Carla J. Robinson was born and raised in Newark. She graduated at the top of her class at Arts High School and then went to Harvard University. After completing her undergraduate degree she chose to study urban planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and intended to return to Newark and help make the city a better place. Prompted by both the sluggishness of the economy when she completed her master’s degree and by her desire to understand the forces underlying urban decline and growth, she decided instead to continue her education.
She earned a Ph.D. in urban planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and pursued an academic career. She spent much of that part of her career addressing issues related to economic and community development at colleges and universities in Chicago and Atlanta. A common theme that cut across her teaching and research was the identification of policies and strategies that can improve the economic circumstances of people of color and urban residents with low incomes. She eventually decided to shift gears and leave academia because she felt a need to be more directly involved with the issues that matter to her. Through her work with community-based and other nonprofit organizations she came to believe that local and community-based initiatives are driving forces for positive social change.
She currently lives in the Fairmount neighborhood in the house where her parents raised her and her two sisters and brother. She serves as the Executive Director of United Parks As One, a citywide alliance of neighborhood-based park, playground, and garden groups dedicated to creating, maintaining, and activating open spaces for the benefit of Newark residents and communities.