integration. Detroit is the starting point for this study because it was the subject of a Supreme Court decision in Milliken v. Bradley that limited the scope of integration by county. His interdisciplinary methodology and past research on race and metropolitan segregation, will seek to analyze bussing through a spatial transportation lens that uses historical documents and qualitative methods to inform a national comparative analysis of the success and failure of school integration through bussing.
Prior to his Doctoral Studies, Rob worked as a student teacher at Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit Public Schools, as an Assistant Coordinator of a GED program at an Alternative Education High School in suburban Detroit, and as an Adjunct Instructor at Wayne State University. He earned his MA in Urban History in 2015, and his BA in History in 2014, both from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. His research was focused on transportation history and technology, focusing on urban public transportation systems in the 20th century United States, but also including Atlantic shipping, insurance, and trade empires.
Courses Taught (Instructor of Record):
Detroit History, 1701 - 2016
Future of Transportation
History of Gender, Sexuality, and Women
History of the World since 1945
- 2019 Pfaff, Robert W., review of “A People’s Atlas of Detroit” ed. by Linda Campbell, Andrew Newman, Sara Safransky, and Tim Stallmann, in Journal of Planning Education and Research (JPER). Forthcoming.
- 2020 Pfaff, Robert W., review of “American Autotopia: An Intellectual History of American Roadside at Midcentury” by Gabrielle Esperdy in Journal of Planning History (JPH). Forthcoming.
- 2019 “From Rail to Rubber: A History of Street Rail Conversion in Detroit, Michigan, 1920 – 1965” Society for American City and Regional Planning History, October 31 – November 3
- 2019 “Rhetoric in, Pocket Book Out: A Historical Analysis of Suburban Opt-Out Transportation Funding in Metropolitan Detroit” Association Collegiate Schools of Planning, October 24-27
- 2018 “Shifting Geographies of Queer Neighborhoods in Rustbelt Cities: A Case Study of Detroit, Michigan.” Social Science History Association, Phoenix, November 8-11
- 2018 “Start and Stop: A Historical Comparison of Regional Transit Efforts in South-East Michigan, 1967 – 2016” Association Collegiate Schools of Planning, Buffalo, October 25-28
- 2018 Symposium Co-Organizer, “Road Out Of Poverty: A Transportation & Economic Mobility Symposium” Poverty Solutions, University of Michigan, March 15
Select Grants and Fellowships:
- 2019 Professional Development Grant, Wayne State University, $5,000
- 2018 Rackham Pre-Candidate Doctoral Research Grant, University of Michigan, $1,500
- 2017 Detroit School of Urban Studies, Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop (RIW) Grant, annually renewed and ongoing, University of Michigan, Total $20,0000
- 2016 Harvey G. and Joyce H. Behner Graduate Fellowship, University of Michigan, $5,000
- 2015 Gerald R. Dreslinski Research Grant, Wayne State University, $2000
- 2013 Sterne-Lion Research Grant, Dept. of History, Wayne State University, $1,500
- 2013 Undergraduate Research Grant, Wayne State University, $2,300