Fall 2020 Urban Planning Semester in Review
From the Director

“Reimagining” perhaps best captures the spirit of what we are undertaking. Reimagining how to connect, learn and collaborate during the pandemic; reimagining how to heighten our program’s commitment to social, racial and climate justice; and reimagining how to (re)shape cities and planning for the post-pandemic rebound now that hope is on the horizon. Challenges abound, but we are making progress, thanks to the overwhelming positivity of the immediate and large UP community members.

Over the summer, GSAPP worked intensely with the university in preparation for a hybrid learning model for the Fall semester. It blends the online and the in-person, and allows flexibility for accommodating students facing COVID-19 challenges. Starting with the most crucial aspects of our pedagogies, such as studio and laboratory instruction, each program has at least one course with in-person learning for each class of students. GIS Labs and Thesis/Capstone Workshop are UP’s hybrid offerings in the Fall, and in the Spring they will be Studio and Thesis/Capstone. While providing more connection, the hybrid model is far from ideal. With student feedback through a university survey and faculty’s experience with the new teaching environment, I am optimistic that we will have a stronger run in the Spring.

School-wide work has been ongoing to support and shape a vision of what an antiracist GSAPP looks like. A faculty Anti-Racism Task Force appointed by the Dean is working, in conversations with faculty, students, and other GSAPP community members, to collect and synthesize ideas and tools for making change through curriculum and programming. Three UP faculty are in the task force (Lance Freeman, Malo Hutson as co-chair, and Weiping Wu). In our program, students have formed a UP Action Group to advocate for immediate and long-term changes, organized the UP Student Emergency Fund to support peers facing acute financial difficulty, and formed a learning collective to understand the legacy of racism (particularly anti-Black racism) in the planning profession. As a part of summer outreach to incoming students, we instituted a new common reading – The Color of Law – and organized the new student orientation around the book discussion with UP full-time faculty to center our collective focus on confronting racist legacies and to begin forging a sense of trust in difficult conversations. In an additional panel, adjunct faculty provided further connection to how planning and other professional organizations reshape their practices to address these issues.

Across the curriculum, we continue to expand and focus our attention to social, racial and climate justice, highlighted in a revised mission statement of the M.S.UP program. This Fall, our students have welcomed a number of new or reimagined courses: Environmental Data Analysis in Context of Climate Change; Transformational Planning Frameworks for Equitable Climate Action; and Resilience, Reparations and the Green New Deal: Climate Justice in Our Own Backyard). In the Spring, new and reimagined offerings will address critical issues of our time: Built Environment Disruption: Partnerships and Urban Technology; Cities in Crisis: Planning in Comparative Perspectives; Climate Adaptation in Cities; and Planning, Politics & Power (more details in the Program Update section).

The PAB virtual site visit for the reaccreditation of the M.S.UP program proceeded smoothly on November 16-18, after our extensive engagement with the large UP community and area professionals. We will know the final decision in the Spring. Another good news is the approval for a part-time option allowing students to obtain the M.S.UP degree in four years (eight semesters) as an alternative to two years (four semesters) of full-time study. This is intended specifically for active practitioners who wish to maintain professional positions while completing their degree. If anyone you know is interested, they can find out more about the option here.

Have a safe and enjoyable holiday season!


Program Updates

A faculty search initiated in December 2019 has been successfully concluded. A new colleague will be joining the program in Fall 2021, who will bring extensive expertise in environmental planning and climate change, adding new energy to the curriculum and program. Look out for a GSAPP announcement about this soon. In addition, we will be welcoming several new adjunct faculty in the Spring: Roberta Fennessy, Instructor at University of Central Florida and UP alum; Adam Freed, Principal at Bloomberg Associates and Lecturer at Columbia School of Professional Studies; Jeffrey Lin, Vice President and Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia; Olivia Moss, Principal at HR&A advisors; and Adam Tanaka, Senior Analyst at HR&A Advisors and Lecturer at Harvard GSD.

Many of you have already been in touch with Emily Junker, UP’s new program manager. I know you all agree she has been a huge help and warm presence in the few months on the job. A graduate of the Urban Planning and Historic Preservation programs, she is well positioned to manage the wide-ranging responsibilities. If you have yet to meet her, in person or virtually, please reach out and say hi (at elj2130@columbia.edu).

To ensure student engagement and growth in the challenging environment and volatile job market, we have substantially expanded advising and mentoring. The key additional areas of support instituted since the summer include:

  • Prior to new student orientation, the program manager and program director met with nearly all students individually to gauge their academic interests and career aspirations.
  • Drawing from the recent alumni survey and graduate placement information, we have developed an illustrative set of potential career paths for students to consider in designing their programs of study.
  • Based on students’ academic interests, we have matched each with a full-time faculty for additional guidance and advising beyond those provided by the program office.
  • We have designated two assistantship positions as writing and digital mentors, assumed by second-year students who have demonstrated excellence. They each works with the program office to organize monthly workshops and provide weekly office hours for one-on-on peer mentoring.

For the Spring, we will have a number of new or substantially refashioned courses:

Climate Adaptation in Cities – Adam Freed

    Cities are on the frontlines of climate change – both in terms of experiencing its impacts (e.g., nearly two-thirds of cities are coastal) and responding to it. This course discusses the current and future climate risks facing cities, drivers of major risks, actions cities can take to reduce these risks (including planning, policy, design), and strategies to scale these actions. Case studies will be drawn from cities that are reshaping their streets, buildings, waterfronts, natural systems, and resource sheds to protect their residents and economies from climate risks. A focus will be placed on the inequitable distribution of climate risks and impacts, particularly on communities of color and lower-income residents, and solutions to address this.

Cities in Crisis: Planning in Comparative Perspectives – Hiba Bou Akar

    This course focuses on the role of planning in cities facing crises such as hurricanes, earthquakes, explosions, economic crisis, and racial violence. The course will explore the use of the controversial term “crisis,” critiques of the term, and what it means to be a “city in crisis.” Thinking comparatively across cities in the Global North and South, we will review case studies both recent and historical. We will consider what happened in the event, what planning interventions followed, and what the implications—or repercussions—of those interventions may be. Case studies will include hurricanes and earthquakes in Santiago (Chile), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Mexico City (Mexico), Zagreb (Croatia), and San Juan (Puerto Rico); explosions in Fukushima (Japan), Maputo (Mozambique), and Beirut (Lebanon); economic crises in Caracas (Venezuela), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Athens (Greece), and Dakar (Senegal); racial violence in Sanford, Florida (USA), Paris (France), and Bogota (Colombia).

Planning, Politics & Power – Maxine Griffith

    The planning and development process exists at the intersection of policy, politics and geography and is neither linear or one dimensional. The course will consider the interplay of relationships among government, its citizenry and other key stakeholders. Students will gain knowledge and understanding of the ways that politics, community action and governmental procedure influence the planning process and how to develop a successful plan adoption strategy informed by these influences and by critical analysis and reasoning. The course will be guided by a set of lectures, readings, case studies and discussions with knowledgeable stakeholders and planning practitioners.

Built Environment Disruption: Partnerships and Urban Technology – Kate Wittels and Adam Tanaka

    During the second half of the 20th century and accelerating to the present, the financial, institutional, legal, political and conceptual boundaries between public and private have become less distinct, with public and private roles in urban development and governance overlapping. Developers and public authorities alike think of their work as social (i.e. mission-driven) and entrepreneurial. Meanwhile, companies like Uber, Airbnb, and WeWork have disrupted established economic and socio-spatial patterns, influencing the choices that people have and make in the realms of housing, work, consumption and travel. Finally, entities in the so-called “third sector” – civic organizations, cooperatives, and nonprofits – have proliferated, assuming a large role in shaping urban built environments. In this context, the definition of a public benefit is often contested, as is the question of who should be responsible to define and defend the public interest in citymaking. This course relies on a series of cases to illustrate and explore the ways in which cities – and planning – have changed with the acceleration of entrepreneurial activity across sectors in recent decades. Students will be exposed to both academic thinking on important questions of ownership and public responsibility, as well as best practices in planning and policy designed to encourage successful integration of new technology and business models to improve how we live, work, consume and play in cities today and into the future.

Practicum: Planning Mega Projects in Global Cities – Adam Lubinsky

    As cities struggle to pay for new infrastructure and services and seek to attract visitors and residents, they have increasingly turned toward partnerships with private developers to create large mixed-use districts. With the availability of global capital searching for investment opportunities and new financing mechanisms, a paradigm of privately-led mega-projects has emerged. This practicum will analyze and compare the programmatic structure of these developments, their designs for urban spectacle, the planning procedures that have facilitated their creation, and their potential to evolve in a post-COVID global city.

Real Estate Finance and Development – Olivia Moss

    This course will explore the lifecycle of a real estate project, including fundamentals of program development and financial feasibility. Students will learn the building blocks of real estate feasibility analysis, including approaches to market analysis and financial analysis. Through reading, lectures, exercises, and case study work, students will build and develop the tools to analyze the appropriateness of a proposed program based on the surrounding market and project-level real estate economics. Using New York City as a laboratory, students will gain an understanding of how real estate development projects are envisioned and financed. Skills gained in this class will be applicable across various real estate uses, though class work will focus on market-rate and affordable housing, and how federal, state, and city governments create incentives and policies to facilitate the development and financing of multifamily rental housing.

An exciting lineup of studio projects will take place in the Spring:

  • Retail Apocalypse: Strategies for Local Communities – Anthony Borelli & Sybil Wa
  • A Resilient Governors Island – Stefan Al & Purnima Kapur
  • Regional Solutions for Equitable Urban Food Systems – Graham Trelstad & Roberta Fennessy
  • Joint ARCH/UP, Caribbean Reconnections in Culebra: Plan to Implementation – Richard Plunz & Douglas Woodward
Faculty Updates

The Central Park Conservancy interviewed Stefan Al about the benefits of trees in cities. Stefan has also authored a TED ED video, which has been viewed close to 1 million times, on the benefits of urban trees that begins with a cautionary tale of the ancient city of Uruk.

Jit Bajpai has written an article, “COVID-19: How city densities can be managed for post-pandemic recovery,” that was published in DownToEarth.

Hiba Bou Akar was interviewed and quoted in the Quebec Science journal about their article on pandemic and cities, for their December issue.

Lance Freeman received the 2020 Columbia University Press Distinguished Book Award for his book A Haven and a Hell: The Ghetto in Black America. In this book, Prof. Freeman examines the multifaceted role of predominantly black neighborhoods in American history. He has also written an op-ed “Gentrification facts and myths: Let’s deal in reality, not manufactured fear” in the NY Daily News.

Adam Lubinsky’s chapter, co-written with Susan S. Fainstein, “The Relationship between Citizen Participation and the Just City” published in Learning from Arnstein’s Ladder, was published by Routledge in October. Adam is also now the vice chair of the APA’s Public Schools Interest Group which seeks to strengthen linkages between the planning profession and school planning in order to create stronger and more equitable communities.

Kaz Sakamoto and Dr. Jonathan Hersh received funding from the Kay Family Foundation award for their research titled, “Towards Responsive Social Safety Nets: Openly Derived Indicators as Proxies for Subnational Multi-Dimensional Vulnerability in Africa.”

Sybil Wa and Douglas Woodward gave a socially-distanced interview to the Montréal station of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on the planning and design implications arising from the pandemic, effects on commercial real estate, and the post-pandemic planning future of the city.

After an unexpectedly longer process, the second edition of The Chinese City book by Weiping Wu and Piper Gaubatz has been published by Routledge. On December 1, Weiping began her appointment as a board member of the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB), which accredits graduate and undergraduate planning programs in North America. In July, she delivered a Distinguished Speaker Series Webinar for the Asian Development Bank on Private and Institutional Investment in Urban Infrastructure (thanks to the connection by UP alum Ron). In November, she spoke on “Paying for Urbanization: Land Finance and Impacts” at the online conference China Goes Urban – New Insights into China’s Urban Metamorphosis in Post-socialist Times organized by the University of Venice. Her work on land finance was featured in a Financial Times article “China economy: will hot property market threaten post-pandemic rebound?


This year’s GSAPP Urban Planning Dean’s Lecture Series featured J. Phillip Thompson, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives for New York City. Thompson visited us virtually to give a lecture with Response by Weiping Wu, Professor and Director of the Master of Science in Urban Planning Program at GSAPP. You can view the lecture in its entirety by visiting the following link to YouTube.

This was our first semester hosting a fully virtual Lectures in Planning Series (LiPS). This allowed us to be joined by speakers and audience from across the globe. Watch selected recordings of our Lectures in Planning Series on our LiPS YouTube Playlist.

The Seventh Urban China Forum: Pandemic Urbanism China’s Response to COVID-19 and a Post-COVID Future (October 9-10, 2020) revolved around urbanism in the pandemic, discovering multiple aspects of urbanism, from urban design, public space and public health, management, to data and technology, urban resiliency and smart cities. Recognizing the broadness of the planning field, the forum brought together scholars and practitioners with various interests to reflect on the past, review the present, and reimagine a post-COVID future. As the world enters a new era caused by the unprecedented and profound impact of COVID-19 that has challenged ways of inhabitation in almost all dimensions, we see a rising awareness given by planners to reflect on the aspects and even principles of planning, and our ways to engage with the built environment. China has drawn the world’s attention since the very beginning of this global public health crisis. Chinese cities have been in the center of the discussion, providing public management cases to learn about and contributing to pioneering research that we could explore on. Find the summary and event page of the 7th Urban China Forum here and see the recordings here.

On December 4, MSUP students, faculty and staff met up for a small, socially distant, masked gathering on Columbia’s campus. The event took place as three one-hour shifts of maximum ten participants at any time. For some of us, this was the first-time meeting beyond the Zoom screen.

Student Organization News

Urban Planning Program Council welcomed Eve Passman (MSUP ‘22) and Derek Brennan (MSUP '22) who were selected as the First-Year Program Council Representatives. They joined Elaine Hsieh (MSUP '21) and Gina Liu (MSUP '21) who are the Second-Year Program Council Representatives. They began the series, TGIF/Happy Hour, as a virtual meet-up every Friday to allow for students to connect and casually chat with each other during this unprecedented time.

URBAN Magazine is thrilled to release its Fall 2020 semester issue, Dialogues. The issue engendered a collective effort to confront the history of racial inequity through the lens of planning and design students. This year’s Senior Editors are Tihana Bulut (MSUP ‘21), Geon Woo Lee (MSUP '21), and Zeineb Sellami (MSUP '21) accompanied by Online Editor Sherry Aine Te (MSUP ‘22) and Junior Editors Eve Passman (MSUP '22), Shreya Arora (MSUP '22), and Willy Cao (MSUP '22).

Urban China Network (UCN) hosted the 7th Urban China Forum remotely on October 9 and 10 with co-sponsorship by the Columbia Global Center in Beijing and Weatherhead East Asian Institute. With the theme of “Pandemic Urbanism: China’s Response to COVID-19 and a Post-COVID Future,” the forum welcomed 7 speakers, including renowned academicians, scholars, and leading practitioners from China. Topics covered analyzing cities through big data and GIS, making and managing smart cities, and creating resilient and healthy cities. Each lecture was followed by a Q&A session, discussing this global pandemic from different perspectives. At the end of each day, Professor Weiping Wu moderated a panel discussion with speakers.

UCN also held an online Thanksgiving Happy Hour. The gathering connected alumni and students from the Chinese Community at GSAPP to celebrate Thanksgiving and share their latest stories.

APA New York Metro Chapter’s Student Representative Committee welcomed Sebastián Salas (MSUP '22) as GSAPP’s co-representative. He joins Regina Alcazar (MSUP '21), who was elected Vice Chair of the committee for the 2020-2021 school year. Moving forward, they are excited to work on professional networking events with APA Student Representatives from other urban planning programs across the NYC metro area.

The Urban Planning (UP) Action Group, a student-led advocacy organization, formed during Summer 2020 in response to the anti-Black and exclusionary processes institutionalized in GSAPP’s programs. In July 2020, the group published the GSAPP UP Action: Letter & Plan – one of ten letters that called for institutional change that summer. Since the letter’s publishing, the UP Action Group has held multiple student-led workshops, open town halls, and meetings with UP faculty and administration, using the plan as a base for discussion and as inspiration for new ideas. The UP Action Group has also worked to develop student-led networks of mutual aid, including the UP Emergency Fund and a growing repository of online resources to help students navigate confusing, unfamiliar or intimidating systems at Columbia and across New York.

The Unlearning Collective formed over the summer in recognition that as urban planners, we have an obligation to understand the legacy of racism – particularly anti-Black racism – exercised in society and practiced by our profession, and how we can collectively move towards an anti-racist profession in the future. Committed to this pursuit, a group of planners and friends-of-planners came together to read, discuss and learn how to take informed action for change in our work during the Fall semester and beyond.

Student News

Sori Han (MSUP ‘22) served as a Research Fellow for the Asian Young Activist Research Fellowship at the Seoul Institute. She recently published her research on “Digital New Deal Policy through the lens of the inclusive city,” evaluating Seoul’s smart city policies in terms of the digital divide and proposing a new plan utilizing living lab methods. She will continue to update her research during winter break.

Colin Hancock (MSUP ’21) was nominated for the Grammy Award in the Best Album Notes category for his liner notes in the album “The Missing Link: How Gus Haenschen got us from Joplin to Jazz” on Archeophone Records. The CD looks at the earliest years of jazz as well as one of its pioneering recording artists and the music of his hometown of St. Louis, MO at the turn of the previous century.

Elaine Hsieh (MSUP ‘21) worked as a summer fellow at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Technology on the Innovation Team to create a qualitative data visualization for a project held in Inwood and Washington Heights.

PhD Candidates Tyler Haupert and Gayatri Kawlra co-authored an op-ed “Congress is working to protect credit scores from COVID. It should protect your online history, too.” published in NextCity.

Soyeon Kim (MSUP ‘21) worked as a researcher at the National Medical Center in South Korea, enhancing the healthcare system in South Korea during the pandemic. Some of her work involved supporting the building of Public Rehabilitation Hospitals for vulnerable regions. The most important work was finding the best location for the community and assessing floor plans for the infection control system. She is excited to be back in NYC in Spring 2021 and meet friends again!

PhD Candidate Michael Snidal published an op-ed “Next Baltimore mayor must embrace urbanism” in The Baltimore Sun.

Sherry Aine Te (MSUP ‘22) completed the New York / Paris program last Spring 2020. In transition to the MSUP program, she spent the summer with AECOM Manila, where her research focused on sewage and water treatment. This Fall semester, Sherry is URBAN Magazine’s very first Online Editor, who manages the magazine’s online presence.

Xifan Wang (MSUP ‘21) completed a remote semester from Shanghai, China. She’s been using WeWork sites provided by Columbia Global Center, where she met GSAPP/UP fellows and worked together. She interned with WRI’s new mobility group this past summer and this fall where she researched Dockless Bike Sharing system, last-mile micro freight, and MaaS (Mobility as a Service) in Chinese megacities.

Career Services

This semester, career services events included a presentation by Buro Happold’s Cities Team on October 15; an Engage Training workshop to introduce students to GSAPP’s career services platform and share some less-known features on October 16; a presentation by NJ Transit about upcoming summer internships on November 6; and a virtual office visit of the Regional Plan Association (RPA) on November 12.

The program sponsored the attendance of 21 students to the virtual APA New York Metro Chapter’s Annual Conference on October 15-16 and 20 students to the APA Diversity Committee’s Hindsight conference on November 12-13.

Alumni and students congregated virtually on October 23 for a speed networking event. Thank you to the following alumni for joining us and engaging in lively conversations with current students: Conor Allerton (MSUP ‘20), Urban Planner, Manhattan Borough President’s Office; Becca Book (MSUP and MArch '17), Urban Designer at Mithun; Amy Boyle (MSUP '08), Senior Advisor, NYC City Hall; Andrew Lassiter (MSUP '16), Urban Planner at NYC Council; Ri Le (MSUP '20), Engineering Apprentice at Upstatement; Yining Lei (MSUP '20), Research Analyst & GIS Coordinator, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA); Sahra Mirbabaee (MSUP '17), Land Use Planner at Manatt, Phelps, & Phillips, LLP; Michael Phillips (MSUP '16), Manager of Development and Planning at Hudson Pacific Properties; and Wesley Rhodes (MSUP '18), Senior Planner at The Calladium Group.

Alumni Updates

After graduating from GSAPP, Mohammed Alkhalifa (MSUP ‘18) worked for the Ministry of Transportation for one year and he is currently working at the Bahrain Urban Planning Authority. His experience at the GSAPP MSUP program was invaluable and opened many doors for him.

Ted Bardacke (MSUP ‘02) completed second full year as the first CEO of start-up Clean Power Alliance, Southern California’s non-profit electricity provider, which competes with investor-owned Southern California Edison. Clean Power Alliance now serves over one million retail customers across two counties, has met California’s ambitious renewable energy goals ten years early, has more customers on 100% carbon free energy rates than any utility in the county, and specializes in bringing innovative local programs to disadvantaged communities. Revenue topped $750 million in FY 2020 and they hope to cross the magic $1 billion threshold and earn an investment grade credit rating in the coming years.

Earlier this year, Maurie Cohen (MSUP ‘87) became Chair of the Department of Humanities at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He continues in his role as a member of the Management Team of the Future Earth Knowledge-Action Network on Systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production and the Editor of the journal Sustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy. His most recent book–entitled Sustainability was published by Polity Press as part of its Short Introductions series.

Alexandra Paty Diaz (MSUP ‘16) was selected as an Urban Design Forum Forefront Fellow for 2020-2021. She and few other Latin urbanists also launched the blog, Transecto, which looks to encourage and disseminate urban design, planning and policy discussion in Spanish.

Jenna Dublin, current PhD Candidate of Urban Planning, and Emily Junker (MSUP and HP ‘20), Alumna of Historic Preservation and Urban Planning, contributed to the recently published report Preserving African American Places: Growing Preservation’s Path for Equity in The National Trust for Historic Preservation. The main report is enhanced by the collection of case study research titled, Perspectives of Neighborhood Change completed by 10 National Trust Research Fellows.

Guilherme Rocha Formicki (MSUP '19) has been admitted into University of São Paulo’s Urban Planning PhD program, starting in early 2021.

Patrick Hoffman (MSUP ‘12) and his wife Nargis purchased a 1927 cottage-style house in Redwood City, CA, which they are rehabbing.

Patrick Jalasco (MSUP ‘15) is a practicing urban planner in the Philippines, currently involved with a local advocacy group called “AltMobility PH.” Since 2018, his group has been pushing for more inclusive, sustainable, and humane transportation policies and projects in the Philippines. Urban development and transportation policies are mostly car-centric so they have been striving to change that predominant but outdated mindset. Because of COVID-19’s effects on the public transportation sector, Philippine policymakers and government officials have been looking for alternative options for transportation. Rather than going back to car-centric solutions, more and more people now are expressing their desires and support for biking and other non-motorized modes of transportation. It’s probably at its all-time high in the Philippines and he sincerely hopes that this becomes sustained in the coming years even after this pandemic.

Ri Le (MSUP ‘20) will be joining the digital product design studio Upstatement as an Engineering Apprentice for the next quarter, where he will be writing a lot of code and working on Web apps.

We would like to thank the following alumni for their participation in the UP Mentorship Program this year. As we have every year since the program’s inception in 2017, we have a record enrollment with 29 mentor/mentee matches. We would also like to thank those of you who volunteered despite not being matched this time around. In the future, we hope to connect even more students with alumni mentors. This program is a great way for alumni to remain involved with Columbia’s UP community, and for students to explore the profession before they graduate. For more information about the program, please contact Emily Junker at elj2130@columbia.edu.

2020-2021 Mentors
Matthew Bauer
Lisa Blake
Becca Book
Amy Boyle
Tyrene Calvesbert
Vivian Castro-Wooldridge
Elaine Costello
Renata Dermengi Dragland
Athanas Fontaine
Tara Heidger
Doneliza Joaquin
Theresa Kilbane
Tatiana Kopelman
Andrew Lassiter
Cheryl Lim
Adam Lubitz
Sahra Mirbabaee
Alex Moscovitz
Matthias Neill
Cuthbert A Onikute
David Perlmutter
Michael Phillips
Wesley Rhodes
Lucy Robson
Valerie Stahl
Charlie Stewart
Josef Szende
Marla Weinstein
Taylor Young

Other Mentor volunteers
Conor Allerton
Jacob Feit
James Garland
Anne Krassner
Susie Kuo
Gary Roth
Kirthana Sudhakar
David Zyck