Spring 2023 Urban Planning Semester in Review
From the Director

As we embrace the new normal, an endearing aspect is our ability to travel again, for studios, thesis and capstone research, office visits, and conferences. To engage with studio clients and stakeholders, to survey and interview residents, to observe neighborhoods and projects, and to connect with planning organizations and alums. More than 30 admitted Urban Planning students also came to campus to attend the open house events, sit in a couple of our courses, and spoke with students and faculty. All things we might have taken for granted a few years ago, now generate much excitement. One last bit of good news: GSAPP’s End of Year Show (EOYS) will be virtual and partially in-person in Avery Hall this year, and will open in the afternoon of Saturday May 13. UP students’ work in Studios and Urban Sensing will be featured on the fifth floor.

With our new Associate Director for Professional Development & Practice, career services in the UP program now encompass much more expanded support to students. A new service is one-on-one consultation, at least once a semester for each student, to explore about what types of work students are interested in and what potential places of employment they hope to connect with. Students’ involvement with career services begins the moment of matriculation and their career aspirations also inform the types of courses taken. In February, GSAPP held a successful career fair bringing together employers and students across nearly all of the programs in the School. On demand after the much enjoyed student/alum mixer in Harlem’s Row House last Fall, the Spring event brought together many members of the UP community for an engaging and relaxing evening. The same kind of new and renewed connections were made during the GSAPP/UP reception at the annual APA conference in Philadelphia. I very much enjoyed seeing everyone there.

My best,

Program Updates

We are grateful to Visiting Assistant Professor Jenna Dublin-Boc for her contribution over the past year. Jenna has advised theses and capstone projects, in addition to teaching the Joint HP/UP Studio in the Fall and a Urban Planning Studio and a new course Neighborhood Land Use Activism this Spring. She will be heading to sunny California for a new position in the Fall – we wish her all the best! A warn welcome to Kristin Miller, who has extensive experience in affordable housing development and will join as an adjunct faculty to teach in the Fall.

Four electives will be substantially re-imagined for the Fall semester:

Each year, MSUP students have the opportunity to attend the American Planning Association National Planning Conference. This year many students attended the event on April 1-4 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The conference program focused on topics including climate adaptation, housing affordability, and the future of work. On April 1, GSAPP/UP held a networking reception at the Conference in Philadelphia, and many students and alums were in attendance. It is always great to see alumni from different cities.
Urban planning students attended a networking event with program alumni at Row House Harlem on April 14. Over 50 students and 20 alumni working in various sectors were in attendance. The event was also a great opportunity for second year students to celebrate the end of their final semester at GSAPP.
Faculty Updates

This Spring, Ebru Gencer was a discussant in the series of workshops on urban resilience and response to extreme weather events that were organized by the World Bank in partnership with the Ministry of Emergency Management of the People’s Republic of China. In April, she was a panelist at Columbia University’s Earth Day Summit event on Natural Disasters: Response and Strategies in the Face of Climate Change. In May, Ebru will attend the High-Level Meetings at the United Nations for the Mid-term Review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Hugo Sarmiento, Assistant Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, won a Junior and Mid-Career Faculty Grant for his research about Insurgent Planning on the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis: Lessons from Edgemere. The grant supports the scholarship of outstanding junior and mid-career faculty who contribute to the diversity goals of the University through their research, teaching, and mentoring activities.

Thoroughly enjoying the chance to teach the China Urbanism in Global Context course again after a two-year hiatus, Weiping Wu has spoken to a variety of audiences about the work in her new book China Urbanizing: Impacts and Transitions. These include visits to the University of Michigan for a seminar organized by the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies and Brown University’s China Summit, virtual presentations via Hong Kong University’s Geography Distinguished Webinar Series and Urban China Research Network’s Speakers Series, and a conversation with an editor at the China-Britain Business Focus.

Career Services

Career Services has for the first time been enlarged to provide full-time administrative support with professional development, internships, jobs, and advice on constructing resumes, cover letters, and negotiating salaries.

We have also produced two new publications: How to Get a Job, and the 2023 Resume Book, an often-requested compilation of urban planning student resumes that will be available to potential employers. The How to Get a Job booklet was assisted in presentation by Sebastian Bielski (M.S. UP ’23) and the 2023 Resume Book assisted by Shannon Hui (M.S. UP ’24).

Along with our administrative colleagues in Real Estate Development, Architecture, Historic Preservation, and recently Computational Design Practices, we are looking for ways to combine our efforts to provide students with clear and successful strategies in their internships and job searches.

In addition to our very successful career fair (63 firms, 400 students), we had another semester highlight at Row House at which students were able to mingle with alumni and blow off steam from the pressures of thesis/capstone jury week. Thanks to Sean Chew (M.S. UP ’23) for his amazing performance in the surprise dance-off!

Our current cohorts are doing very well in a highly competitive internship and job environment. Examples of first-year students’ forthcoming internships:

  • Alyani Acacio, HR&A
  • Aroosa Ajani, HR&A
  • Donatella Donato, NYC EDC
  • Nina Faranachi, Apex Building Group
  • Shannon Hui, Arup
  • Olivia Jia, Gehl
  • Ruju Joshi, Melissa Johnson Associates, Inc.
  • Valentine Kalei, Gensler
  • Dhwani Laddha, NYC DCP
  • Gertie Ma, HR&A
  • Chelsea Mullen, Karp Strategies
  • Lance Punay, Stantec
  • Felipe Urrita, HR&A
  • Annika Yu, NYC DCP
Planning Studios

We have had a tremendously successful return to travel in our studio sequence this semester, and the domestic studios have been well-received in the communities they’re helping. The line-up includes:

  • Indigenous Roots in Canada: Reconciling Planning Approach for a Cultural Movement in Toronto and Temagami
  • Exploring and Translating Resilience Planning in Barcelona
  • The Future of Interborough Transit & Outerborough NYC (the IBX)
  • Recalibrating Post-Pandemic Planning in Staten Island
  • Joint Architecture/UP: Infrastructure of Autonomy: A Sustainable Community Facing Climate Change in Culebra, Puerto Rico
  • Joint RED/UP: The Whole Package, Integrating Last Mile Delivery into the Urban Environment

The studio topics range from planning with indigenous partners in Canada, to studying resilience and building forms in Barcelona, analyzing transit opportunities in Queens and Brooklyn, planning for community participation on the north shore of Staten Island, examining last-mile logistics in the inaugural joint UP/Real Estate studio, and continuing a four-year engagement with local communities in Puerto Rico through the joint Architecture/UP studio. See below some of the images from their engagements.

Student Organizations

This semester LatinGSAPP, an interdisciplinary student organization dedicated to the promotion, discussion, and reflection of contemporary issues and ideas in Latin America, hosted a variety of academic talks and cultural events. The speakers featured included Argentinian architect Florencia Rodriguez, now Director of the University of Illinois Chicago’s School of Architecture and Director of PLOT, one of Latin America’s leading design publications, and Maria Migliore, Minister of Human Development and Habitat of Buenos Aires, who discussed her most recent social and economical urban integration projects in the city. Cultural events highlighted the importance of Columbia affiliates to recognize and learn about the cultural background of our neighborhood: Harlem. The Around the Walk Tour with Museo del Barrio, provided GSAPP students with the opportunity to learn about the legacy of our community, the icons that once called El Barrio home, and the art that makes the streets come alive.

QSAPP co-hosted “Historic Homo Harlem: Preserving Disappearing Queer Spaces” in collaboration with Save Harlem Now! and Build Out Alliance in February. QSAPP is also wrapping up the second year of our mentorship program with Build Out Alliance with a Mentor Mixer!

Student News

Maureen Abi Ghanem (PhD Candidate) has received an award of studentship from the IJURR Foundation in the form of a write-up grant, for her dissertation research through a comparative case study approach between Beirut and Berlin, two distinct arrival cities that have both seen and managed a remarkable influx of Syrian refugees over the past decade, but with starkly contrasting state and political structures, economies, capacities, spatial mechanisms, and rhetoric.

Stefan Chavez-Norgaard (PhD Candidate) continues work on drafting his dissertation, which is focused on how community groups and residents in Mahikeng, South Africa repurpose built spaces in the wake of apartheid-era professional planning and forced relocation. He will return to South Africa in May 2023 for a seminar at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and a workshop at the NorthWest University Mahikeng campus. While in South Africa, Stefan will continue laying the groundwork for a community-based symposium to be held with research colleagues and resident leaders. In the 2023–2024 academic year, Stefan will be based in Cambridge, MA, where he will be a doctoral fellow with Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance, and a scholar-in-residence at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Victoria Lin (M.S. UP ’23) researched the development and historic preservation trends of North American Chinatowns for her thesis focusing on the gentrification of Toronto’s Chinatown West. Over the course of the two semesters, she traveled to Los Angeles, Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Montreal to observe how different Chinatown oriented urban policies and plans shaped these distinct urban ethnic enclaves. On her trip to Toronto she interviewed local stakeholders, community-based organizations and members of the government as well as academics, planners and preservationists working in Toronto forming the basis of her qualitative analysis. Following her thesis, she will be beginning an America’s Chinatown research fellowship this summer with the National Trust of Historic Preservation.

Morgan Reuther (M.S. UP and M.S. RED ‘23) was a recipient of the WX Scholars Program from the WX New York Women Executives in Real Estate (WX) association.

Rob Sanchez (M.S. UP '23) visited and toured the neighborhood of Fujisawa SST in Fujisawa, Japan over spring break for his thesis research. Examining smart sustainable city developments, he crafted a case study on Fujisawa SST, the public-private development by Panasonic and Fujisawa. Rob was able to study the information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure in the town and in the greater Fujisawa City. This first-hand account contributed to the thesis’ goal of relating ICTs to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Sabina Sethi Unni (M.S. UP ‘23) has her article published in Urban Omnibus as part of the New City Critics Fellowship.

Reflections on Internships

Calvin Harrison (M.S. UP ‘23)

During summer 2022, I had a part-time internship with Philip Habib & Associates. The firm was very flexible with my schedule, especially after a bike accident took me out for three weeks and required me to leave early many days for physical therapy. I really appreciated the firm’s understanding and allowing me to slowly return to work as I was healing. During my time at Philip Habib, I assisted planners on data collection, analysis, and presentation for Environmental Assessment Statements (EAS). This involved mapping, researching new and under-construction buildings on New York City’s open data sites, and even conducting field visits. Some of my favorite tasks of the summer involved biking around neighborhoods to evaluate existing greenspace. I got to know the Concourse neighborhood of the Bronx relatively well by working on several different parts of an EAS there, but also explored the city through helping on projects in Bed-Stuy, Sheepshead Bay, Williamsburg, and more. I got to apply many of the skills I learned in my first year, including GIS, working with Census data, and understanding the city’s land use regulations, and get a hands-on look at what planners do.

Mollye Liu (M.S. UP '23)

Working as a community fellow with Community Board 7 in Manhattan, I conducted a study on the housing affordability crisis in New York City, focusing on non-market rate housing in Community Board 7 Manhattan (CB7/M). The study aimed to offer insights to the CB7/M Housing Committee for future reference. To achieve this goal, I utilized a mixed-methodology approach, including quantitative and qualitative research methods. I collected data from sources such as the New York City Department of City Planning (NYC DCP), New York City Housing Development Corporation (NYC HDC), New York City Housing Preservation and Development (NYC HPD), and New York State Homes and Community Renewal (NYS HCR). I also collected data from organizations such as the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), NYU Furman Center, JustFix, and BetaNYC. Missing data was filled in through manual searches on ZoLa and Google Maps.

For the qualitative research portion, I attended and observed public and community board meetings, and conducted interviews with major stakeholders such as developers, landlords, and tenants, as well as public agencies (HCR, HPD, DCP, DOB, etc.), non-profit organizations (West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSH), Goddard Riverside, etc.), non-profit developers (ProjectFind, Clinton Housing Development Company, etc.), academic institutes (NYU Furman Center, Pratt Center for Community Development, Columbia GSAPP, etc.), and local communities. Based on the data collected, I developed an inventory database of non-market rate housing in CB7/M, a database of rent-regulated buildings and units in CB7/M (2007-2020), a database of new development projects since 2014, a database of public-owned land in CB7/M, and a database of current hotels and offices. I also created a report on the current non-market rate housing statistics, including the summary of the housing programs in CB7/M, evaluation of the rent burden of residents by integrating demographic data, and statistics, prediction, and comparison for the net gains / net losses of each housing subsection. Additionally, I proposed future affordable housing development and conversion opportunities in CB7/M, including proposed locations (public sites and convertible hotels and offices), potential developers identifying, and their development intentions and concerns.

In conclusion, my internship experience provided me with the opportunity to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the housing situation in CB7/M and propose solutions for future affordable housing development and conversion opportunities in this area. The findings and recommendations of my study can be used by the CB7/M Housing Committee and other stakeholders to inform policy and decision-making related to affordable housing in this area.

Alisa Nurmansyah (M.S. UP ‘23)

This semester I interned at Buro Happold Cities, working closely with their small Economics team. We worked on a project with NYCEDC for economic industry sizing and occupational analyses, of which I was directly involved in strategizing methodologies for bottom-up databases, and conducting sizing, forecasting, and economic impact analyses. The economic industry sizing is specifically for the green economy in New York City. The green economy is a unique sizing exercise, as it encompasses parts of multiple industries so therefore requires a bespoke sizing methodology. When I first started, I was tasked to look into existing peer city reports on how they defined the green economy and what were their methodologies. From there, our team established our own definition as we take into consideration New York City’s particular conditions. Only after this did we start going into the data, pulling numbers from many economic database sources or making our own for nascent industries. Although I was an intern, I was required to brainstorm ideas and make final decisions on what should be included or excluded. I made my decisions based on thorough research on different industry historical, current, and future trends and on sustainable city policy goals in the industry.

Each week I would work closely with the Cities consultants and participate in client meetings with the NYC Economic Development Corporation. During these discussions, our findings are discussed and dissected by the client. To get further confirmation and sense-checking, we spoke to many different stakeholders of the green economy in its different sectors to ensure that our numbers make sense. Conducting economic studies is a crucial part of planning and its discipline, as the workforce shapes how people live and use cities. It was wonderful to also be exposed to planning consulting, and I gained so many practical skills in Excel modeling, communication, writing, and time management.

On April 26, students from the Advanced Spatial Analysis course showcased their projects to faculty and fellow students. This course is an advanced seminar that examines and develops techniques of spatial analysis and representation specific to urban contexts. It centers around key methodologies for spatial analysis and interrogates their use and applicability to different contexts in research and practice. The course was taught by GSAPP MSUP alumni Alanna Browdy and Dan Froehlich.
Graduating urban planning students have recently completed their final thesis/capstone juries with their advisors, readers, and clients. Many of the juries were opened to the GSAPP community, and friends showed up at the presentations to support their peers.
Alumni Updates

Conor Allerton (M.S. UP ‘20) is the Director of Land Use for NYC City Council Member Christopher Marte.

Sebastian Andersson (M.S. UP '21) is the Project Manager, Development at Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Organization.

Justin Barton (M.S. UP ’21) moved to WinnCompanies as Assistant Project Director.

Juan Blanco (M.S. UP '07) is now the Director of Architecture and Urbanism at ClearValue.

Riley Kimarie Burchell (M.S. UP ’21) became Project Manager at L&M.

Yu Chen (M.S. UP '19) is now an architectural designer at KG+D Architects.

Jenna Dublin-Boc (PhD '22) is taking a position as Assistant Professor in the School of Public Affairs at San Diego State University.

Ali Estefam (M.S. UP '20) is the VP/Project Lead - Planning & Design at Melissa Johnson Associates.

Roberta Fennessy (M.S. UP '06) was named by VHB as Southeast Region Planning & Design Service Lead.

John Howland Simonds, Jr. (M.S. UP ’75) took his place among the stars on February 12, 2023, after a tragic bicycle accident in Rancho Mirage, California. He was 71 years old. In his lifetime, John’s reach was far and wide, with family and friends spanning the country from coast to coast and many stops in between. John came to the world with love, generosity and optimism. His passing leaves a void we cannot fill in our lifetimes, though John would urge us to believe that another door will open with equal kindness to balance this loss. If there could be just a single word to describe John, it would be integrity – honesty, fairness, a belief in something bigger than himself that guided his judgment. Friends could depend on John for support, for help, for loyalty and most of all, for steadfastness.

How do we describe the love that John’s family and friends felt for him? There are no words, but there was also never a doubt that John loved us back just as much. His generosity was manifest in his volunteer service to community, his contributions to community organizations and organizations that fought for equality for all people. His optimism found its way into our lives as he lit up our days, especially in dark moments. His integrity meant that John was the best partner anyone could have – on a road trip, in business, at home, as a life partner.

John loved to travel, visiting most continents in the world over the past decade. He loved the out of doors – hiking, biking, skiing, kayaking. His goofy sense of humor was the source of many crack ups, guffaws and chuckles. As a child, he was known as “Johnnie Jump Up” for his boundless energy. John is survived by his loving and beloved husband, Dan Swilley and Dan’s daughter Dana. Patsy, Elizabeth, Jane and Woody are his surviving siblings. John was the adored bioparent to Kip Risch-Andrews and was often referred to as “St. John” by Kip’s moms, Nancy O. Andrews and Ames Risch. John grew up in Fitchburg, Massachusetts and Northeast Harbor, Maine. His received higher education degrees at the University of Massachusetts and Columbia University. Celebrations of life will be held for John on April 15, 2023 in Rancho Mirage, California and on July 22, 2023 in Portland, Maine.

Nick Kunz (M.S. UP '19) is a Data Scientist at Deloitte and PhD Student at Cornell University. ImbalancedLearningRegression published in Machine Learning and Knowledge Discovery in Databases: European Conference, ECML PKDD 2022, Grenoble, France, September 19–23, 2022, Proceedings, Part VI, ISBN: 978-3-031-26422-1, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-26422-1.

Geon Woo Lee (M.S. UP ’21) was promoted to Senior Analyst at HR&A.

Ruoran Lin (M.S. UP '18) is a Transportation Planner at NYC DCP.

Michele Payne (M.S. UP '01) is an Adviser at the State Solicitor’s Office, Western Australia, providing legal advice and litigation services in urban planning related matters, in particular for transport infrastructure related works.

Briana Peppers (M.S. UP '16) is now the Associate Vice President of Real Estate & Government Relations at Kasirer.

Michael Perles (M.S. UP '16) is an urban planner at Hester Street and lecturer at Hunter College.

James Piacentini (M.S. UP and M.Arch '20) is a Product Manager at the NYC Department of City Planning. James presented DCP’s Equitable Development Data Explorer, a first-of-its-kind racial equity and displacement risk tool at this year’s School of Data with two colleagues from DCP.

Michael Phillips (M.S. UP ’16) and Sahra Mirbabaee Phillips (M.S. UP ’17) welcomed their first child, a daughter named Sofia Noor Phillips, on February 27, 2023, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Oliver Schaper is the Design Director/ Cities + Urban Design Practice Leader at Gensler.

Dana Sunshine (M.S. UP '05) is the Director, Capital and Real Estate Initiatives for the New York Public Library.

Many thanks to the accomplished alumni who participated in our Mentorhip Program this year. If you’d like to participate or would like more information, please contact Douglas Woodward at dw38@columbia.edu.

  • Anthony Borelli (M.S. UP ’96), Sr. VP Planning & Development, Edison Properties; Adjunct Associate Professor, UP
  • Alanna Browdy (M.S. UP ’20), Strategist, Gensler; Adjunct Assistant Professor, UP
  • Cate Corley (M.S. UP ’05), Marketing & Communications Manager, STV
  • Avery Dement (M.S. UP ’18), Underwriter, Low Income Investment Fund
  • Tim Douglas (M.S. UP ’16), Planner III, STV
  • Eri Furusawa (M.S. UP ’18), Director, HR&A
  • Steven Getz (M.S. UP ’17), VP, Head of Production, Community Preservation Corp.
  • Yi Jiang (M.S. UP '18 and M.Arch ‘21), Intermediate Architect, SOM
  • Sahra Mirbabaee (M.S. UP ’17), Student, Harvard Law School
  • Andrea Partenio (M.S. UP ’20), Consultant, Bloomberg Associates
  • Briana Peppers (M.S. UP ’16), Director, Real Estate & Government Relations, Kasirer
  • Heather Roiter (M.S. UP ’07), Assistant Commissioner, Risk Reduction & Management, NYC Emergency Management
  • Charlie Romanow (M.S. UP ’18), Transportation Planner, WSP
  • Justin Romeo (M.S. UP ’18), Director of Special Projects, NYC DOT
  • Sonal Shah (M.S. UP ’08), Founder, Urban Catalysts
  • Evan Sweet (M.S. UP ’17), Director of Neighborhood Planning & Operations, Meatpacking District Management Association