Home / Adjunct Faculty / Karen Umemoto


Karen_2Karen Umemoto is a Professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She has taught courses in Public Policy and Planning Theory, Community Planning, Community-based Economic Development, Diversity and Multiculturalism in Planning, Qualitative Methods and Evaluation. Her research interests are primarily in planning and governance in multicultural societies, race and ethnic relations, youth and urban violence, and community building.

Department of Urban and Regional Planning

Cooperative Faculty:

Department of Women’s Studies (WS)
Public Policy Center (PPC)

Ph.D. in Urban Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
M.A. in Asian American Studies, University of California at Los Angeles

Research Interests:
Many societies around the world are becoming culturally diverse and economically polarized, with problems of rising ethnic tensions, poverty, and disenfranchisement. My research centers on issues of democracy and social justice in multicultural societies with a focus on US cities. I examine and pursue planning processes that include a diverse array of voices, acknowledge different ways of knowing, and allow for meaningful deliberation. I am equally concerned that planning outcomes are fair and just. There are structural, procedural, and relational obstacles to attaining a just and democratic order. My research and practice takes a broad view of planning in the context of social inclusion, participatory democracy, and political transformation.


PLAN 604 (Fall 2015) : Qualitative Methods – Download

PLAN PLAN 619 (Fall 2014) : Cultural Diversity in Planning – Download

PLAN PLAN610 (Fall 2014) : Community Planning and Social Policy – Download

PLAN 619 (Fall 2012) : Multiculturalism in Planning & Policy – Download

PLAN 616 (Spring 2012) : Community Planning – Download

PLAN 600 (Fall 2011) : Planning and Policy Theory – Download

PLAN 602 (Spring 2010) : Advanced Planning Theory – Download


Being Fearless and Fearsome: Colonial Legacies, Racial Constructions, and Male Adolescent Violence (2012): Explanations of male violence in distressed neighborhoods have remained relatively unchanged for decades. A core argument has been that in racially segregated neighborhoods with considerable economic and political alienation, men become structurally vulnerable, and some will use violence to obtain the autonomy and authority denied to them within conventional society. Violence is explained as one avenue of expression within structurally bound constraints in the attainment of respect and status within the development of masculine identities. We argue that race remains under-theorized in prevailing explanations of violence and argue for further advancement of the colonial criminology framework to deepen our understanding of the racially or ethnically specific characteristics of violence and the narratives surrounding its use. More specifically, we analyze data collected from a six-year ethnographic study of youth violence among Pacific Islander adolescents, to illustrate the effects of the lasting legacy of colonialism as well as the continuing salience of racial identity in explanations of violence, primarily involving Native Hawaiian and Samoan youths in Hawai’i.
Type: Articles in international or national refereed journals
Co-Authors: Katherine Irwin
Keywords: Youth violence, Asian and Pacific Islander youth development

Cultural Diversity. In Rachel Weber and Randall Crane, Oxford Handbook of Urban Planning. New York: Oxford University Press. (2012): This chapter surveys the issues of cultural diversity in planning. It includes an overview of the philosophical approaches towards cultural diversity, dilemmas within the processes, structures and substance of planning, and a selection of contemporary controversies concerning the pursuit of equality and human rights, tolerance for difference, and the right of groups to perpetuate and evolve unique cultural traditions and ways of life.
Type: Chapters in books
Co-Authors: Vera Zambonelli

Essential Elements for Community Engagement in Evidence-based Youth Violence Prevention (2011): Community mobilization and engagement play a critical role in many evidence-based (EB) programs and strategies, as it takes a concerted effort among a wide range of people within a community to alter behavior and maintain behavioral change. The authors discuss five elements essential for community engagement in evidence-based youth violence prevention based on their work in a university-community partnership through the Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Violence Prevention Center (API Center), a National Academic Center for Excellence onYouth Violence Prevention Center by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They include: (a) aligning EBPs with a community’s shared vision and values; (b) establishing an inclusive environment for the planning, implementation and evaluation of EBPs; (c) nurturing collaboration for increased effectiveness and efficacy of EBPs; (d) building adequate leadership and community capacity to develop and sustain EBPs; and (e) building a learning community for evaluation and self-reflection. The authors propose placing greater emphasis on ‘‘evaluative thinking’’ and organizational capacity for evaluation as we pursue evidence-based practices for youth violence prevention. This is especially important for ethnic groups for which an evidence base is not well established.
Type: Articles in international or national refereed journals
Co-Authors: Miao, Tai-An, KaTai-An Miao, Deanna Gonda, Earl Hishinuma
Keywords: Community engagement, violence prevention, community planning

Policy Recommendations to Prevent Youth Violence and Substance Abuse and Foster Positive Youth Development Amongst Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander Adolescents (2011)
Type: Articles in international or national refereed journals
Co-Authors: Earl S. Hishinuma
Keywords: Youth violence, substance abuse, Asian and Pacific Islander youth development

Deliberative Planning in a Multicultural Milieau (2009): This article explores the utility of deliberative planning theory given the scholarly debate over its limitations and prospects. While few planning processes conform to the ideal conditions under which theoretical precepts are assumed to operate, a case study situated in the Japanese city of Kawasaki illustrates how deliberative planning theory can illuminate the limitations while revealing potential paths to create more democratic and inclusive planning processes. At the same time, the case underscores the importance of a) public acknowledgement of the constraints to deliberative planning, b) deliberating over the design of a deliberative process, c) mitigating identified constraints to deliberative planning, and d) being open to alternative or parallel strategies given structural and other constraints to deliberative processes.
Type: Journal of Planning Education and Research
Co-Authors: Hiroki Igarashi

Moving Toward Comprehensiveness and Sustainability in a Social Ecological Approach to Youth Violence Prevention: Lessons from the Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Violence (2009): Youth violence is a serious public health problem affecting communities across the United States. The use of a social ecological approach has been shown to be effective in reducing the prevalence of youth violence. However, challenges to implementing such an approach include the comprehensiveness in addressing the multiple levels of the social ecology and the ability of public and private non-profit sectors to sustain such comprehensive efforts towards youth violence prevention and intervention. We provide a case example from the Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Violence Prevention Center (APIYVPC) of our work, in collaboration with two communities on O‘ahu, to develop and implement a youth violence prevention initiative that is becoming both comprehensive and sustainable. We illustrate the incremental nature of what it means to become comprehensive and underscore the importance of reaching sustainability as the project unfolds. Specific examples are given of the projects that the APIYVPC engaged in and the effect of this engagement on building community trust and commitment to the initiative. In addition, we highlight the need for multi-disciplinary staff who bring diverse methodological, theoretical and pedagogical richness to the research and practice of the initiative. We also discuss the lessons learned during this iterative process, which have important implications for research and action in this field.
Type: American Journal of Community Planning
Co-Authors: Charlene K. Baker, Susana Helm, Tai-An Miao, Deborah Goebert, Earl Hishinuma

The “Triple-Bottom-Line”: (2009): Sustainability principles are at the forefront of regional planning. In Hawaii, the movement towards “sustainability” gave way to revisiting the State Plan. This paper uses a case study of the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan (Hawaii 2050), particularly the solicitation of public input within the process, to illustrate how adopting popular notions of sustainability, without critical examination of how the respective policy frames diverge or interrelate, can lead to “tautological traps” In the case of Hawaii 2050, triple-bottom-line concepts, embedded within sustainable development, constituted the dominant sustainability frame used to guide the planning discourse. The application of triple-bottom-line concepts at the level of policy and planning (i.e. not specific to business enterprises) led to a planning process that polarized economic and environmental interests. While the goals of sustainable development and the use of triple-bottom-line concepts are useful for planners, we argue that they should be applied within the parameters of ecological sustainability in a U.S. regional context, lest resulting plans continue to allow the momentum of development to override ecological concerns.

Type: Environment, Development and Sustainability
Co-Authors: Makena Coffman

Restoring a Hawaiian Sense of Place in Waikiki (2006): This article describes local efforts to restore Hawaiianness to Waikiki and presents a theoretical outline of what I term “cultural reinstatement.” The article illustrates how local efforts strive to restore a sense of place in the following ways: a) by articulating the meaning of objects, events, places and historical figures, b) by asserting an aesthetic, physical and spiritual presence, c) by reinforcing cultural values and a shared protocol, d) by creating a shared, collective memory and e) by perpetuating language and cultural practices. It outlines the challenges, opportunities and limitations given the political and economic circumstances along with the constellation of stakeholders. This has implications for strategies for cultural inclusion in the social, political, and economic life of society more generally.
Download Publication
Type: Here!
Keywords: Tourism, Native Hawaiian, culture, sense of place

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders: From Incarceration to Reentry (2006): This article presents data on Asian American and Pacific Islander prisoners,including population estimates, age at commitment, types of offenses, recidivism rates, participation in programs, with detailed statistics from California and Los Angeles. Impacts on communities and approaches to support reentry are discussed.
Type: Amerasia Journal
Co-Authors: Angela Oh
Keywords: Incarceration, Prison, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Reentry

The Truce: Lessons from a Los Angeles Gang War (2006): Excerpt from back cover:
This ethnography of a gang war in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Oakwood, just blocks from the famed Venice Beach boardwalk, provides a rare eyewitness account of the urban violence pervasive in the recent history of the United States. With seventeen people killed and more than fifty injured, the hostilities over ten months in 1993 and 1994 marked the peak of gang violence in the history of Los Angeles, a city once labeled the “gang capital of the nation.” …Karen Umemoto lived nearby during this conflict and undertook two years of ethnographic research during and immediately following the spate of killings. She now offers a nuanced analysis of the trajectory and eventual end of this acute crisis. Drawing on her experience living in multicultural Los Angeles and on the latest scholarship in a wide variety of disciplines, Umemoto provides much-needed guidance for policymakers and concerned members of the public faced with violence in an ever-changing urban landscape.
Type: Cornell University Press
ISBN: 0-8014-7305-5
Keywords: Gang, Los Angeles, Conflict, Violence, Mediation

Technology, Culture, and Environmental Uncertainty: Considering Social Contracts in Adaptive Management (2006): Natural resource planning is often riddled with uncertainty, especially when new technologies are introduced. While an “adaptive management” approach is attractive in such situations, it is difficult to implement where there is a real or perceived decline of the state. Based on a case study of mariculture development in Hawaii, we suggest that planners and policy makers consider informal social contracts as complements to formal regulatory frameworks to increase the viability of adaptive management regimes. Discussion includes the benefits as well as potential pitfalls of social contracts where formal regulations may be necessary.
Type: Journal of Planning Education and Research
Co-Authors: Krisnawati Suryanata
Keywords: Technology, Culture, Environment, Natural Resource Management

Beyond environmental impact: Articulating the ‘intangibles’ in a resource conflict (2005): Environmental planning is an arena of policy making in which formal public
deliberation is among the most extensive. At the same time, environmental disputes can also
be among the most resistant to resolution, often becoming entangled in issues that some
describe as “intangible”. The discourse is largely structured by regulatory frameworks, such
as environmental impact assessment laws and procedures, which focus primarily on
operational rights (what one can or cannot do where and when) and tangible impacts on the
physical or natural environment. A comparative case study of mariculture in Hawai`i reveals
that a large measure of public concerns focused on collective choice rights (who has a right to
make which decisions on behalf of whom) and the more intangible impacts to the social or
cultural environment. These concerns are often nested in a historic context that has
implications for the social processes that they create. The findings from this study imply a
need for more structured or systematic ways to deliberate issues of collective choice rights
alongside operational rights within the larger process of environmental planning.
Type: Geoforum
Co-Authors: Krisnawati Suryanata
Keywords: Resource management, culture, aquaculture, conflict

The Paradox of Dispersal: Ethnic Continuity and Community Development among Japanese Americans (2005): An analysis of the shift in community development in Little Tokyo suggests that there is a “paradox of dispersal.” On one hand, as Japanese Americans experience greater mobility and disperse regionally, historic spatial centers become less important in the daily matters of livelihood and existence. Yet, as the ethnic population becomes spatially less discernable, these historic centers become increasingly important as a site for the maintenance of ethnic identity and a sense of community among those who share that identity. Little Tokyo of today serves as an important site for the maintenance of social networks, cultural practices and forms of ethnic expression. The case study illustrates how the often contested visions and meanings of identity reflect class, political, ideological and other differences that play themselves out in local political struggles.
Type: AAPI Nexus
Co-Authors: Dean Toji
Keywords: Community Development, Japanese American, Ethnic Identity, Los Angeles

Tension at the Nexus of the Local and Global: Culture and Property in Marine Aquaculture in Hawai’i (2003): Marine aquaculture requires changes in property institutions that govern the ocean space, a key resource for marine aquaculture. This paper examines initial opposition to ocean leasing as a way of understanding the contradictory technical and societal demands of a technological project. We incorporate insights from agrofood studies that emphasize the importance of building networks if the industry is to succeed within the globalized food systems. We argue that comprehensive and synthetic analysis atthe `front end’ of a technological project is critical to identify strategic issues that need to be addressed; and that insights from planning literature bring in potential tools for organizing actions to negotiate the tension and to (re)contextualize a technological project such as this.
Type: Environment and Planning A
Co-Authors: Krisnawati Suryanata
Keywords: Environmental management, culture, technology

Walking in Another’s Shoes: Epistemological Challenges in Participatory Planning (2003): Growing cultural diversity brings new challenges to the practice of planning. In participatory planning, this diversity poses challenges related to communicating across culture-based epistemologies and soliciting the voices of multiple publics. This article explores five challenges that planners face when working in communities where the cultural background of residents is different from one’s own. These challenges are (1) traversing interpretive frames embedded in culture, history, and collective memory; (2) confronting otherness in the articulation of cultural values and social identities, (3) understanding the multiple meaning of language; (4) respecting and navigating cultural protocols and social relationships; and (5) understanding the role of power in cultural translation.
Type: Journal of Planning Education and Research

Towards a Human Relations Infrastructure (2002): While we have an elaborate framework to understand the physical infrastructure needed in cities, we do not have a commensurate framework to understand the social infrastructure needed to promote and maintain healthy race relations in our growing multicultural metropolises. This article proposes the outlines of such an infrastructure in terms of key components, policy and programmatic tools, social capital and potential strategies.
Download Publication
Type: Journal of California Policy and Politics
Keywords: Human relations, race relations, social policy

Research Project

Disproportionate Minority Contact in the Hawaii Juvenile Justice System (2011 -2012): Investigation into the characteristics, extent, and causes of racial and ethnic disparities at the various decision points in the juvenile justice system in Hawaii. Dissemination of findings and stakeholder engagement in furthering recommendations.
Type: Research

Awards & Honors

POCIG Service Award (2011): Planners of Color Interest Group of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning

Excellence in Application, College of Social Sciences, University of Hawaii (2010): Awarded by the University of Hawaii College of Social Sciences for the application of research to real-life problem-solving.

W.E.B. DuBois Award (2005): Awarded by the Western Society of Criminology for significant contributions to the field of racial and ethnic issues in Criminology

Chester Rapkin Award (2002): Awarded by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning for Best Paper in the Journal of Planning Education and Research

Regents Medal for Excellence in Teaching (2001): Highest distinction for subject mastery and scholarship, teaching effectiveness, creativity and personal values that benefit students, awarded by the University of Hawai`i Board of Regents