Fall 2017 Urban Planning Semester in Review

Pauline Claramunt Torche (M.S. UP ‘19), Francis Yu (M.S. UP '19) and Eri Furusawa (M.S. UP '18)

On September 29th, several UP students participated in the Puerto Rico Mapathon. They used satellite imagery and open-source mapping software to aid humanitarian effort in Puerto Rico. The event was covered by the New York Times and PBS.

From the Director

As we wrap up the Fall 2017 semester with positive developments in the Urban Planning Program, we are keenly aware of the challenges in the world we live in. Educating future planners for critical and emerging roles and preparing them as change agents with new knowledge and skills remain at the center of our efforts.

The new class of UP students, 62 strong, have been immersed in a significantly retooled core curriculum since joining us in September. In the History and Theory of Planning course, Professor Hiba Bou Akar brings in new discussions and insights to emphasize how the planning profession has been shaped simultaneously by local socio-economic, political, and spatial processes as well as transnational and global circulations of capital, commodities, services, and people. Professor Malo Hutson, our newest full-time faculty, is teaching a much more comprehensive Planning Methods course in which students learn to formulate research questions and methods to collect, process, analyze, and interpret information needed to tackle planning problems. In the renamed course Geographical Information Systems, Professor Leah Meisterlin brings a heightened understanding of the possibilities for GIS-based work and provides an adequate foundation for critically and effectively engaging those possibilities. In addition, I am excited that David Karnovsky, a seasoned and respected land use lawyer, will be teaching our core Planning Law course in Spring 2018. We also have planned another set of new elective courses for Spring, and you can see what they are in the Program Updates section.

Taking advantage of our connections with design, preservation, and real estate faculty and professionals within and beyond GSAPP, we are expanding joint studio/seminar offerings. This Fall, UP and historic preservation students are collaborating on Heritage, Education, and Urban Resilience: Building Alternative Futures in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Another group of UP students have joined an Architecture studio Playing with Anomalies and Co-Producing New Imaginaries: Bogotá River, identifying existing synergies and complementary methodological approaches. In Spring 2018, a joint Arch/UP studio will explore the integration of fragments of urban space and green infrastructure in Genoa, Italy, in partnership with the urban design program at the University of Genoa. A team of UP students will pursue a studio project on transit-induced redevelopment in Hong Kong, collaborating with Architecture faculty and students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Thanks to many of our alumni who came to celebrate at a UP reception at the 2017 APA National Conference last May, who are mentoring students in our new pilot program, who have volunteered to become class representatives, and who joined me in conversations in Beijing and Hong Kong. Such connections are invaluable for the growth of our program, and students appreciate them immensely. We will be holding a UP reception on the evening of Saturday (7-8.30 pm) April 21, at the 2018 APA National Conference in New Orleans. Please mark your calendar and stay tuned for details.

Best wishes for a happy holiday season.


Program Updates

We are excited to welcome several new adjunct faculty members in the Spring: Anthony Borelli (M.S. UP ‘96), Vice President of Planning & Development at ‎Edison Properties; Ebru Gencer (UP Ph.D. ’07), Founding Executive Director of the Center for Urban Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience; Sandy Hornick, Principal of Hornick Consulting, Inc. and former Deputy Executive Director of Strategic Planning and Zoning Director at NYC Department of City Planning; Andrea Rizvi (UP Ph.D. ’14), Senior Consultant to the Urban Strategy Development and Analytics Group at the World Bank; Andrea Batista Schlesinger, Partner at HR&A Advisors and former Deputy Director of US Programs at Open Society Foundations; Howard Slatkin (M.S. UP ’00), Deputy Executive Director of Strategic Planning at NYC Department of City Planning; and Jamie Torres Springer, Partner and Senior Principal at HR&A Advisors who established and spearheads the firm’s resilience planning practice.

This Spring we are expanding our curriculum to include five new courses: Infrastructure Planning and Practice in Developing Countries, Urban Economic Development Practicum: Achieving Outcomes for Inclusive Growth, Local Government Politics and Law, Global Healthy Cities, and Practicum: Global Practices in Risk Reduction & Resilience.

First-year students will participate in six studios next spring. Of the six, three are international studios traveling in March to Hong Kong; Wenzhou, China; and Genoa, Italy. The other three studios will work with local clients including the NYC Department of City Planning, Brooklyn & Queens Borough Offices; the Regional Plan Association; and NYC Emergency Management. The full list of studios is below:

  • Section 001: Transformational Waterfront Planning in Brooklyn & Queens, Anthony Borelli and Sandy Hornick, Wednesdays 3-7pm
  • Section 002: Neighborhood Change, Displacement, and Health, Malo Hutson and Kian Tajbakhsh, Wednesdays 3-7pm
  • Section 003: Hong Kong as a Palimpsest: Transit-Induced Redevelopment in To Kwa Wan, Weiping Wu and Jose Luis Vallejo, Wednesdays 3-7pm
  • Section 004: Creating a Pilot Emergency Planning Toolkit for Gowanus Community for NYC 2019 Hazard Mitigation Plan, Ethel Sheffer and Graham Trelstad, Mondays 2-6pm
  • Section 005: The Global Campus, Maxine Griffith and Tom Wright, Wednesdays 3-7pm
  • Section 006: Genoa, Italy: Negotiating Fragments (9 points), Richard Plunz and Douglas Woodward, Mondays and Thursdays 2-6pm
Faculty Updates

For May Day 2017, Moshe Adler wrote a piece about automation and regarding the abysmal state of the NYC subway he discovered that the job of fixing the system is being awarded to corporations with a record of corruption.

In September, Robert Beauregard gave two lectures in Aarhus, Denmark. One lecture was titled “Designing for Place: Los Angeles and Detroit” and was given at the Aarhus School of Architecture. The other lecture was given at the Rising Architecture conference and was titled "Uncertainty and the Socio-Materiality of Cities.” In October, he lectured on “Justifying Large Redevelopment and Infrastructure Projects” at Sciences Po in Paris. While there, with Professor Marco Cremaschi from Sciences Po, they ran a workshop for doctoral students.

Ebru Gencer recently wrote The New Handbook for Local Government Leaders: How to Make Cities More Resilient (UN 2017) that provides guidance on urban risk reduction and resilience building to +3500 cities that are part of the United Nations’ Making Cities Resilient Campaign. She is a Steering Committee member of the Campaign and chairs the Urban Planning Advisory Group to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. This fall, Ebru also joined the Steering Committee of the Global Alliance on Urban Crises and attended committee meeting in Paris under the auspices of the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) annual meeting “Línternationalisation des collectivités territoriales.” In September, she attended the Stockholm Security Conference as a panelist, where she was invited by the Swedish Red Cross to discuss the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction at the Municipal Level. In December, Ebru will attend the final workshop of her project in Panama. The project Participatory Planning for Climate Resilient Development in Latin America was selected amongst +200 grant applicants by the UK and Canadian Governments and provides a participatory decision-making approach for climate resilient urban planning and development in three cities in El Salvador, Colombia, and Argentina.

This semester, Malo Hutson launched the Urban Community and Health Equity Lab. The mission of the Lab is to conduct interdisciplinary research to transform institutions, policies, and practices that cause health inequities, both domestically and internationally. Specifically, its research uses a social justice framework, and is at the intersection of architecture, law, public health, public policy, and urban planning. In addition, he has also been appointed co-chair of the Urbanism research group for the Columbia Population Research Center. CPRC researchers take advantage of the extraordinary ethnic and racial diversity of New York City’s communities to further the understanding of how the physical environment and social resources of urban neighborhoods create contexts and individual vulnerabilities that modify and mediate relationships between economic and health disparities. Parallel to its focus on local urban conditions is an equally strong focus on globally-oriented work on urbanism framed in response to the increasingly important role of cities (and particularly ‘mega-cities’) in creating inequalities in population health.

Alejandro de Castro Mazarro exhibited his research, developed with Yashesh Panchal (M.S. UP ‘18), Jose Lemaitre (M.S. UP ‘17) and Adelaida Albir (M. Arch ‘18) from GSAPP, at the Chilean Architecture Biennale “Unpostponable Dialogues”. He participated in a panel discussion at the 17th SACRPH conference on planning history in Cleveland OH, with a presentation titled: “Displaced Urban Ideas: the representing the social attributes of the Favela-Bairro Program.”

Ethel Sheffer, FAICP, is an appointed Commissioner on the NYC Public Design Commission, which reviews urban design and aesthetics of public projects and public art. In 2017, she has been working as a planning and public outreach consultant on a major proposal to provide 200 plus affordable housing units for older people and families on West 108th Street. In these last months, she has also worked on a zoning study in SoHo in Manhattan. In addition, she continues to be an active member of Manhattan’s Community Board 7.

Studio Professor Jose Luis Vallejo, Principal of Madrid and Miami based Ecosistema Urbano, was the Fall of 2017 keynote speaker at the New Generations Festival in Rome’s Casa dell’Architettura (Italy), Sustainable Design Week in the American University of Beirut (Lebanon), XX Architecture and Urbanism Biennial of Chile (Valparaiso, Chile), Utzon Lecture Series in Aalborg (Denmark) and Aalto University of Helsinki (Finland). He has also recently received the 2017 International Spanish Architecture and Urbanism Award and been recognized as a 2017 Social Design Circle Honoree by the Curry Stone Design Prize. Currently, his practice is developing projects in United States, Spain, Ecuador, Mexico and Germany and his work has been selected to be part of the architecture collection of the Chicago Art institute.

In October, Professor Weiping Wu became the President of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. ACSP is a consortium of university-based programs offering credentials in urban and regional planning, with over 100 full-member schools in North America. Recently, she also has been appointed to the Hong Kong Research Grants Council’s Humanities and Social Sciences Panel. In her role as a member of the faculty steering committee of Columbia’s Global Center in Beijing, she organized and moderated a panel of Chinese urban and planning scholars on Sustainable Urbanization and Prospects for “New Area” in Beijing in July. While in China, she gave keynote speeches at the annual conferences of International Association for China Planning and Urban China Research Network. In mid-December, she will be giving another keynote speech at the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Summit Forum. Her recent publications, in collaboration with colleagues in China, include “An evolving regional innovation network: collaboration among industry, university, and research institution in China’s first technology hub” (Journal of Technology Transfer), “Agency and social construction of space under top-down planning: Resettled rural residents in China” (Urban Studies), and “To move or to stay in a migrant enclave in Beijing: The role of neighborhood social bonds” (Journal of Urban Affairs).

Career Services
UP students visited the NYC Department of Transportation Traffic Management Center (TMC)

On September 22nd, a group of six students visited the NYC Department of Transportation Traffic Management Center (TMC) in Long Island City. They met with Deputy Commissioner for Traffic Operations Joshua Benson (M.S. UP ‘06) and his staff, who gave them a tour of the facilities, introduced new street initiatives, and discussed TMC’s daily collaboration with the DOT’s Manhattan office, the New York State DOT, and the NYC Police Department. On October 27th, a group of 17 students visited the offices of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to learn about emerging opportunities in the field. They met with a range of staff in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Preservation (“Year 15 Plan”) team and the Credit & Special Underwriting Unit, who prepared a presentation on new initiatives at HPD and their respective roles. At the end of the presentation, students heard from the Talent Acquisition Manager about the civil service exam process and connected with Jennifer Guzman (M.S. UP ’07), Director of Operations, Division of Special Needs Housing.

This fall we launched the pilot alumni mentorship program. Ten second-year UP students were matched with alumni based on their career goals and areas of interest. We hope to open this program to all second-year students next fall. Wesley Rhodes (M.S. UP ’18) says of the program: “I was paired with a wonderful mentor (M.S. UP ’15) who is currently working at NYC Department of City Planning. While it is early in the process, we have already had a very successful introductory meeting and are making plans for a work shadow day over the winter break. My mentor has been a great resource for me so far answering questions about the process of transitioning from academics back into the workforce. She has also been a great networking resource, for example, she has brought opportunities to my attention such as internships and has offered to facilitate networking with other professionals in the field. I look forward to finding interesting events to attend with my mentor in the coming months.”

Student Organization News

On October 7th, Urban China Network hosted the 4th Urban China Forum. Professors and practitioners from Columbia University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale-NUS College, Johns Hopkins University, New York University, Rutgers University, the New School and ARUP Engineering Consultancy participated in a lively discussion about China’s Transformative Planning and Urban Prospects.

In six keynote speeches and two panel sessions, scholars and experts discussed pressing planning topics in China, which included urban transformation, urban villages and its displacement effect, cluster cities and regional cooperation, human-oriented development approaches.

The forum was attended by students from other programs at Columbia University and visitors from the Greater New York Region.

UP Vision—the student-led group that seeks to facilitate students’ greater involvement in intersectional education and planning by providing an inclusive and alternative space for cultural expression, ethical dialogue and professional development—has had a busy semester.

On September 16th, UP Vision connected with New York Cares’ Farm to Pantry Program to bring UP students a morning of urban farming in Brooklyn. Volunteers worked directly with professional farmers at the High School for Public Service (HSPS) Youth Farm to assist with all farming aspects, from composting and weeding, to harvesting and processing crops to building benches and raised beds.

UP Vision students, on September 21st, met with Cathy Chen of Fab Lab El Paso to talk about fabrication culture and Fab Cities, border culture and politics, and grassroots organizing, linking the heart of New York City with the US-Mexico border.

Guest lecturer Cindy Trinh of Activist NYC spoke to UP Vision students on October 4th. Cindy Trinh is the founding photojournalist of Activists of New York, a documentary photo project about activism, protests, and social justice movements in New York City.

UP Vision hosted its second farming service day in East Harlem on October 7th with Concrete Safaris. They helped prepare raised beds for planting, plant seeds and transplants, spread wood chips, shovel topsoil, and weed.

On October 11th, UP Vision held a discussion with Aldo Medina from the East LA Community Corporation (ELACC) about the organization’s Commercial Corridor project and affordable housing initiatives for the Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles neighborhoods.

On November 17th, the UP Program Council hosted the Thanksgiving Potluck Dinner. For many international students, this dinner was their first time celebrating Thanksgiving.

URBAN and the UP Program Council co-hosted the URBAN Magazine Launch Party on December 8th. This fall issue, titled SUPRA, explores ideas in planning that go above and beyond the limits of traditional planning methods.

Students celebrated the night playing Cards Against Urbanity, answering trivia questions, and enjoying refreshments.

Student News

Stephanie Chan (M.S. UP ‘18) leads UP Vision, which is a student-led initiative that seeks to facilitate students’ greater involvement in intersectional education and planning by providing an inclusive and alternative space for cultural expression, ethical dialogue and professional development. Stephanie is also leading the planning and execution of a design and policy competition for refugee assistance titled, Place and Displacement 2018: Integrating Refugee Populations within Cities with help from Angel Lopez (M.S. UP ‘18), Magda Maaoui (UP Ph.D.), Sean Nelson (M.S. UP '19), Eric Pietraszkiewicz (M.S. UP '18), Shruti Shubham (M.S. UP '18), Shelby Smith (M.S. UP '19) and Pauline Claramunt Torche (M.S. UP '19).

Emily Fesette (M.S. UP ‘18) was awarded the NYC Community Planning Fellowship. Emily is working with Manhattan Community Board 7 to gain real-world skills and utilize the things she is learning in class in practice.

Maria Garces (M.S. UP ‘18) traveled to Santa Olga and Pellehue, Chile, to conduct interviews and visit the sites she will be analyzing for her thesis project about post disaster reconstruction. Both places were severely damaged during the wildfires in February 2017 and the 2010 earthquake respectively. In Santa Olga, the nearby mountains remain the only physical remnant of the fire that overnight destroyed an entire town. Today, new houses are built with new and improved infrastructure, which allows families to return to their town in about six months.

Faisha Indrakesuma (M.S. UP ‘18) was awarded the NYC Community Planning Fellowship. Faisha is working with Manhattan Community Board 4 to experience firsthand the complex community issues and constraints in neighborhood-based planning. In her first year, Faisha took courses in the community and economic concentration, while this year she is focused more on the built environment, specifically transportation. With this fellowship, she merges her two interests and applies what she is learning into a real world context.

Nicholas Johannes (M.S. UP/M.S. RED ‘18) was working at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Transit-Oriented Development Group since July. At the MTA, Nicholas was carrying out value capture analysis for the Penn Station Access project. Nicholas was also writing and researching successful transit-oriented development case studies for the Urban Land Institute Tri-State Land Use Council on behalf of the MTA.

Tara Heidger (M.S. UP/M.I.A. ’19) won the Pat Tillman Scholarship, which is the most prestigious scholarship award a military veteran can receive. Tara was one of 60 student veterans selected for the scholarship from over 2,200 applicants, including 75 applicants from Columbia Business School, Columbia Law School, and the School of International and Public Affairs. The scholarship includes a four-day weekend in Chicago with the other 59 students who were selected, and $20,000 to cover school expenses.

Angel Lopez (M.S. UP ‘18) was awarded the NYC Community Planning Fellowship. Angel is working with Bronx Community Board 6 because the goals of the program paralleled his experience, from politics to data analysis and community engagement to economic development. With this fellowship, he hopes to get a better understanding of the governmental structure and its implications on planning practice, within the New York City context, by working with various levels of the political ecology.

Melinda Martinus (M.S. UP ‘18) is participating in a joint research project with Professor Mariaflavia Harari and Professor Maisy Wong of The Wharton School Department of Real Estate at the University of Pennsylvania. She is researching informal housing settlements in Jakarta, Indonesia. Since the summer, Melinda has also been involved in a project called, “Cross Disciplinary Approaches to Flood Research in Jakarta, Indonesia” with Professor Gavin Shatkin of Northeastern University.

Alex Moscovitz (M.S. UP/Public Health ‘18) has worked as an intern at the Regional Plan Association since Fall 2016 to help produce content surrounding health for the Fourth Regional Plan. She was also named a student fellow at the Urban Community and Health Equity Lab headed by Professor Malo Hutson.

Yashesh Panchal (M.S. UP ’18) was awarded the Ginsberg Graduate Fellowship at the Citizens Housing Planning Council, a nonprofit organization spearheading the advancement of practical public policies to increase the housing stock. Coming from a background in architectural design, Yashesh is now taking classes in the Community and Economic Development and Built Environment concentrations. Through his fellowship and study at GSAPP, he plans to contribute equitable planning solutions in the realm of infrastructure planning.

James Piacentini (M.S. UP/Arch '20) wrote a paper for Professor Leah Meisterlin’s Spring 2017 course Digital Restructuring of Urban Space, which was accepted to the 18th N-Aerus Conference in Milan, Italy. The paper focuses on the role of digital community spaces in the conflict between local advocate and self-advocate planners and large institutional planning authorities, using pre-Olympic Games Rio de Janeiro and the local community blog RioOnWatch.org as case studies. In November, James also presented his Fulbright research project, “Rome: Eternal City or Evolving Metropolis?” in the 40th Annual Fulbright Association Conference in Washington, D.C.

Wesley Rhodes (M.S. UP ‘18) has a forthcoming publication in January 2018 in a book entitled, Urban Disaster Resilience and Security: Addressing Risks in Societies by Springer Publishing. He is the co-author, along with Ebru Gencer (UP Ph.D. ‘07), of a chapter entitled, “Towards Climate Resilience in the USA: From Federal to Local Level Initiatives and Practices since the 2000s.”

Justin Romeo (M.S. UP '18) was elected to the APA Student Representatives Council Executive Committee. Justin is the representative for Region 1, which includes all of the Northeast States. Justin will start his term in January 2018.

Shengyi Xu (M.S. UP ‘18) has recently earned the LEED Green Associate designation. LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a globally recognized symbol of excellence in sustainability. LEED aims to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings and communities. LEED Green Associate denotes proficiency of professional practice in today’s sustainable design, construction and operations.

Alumni Updates

Dechets a l'Or (M.S. UP ‘13) has been selected to compete in MassChallenge Switzerland, a top-tier accelerator for social impact startups. He is currently raising funds, through a GoFundMe campaign, that will go toward the airfare and cost of living.

Gavin Browning’s (M.S. UP ‘08) independent project “Housing Works History"—a 25-year multimedia timeline of housing and supportive services built by Housing Works for homeless individuals living with HIV and AIDS—was displayed in the summer exhibition "AIDS at Home: Art and Everyday Activism” at the Museum of the City of New York. In addition, over the past few months, he has presented the project alongside the NYC Trans Oral History Project at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe; to design students from KU Leuven at Flanders House; and at the Center for Experimental Humanities at NYU.

Stephanie Ells (M.S. UP ‘12), Director at the New York City Emergency Management, had a baby girl on March 6th, 2017, named Delilah.

Shahneez Haseeb (M.S. UP ‘17) has moved to Lahore and is working at the Urban Unit, an Urban Sector Planning and Management Services firm that works under the Government of Punjab. The firm is currently working on the Punjab Spatial Strategy to identify growth nodes and growth corridors in the province. In addition to this, she is working with a team to design a master plan for the City of Bahawalpur. Shahneez found the concepts learnt in Professor Jonathan Martin’s Land Use Planning class applicable in the projects.

Naomi Hersson-Ringskog (M.S. UP ‘09) is the recipient of the 2017 William H. White Award for creativity and ingenuity in planning. Recognizing her work at No Longer Empty and the Department of Small Interventions, the Award was delivered at the close of the Chapter conference. In her acceptance remarks, Naomi thanked the APA for celebrating the intersection of arts and planning.

Ben Huff (M.S. UP ‘12), Water Demand Program Manager at NYC Department of Environmental Protection, will adjunct lecture again at Barnard teaching Intro to GIS as part of their Urban Studies program.

Alexandria Fiorini (M.S. UP ‘15) recently moved to San Francisco to assist in the 2018 expansion of the Ford GoBike bike share system.

Andrew Lassiter (M.S. UP ‘16), Urban Planning Analyst at Madlan, is busy gathering every public dataset in New York City, determining what makes public schools tick, and getting ready to launch an app that can show what is going on in your neighborhood. Andrew also recently had the honor of being elected to chair the Board of Directors of his favorite nonprofit, the youth mentoring organization The DREAM Program.

Sahra Mirbabaee (M.S. UP ‘17) moved to Los Angeles and began a job as a Land Use Planner at Manatt, Phelps, and Phillips, a law firm. The firm specializes in land use and entitlement cases of different contexts around Los Angeles.

Ingrid Olivo (UP Ph.D. ‘15), Urban Studies Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow and DPU University College London Associate Staff, is writing a book about hurricanes in Puerto Rico during the first half of the 20th century and giving related talks in the United Kingdom, New York City and Puerto Rico. She is also working on advancing research and capacity building proposals for such a needed topic.

Michael Phillips (M.S. UP ‘16) moved to Los Angeles and joined Hudson Pacific Properties, a REIT that develops creative commercial office buildings on movie studio campuses in Hollywood. He is coordinating entitlement packages, getting all kinds of permits, sitting in on design meetings with architects, and is still trying to find a bagel that comes close to Absolute Bagel.

Brian Tochterman (M.S. UP ‘05), Assistant Professor of Sustainable Community Development at Northland College, recently published The Dying City: Postwar New York and the Ideology of Fear.

Matt Ulterino (M.S. UP ‘97) has been a Program Coordinator for buildings and property at UN Environment Program Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) since May 2017.

Adam Zaranko (M.S. UP ‘06) in April 2016 was appointed Executive Director of the Albany County Land Bank, a New York State not-for-profit Corporation that reclaims tax-foreclosed, vacant and abandoned real estate to revitalize neighborhoods and strengthen communities throughout Albany County.

Class Representatives

We are excited to launch our new alumni class representatives program. Class reps will serve as an important liaison between their peers and the UP office, sharing UP events and news and passing on ideas and feedback from alums. They will be encouraged to have an active presence on the Columbia University Urban Planners LinkedIn group and post events and job openings from their networks. The reps will also have a role in partnering with the GSAPP Alumni Board and the Office of Development and Alumni Relations on class reunions.

2017 Cameron Robertson
2016 Jack Darcey
2016 George Todorovic
2015 Eric Blair-Joannou
2015 Olivia Jovine
2015 David Perlmutter
2008 Sonal Shah
1987 Caroline Sayre

If you missed the call for alumni representatives and would like to volunteer, please email Margaret.