Neil Flanagan

2023 Humanities Scholar in Residence

About Neil

Neil Flanaganis a public historian, informed by ten years in architectural practice. Since 2009, he has published on D.C. history, architecture, in Washington City Paper, Greater Greater Washington, the Architects’ Newspaper. He has spoken in many forums, including the Washington History Conference, SACRPH, ASALH, and many local engagements. Flanagan is a graduate of the Yale School of Architecture and in that field specializes in regulatory strategy and whole-building environmental design, from sensory experience to building systems integration. He grew up in Tenleytown and now lives in Ward 5.

Neil's Project

Neil is writing a book about the ways that the founders of American urban planning experimented on the neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. in the first decades of the 20th century. Identifying an opportunity in DC's lack of home rule, a group called the American Civic Association set out in 1921 turn Washington into a model of technocratic planning. Working closely with Herbert Hoover's Department of Commerce, they developed concepts like zoning, planning boards, slum clearance, historic preservation, and a homeownership society, and then organized successive nationwide campaigns to implement them in DC, ultimately reshaping the city into the monumental National Capital it is today. Caught up in their ambitions were neighborhood like the African American suburb known as Reno, now Fort Reno Park. Long a target of segregationists, it was ultimately the planning board created and staffed by the ACA that cleared the town, fully aware of the racist motivation. The book traces the dual histories of Reno and the ACA, examining the ideologies, patronage, and circumstances that led to their fateful entanglement. Woven between these threads are stories of Black ambition and resistance, the rise of women as a political force, and the legacies of colonialism in how American cities are shaped. The book shows how the last traces of Reconstruction and the beginnings of Urban Renewal came into contact in this one neighborhood in DC.