Spring 2021 Urban Planning Semester in Review
From the Director
Second year students gathered for a picnic to celebrate their thesis submissions
Second year students gathered for a picnic to celebrate their thesis submissions.

Hope, fatigue, and perseverance, just a few words to describe what everyone feels, especially our students. In the year since the initial lockdown in March 2020, the pivot to hybrid and online learning has been full of ups and downs. The downs are palpable, even with the heroic efforts by students and teachers alike. We miss the camaraderie and buzz in the UP suite and the large community terribly.

Challenges challenge; they also inspire. When a colleague shared with me a student’s class reflection recently, I thought it would resonate with many. Allow me to paraphrase: 2020 had been terrible in almost every sense – moving home, personal loss, the time difference. missing deadlines, isolation…but adapting skills learned in the class helped with finishing thesis on time and turning in the majority of assignments on time…now have a path forward on job search.

Despite the uncertainty and struggle that the global pandemic brings, the tremendous accomplishments of our students do us all proud. You only need to open the GSAPP website to see UP student work pop up regularly. Using the search function on this page yields a fantastic array of course work submissions uploaded at the end of Fall 2020. I cannot wait to see the digital End of Year show of 2021 when it goes live on April 29.

Congratulations in particular to the Class of 2021!

My best wishes and stay well,


Program Updates

With much excitement, we will be welcoming Assistant Professor Hugo Sarmiento to join the program at the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year. His work critically examines the relationship between planning for climate change and spatial inequalities such as poor infrastructure, informality, and racialized segregation. A big welcome also goes to several new adjunct colleagues in the Fall: Amy Boyle, Senior Advisor for Housing, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, City of New York; André Corrêa d’Almeida, President and Founder, ARCx – Applied Research for Change, and Assistant Director, Master of Public Administration in Development Practice at Columbia University SIPA; Fatima Koli, Associate Director for the Empirical Reasoning Center at Barnard College; Emily Kurtz, Vice President at RiseBoro Community Partnership; and Kevin McQueen, Director of Lending, The Leviticus Fund and Partner, BWB Solutions LLC.

For the Fall, we will have a number of new courses:

Community Development Finance Practicum – Kevin McQueen

    This course examines “impact investing” through the lens of community development and real-world projects. It consists of three components: (1) classroom instruction to build technical skills in financial analysis and deal underwriting and structuring, (2) team projects that allow students to work in partnership with community-based organizations and government agencies to complete feasibility studies or business plans for financing their community economic development strategies, and (3) lectures by community development finance experts on specific finance-related issues and techniques.

Planning for Natural Disasters and Climate Change – Hugo Sarmiento

    This course provides an introduction to the roles of planners in preparing for and rebuilding after disasters. The course emphasizes planning for climate-related disasters. Planners are concerned with the long-term aspects of disaster: the processes of pre-disaster hazard mitigation, climate adaptation, and post-disaster recovery. The course focuses mostly on planning in the U.S., within the context of national policies, though we will also cover the major international frameworks which guide international disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation policies. To deepen our understanding of recovery after large disasters, we will include both U.S. and international cases. The course will include basic readings on all the above topics, coupled with case examples, a hazard mitigation group project, and a group project on post-disaster recovery.

Practicum: Reimagining Public Space in Pandemic and Post-Pandemic NYC – Ryan Devlin

    Through fieldwork in New York, this practicum will give students the opportunity to document, categorize, map, analyze and evaluate changes to the city’s landscape. The temporary and ad-hoc urban forms produced by the pandemic embody both precarity and opportunity. In addition to documentation, this practicum will therefore ask students to think critically and creatively about how these short-term interventions might inform longer term shifts in the ways we conceptualize and plan for public space. Can the new urban forms of the pandemic city play a part in building a more inclusive and just post-pandemic public realm? How can we move from crisis and uncertainty towards an enduring vision for a more dynamic, equitable, and healthy city?

Professional Skills and Communication – Douglas Woodward

    This course is a hands-on practicum to build and expand professional skills essential for planning practice. Class activities and assignments focus on written, graphic and oral communication skills, and help students acquire these skills by engaging with critical issues in the planning process such as client relations, community engagement, and professional ethics. In addition, each student participates as a member of a “planning team” to prepare and present for a moot Planning Commission session before current and former planning commissioners and senior staff of planning departments.

Urban Analytics and Human-Centered Decision Making – André Corrêa d’Almeida

    This practical and multidisciplinary course helps students learn the skills and knowledge required to work with organizations in making urban innovation decisions involving technology. With a focus on institutions, data analytics and decision-making tools, and with the support of case studies, lectures and guest speakers, students work in teams with a real organization (a.k.a. client) throughout the semester. The team’s mission is to identify and address a critical issue the client faces regarding its urban innovation efforts. This year, the class will be divided into two groups to work on different projects. Locally, the project will be a smarter city plan for the Bronx, NYC, in partnership with The Bronx Community Foundation. Globally, the project will be about artificial intelligence and smarter digital government in Brazil, in partnership with ITS-Rio.

Urbanization in the Global South – Teresa Caldeira (visiting from UC Berkeley)

    This course analyzes processes of urbanization in cities of the global south from the middle of the twentieth century to the present on the basis of new archives and a certain understanding of the specificities of these processes. This understanding is anchored on the notions of transversal logics and new modes of politics. Transversal logics alludes to the fact that processes of urbanization in the global south frequently unsettle official logics – for example, those of legal property, formal labor, state regulation, and market capitalism. Nevertheless, they do not contest these logics directly as much as they operate with them in transversal ways. Additionally, the course understands that processes of urbanization in the global south, although sharing some common features – such as the transversal logics or a high level of social inequality – are basically heterogeneous and generate quite distinctive cities and spatial formations. Thus, it does not make sense to talk in terms of a general “southern urbanism.” Rather, heterogeneous processes of urbanization in the global south have to be analyzed through the study of cases. Therefore, the course is structured according to main themes that reveal the transversal logics and the modes of politics in cities of the global south and through the analysis of cases. The themes include autoconstruction, the ambiguities of land tenure and the law, informality, the creation of urban land, spectacular urbanism, infrastructure, insurgent citizenship, rebellions, new imaginaries, neocolonialism, and refugees. The cases will be diverse, but the course returns several times to a few cities in Brazil, Chile, Congo, India, South Africa, and Turkey.
Faculty Updates
Emeritus Professor Robert Beauregard recently published two articles. One, titled “Must Shrinking Cities Be Distressed Cities?,” appeared in International Planning Studies 26, 1 (2021) and was co-authored with Sonia Hirt and the other titled “Do Individual Cities Matter? Negotiating the Particular,” appeared in Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy, and Society 13 (2020). On May 6, he will be giving – remotely – a keynote address at the annual European Association of Urban Research (EURA) conference. The address is titled “The Impulse to Action in Urban Studies: Contradictions and Progress” and is based on his recent book Cities in the Urban Age: A Dissent.

Assistant Professor Hiba Bou Akar received the Provost’s Award for Junior Faculty for contributing to the diversity goals of the University to conduct research based on her new book project Sedimentary Urbanization: On Housing and War Displacement in Beirut, Lebanon. She was also selected as one of 9 finalists, chosen out of 1,000 nominations at Columbia, for the 2021 Presidential Teaching Award. She wanted to thank all the efforts and organizing that UP master’s and PhD students undertook to nominate her.

Boyeong Hong has written an article, “Exposure Density and Neighborhood Disparities in COVID-19 Infection Risk,” published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) along with Constantine E. Kontokosta (Ph.D. UP ‘11). The article presents a computational approach to measure exposure density at high spatial and temporal resolution to understand neighborhood disparities in transmission risk of COVID-19. They also published an article, “Measuring Inequality in Community Resilience to Natural Disasters using Large-scale Mobility Data,” in Nature Communications.

Tom Wright has written a book chapter, “Designing the New York Metropolitan Region,” published in The Routledge Handbook of Regional Design.

With the very able assistance of Angel Yin, Weiping Wu shared her experience using the collaborative learning platform Perusall through the Voices of Hybrid & Online Teaching and Learning hosted by Columbia’s Center for Teaching and Learning. She is closely watching the discourse on Biden’s $2 trillion-plus Infrastructure Plan, having responded earlier to Columbia News’s request to write about Invest in Public Infrastructure. Together with Professor Guxin Wang from Fudan University, she recently published an article, titled “Shifting residential and employment geography: Shanghai’s bifurcated trajectory of spatial restructuring,” in the journal Cities.
Planning Studios
Student Organization News
Urban Planning Program Council, represented by Derek Brennan (MSUP ‘22), Elaine Hsieh (MSUP ‘21), Shih Yu (Gina) Liu (MSUP ‘21), Eve Passman (MSUP ‘22), and Jiabao Sun (MSUP ‘22) created virtual and safely led in-person events throughout this semester. This included TGIF Zoom calls, movie nights at Wood Auditorium, a personalized newsletter (aka UP Digest), and cohort sweatshirts. Next semester, we will be organizing summer coffee chats with SIPA students as an opportunity to get connected with external programs and also just to make new friends!

URBAN Magazine released its Spring issue, Reimagine, continuing the discussions of spatial inequity of the Fall 2020 issue, Dialogues, and imagining new dimensions of the built environment moving forward. Tihana Bulut (MSUP ‘21), Geon Woo Lee (MSUP ‘21), and Zeineb Sellami (MSUP ‘21) served as Senior Editors for the 2020-2021 academic year and was assisted by online editor Sherry Aine Te (MSUP & M.Arch ‘24) and Junior Editors Shreya Arora (MSUP ‘22), Willy Cao (MSUP & M.Arch '24), and Eve Passman (MSUP '22).

The American Planning Association New York Metro Chapter’s Student Representative Committee (APA-NYM SRC), which includes student representatives from five graduate planning programs in the area, hosted a series of opportunities for students and emerging professionals to engage with the APA network. Due to COVID-19, March 2021 kicked off a webinar series that adapted the annual Lattes with Leaders series to virtual Q&A sessions with working professionals. The series hosted interesting conversations with Leaders that included Jackson Chabot of Open Spaces and the APA NY Metro Chapter; Tara Pham of Numina; and Erin Lonoff, Gail Hankin, and Syed Agmal Ali of HR&A. While the APA Student Studio Showcase 2021 is canceled this year, APA-NYM SRC looks forward to providing more opportunities for students to build connections next semester!

In the unprecedented 2020-21 academic year, Urban China Network (UCN) moved all activities online, including the 7th Urban China Forum (UCF), Career Talk by Peiqin Gu (MSUP ‘14), and Thanksgiving Happy Hour. For this coming academic year, echoing the 7th UCF, UCN will host a student initiative event, Urban Reflection on COVID-19, and a following panel discussion. UCN will also take the advantage of online communication to host more Career Talks and connect with more urban planning programs. UCN will keep building the platform to discuss the development of Chinese cities and keep the connection between students and alumni. The following students will serve as UCN officers for the 2021-2022 academic year: Danqing Ma (President), Yuanyuan Shen (Treasurer), Shen Xin (Liaison and Event Planning), Hanyin Zhang (Liaison and Event Planning), Yining Shen (Media Officer), and Jiabao Sun (Media Officer).

During the Spring semester of 2021, LatinGSAPP has set a new precedent: a first-of-its-kind Latinx publication and archive at Columbia GSAPP, which will strengthen the foundations of LatinGSAPP and consolidate their work we produced during the academic-year. Through their crowdfunding efforts, LatinGSAPP launched the digital version of Patio in January 2021. The first three Patio “drops” feature the work of Latin American practitioners and practitioners designing in Latin America, who have been selected from a Call for Submissions that was announced in the Fall. Currently, their platform features voices that span the Western Hemisphere, including internationally renowned designers Tatiana Bilbao and Al Borde. As the publication grows, they hope to include a broader collection of voices that will problematize understanding of the world. The printed version of Patio is scheduled to launch in Fall 2021.
Student News
Regina Joy Alcazar (MSUP ‘21) was Research Assistant to Assistant Professor Leah Meisterlin during the 2020-2021 school year, supporting her research on opportunity for leisure time based on travel commutes, understanding historic urban diversity in the US, among other projects. This summer, she will be joining Coding it Forward’s inaugural 2021 Civic Innovation Fellow cohort, working with the City of Los Angeles, Mayor’s Data Team to evaluate their Eviction Defense Program.

Hayes Buchanan (MSUP ‘21) was featured in a Columbia News article, “Meet 12 Columbia Graduates Taking on the Climate Crisis.”

PhD student Jenna Davis published a book review of Shane Philips’s The Affordable City in the Journal of Planning Literature and a research paper, “How do upzonings impact neighborhood demographic change? Examining the link between land use policy and gentrification in New York City,” in Land Use Policy.

In August, PhD Candidate Tyler Haupert will begin a position as a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Urban Studies at NYU Shanghai.

Mariana Hinojosa Ronquillo (MSUP '21) is a designer at Rogers Partners where she has been working in community driven projects in low income neighborhoods in Houston, Texas.

Jin Hong Kim (MSUP ’21) is a Planning and Preservation Intern at the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS). He is currently working with the organization on visualizing the impacts of DCP’s SoHo/NoHo Neighborhood Plan, the Empire Station Complex Project, and developing a web-based application for a comprehensive and community planning mapping tool called TASC (Technical Advancement and Support of Comprehensive Planning and CEQR Reform).

Geon Woo Lee (MSUP ‘21) worked as an Urban Data and Analytics intern at the Meatpacking District Management Association, where he conducted mobility analysis to understand the implications of the pandemic by comparing 2020 and 2019 data. A product of his work will be published in concurrent with National Bike Month in May.

Priska Marianne (MSUP ’21) spent Spring 2021 as a spatial data analyst intern at CIESIN at the Earth Institute, where she worked on data visualization and conducted geospatial analyses for identifying public health risks and vaccine planning, in collaboration with global team members and local partners in Zambia.

PhD student Stefan Norgaard published an article on capitalization and development in Ethiopian dam projects, in the journal Human Geography.

Mauricio Rada Orellana (MSUP '22) served as a Data For Good Scholar for the Data Science Institute and NYC Department of Buildings to prepare a methodology for digitizing the 1904 Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn. He has also co-written Logística Humanitaria, a book to be published this year that seeks to serve as a guide for operations in the humanitarian logistics field with emphasis in South America.

Eve Passman (MSUP '22) is an intern at the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH). She is currently working on developing a communications strategy for CSH and its housing partners in advance of the NYC Mayoral Campaign. She is also collaborating on a project on how to best use data to equitably distribute Hi-Five vouchers for supportive housing as a part of CSH’s FUSE program.

Zeineb Sellami (MSUP ‘21) and her team recently was awarded Honorable Mention for their submission to the Urban Land Institute’s 2021 Hines Competition.

PhD Candidate Michael Snidal has been featured in the Baltimore Sun for his research on Opportunity Zones program in West Baltimore. He also delivered LiPS talk about the subject.

Xifan Wang (MSUP ‘21) is working for Product and Technology Alliance at NIO in Shanghai, where she has taken part in Battery as a Service (BaaS) projects and coordinated Carbon Neutralization practice at NIO in response to the launch of China’s national carbon market.

Hanzhang Yang (MSUP '21) will present “Filling Gaps: Predicting Neighborhood Characteristics Using Machine Learning” at the 2021 National Planning Conference. The session will cover a research project finished in 2020 with Xiyu Chen (MSUP '21) and Ting Zhang (MSAUD '20), advised by Prof. Boyeong Hong, and showcase the potential of Machine Learning in future Urban Planning practice.

Haoran Zhang (MSUP ‘21) is an intern at China Academy of Urban Planning and Design (CAUPD, Beijing) in 2021 Spring, working on an urban design project and GIS database management in Yichang, Hubei Province. After graduating from GSAPP, she will start working full-time as an urban planner at CAUPD, Beijing.
Alumni Updates

Guilherme Formicki (MSUP ‘19) has recently been admitted to the University of Sao Paulo’s PhD Program in Urban Planning. He has also presented two research papers at Brazil’s National Meeting of Architecture and Urbanism Post-Graduate Studies (ENANPARQ) held virtually in March. The two papers are “We have housing, but cannot afford it: the paradox of the upgrading of Favela Real Parque and its relationship to the Urban Operations in Sao Paulo,” and “Is the global city a city for all? The upgrading cases of Favelas Real Parque and Jardim Edite.”

Donald Jacobs (MSUP ‘76), Principal, D.I. Jacobs Consulting, have owned his own municipal consulting company for 20 years with a focus on human resource services, compensation, and performance management. Of note, Jacobs Consulting have recently completed a gender Pay Equity Study for Worcester, MA. The first pay equity study of its kind in Massachusetts that is based on determining gender pay equity by measuring the “comparable value” of positions and not the traditional salary market data.

In 2020, David Perlmutter (MSUP ’15) began a new role as Transit Planning Principal at Via, the public mobility company. This position involves working as an in-house consultant for transit authorities, operators, and public agencies in order to deliver innovative transit technology solutions to a wide range of global communities. These solutions range from Via’s on-demand transit services to fixed-route bus operations, paratransit, congestion management, Mobility-as-a-Service, and other shared mobility options. David’s work fundamentally aims to improve mobility for people in underserved communities to better reach jobs, healthcare, and essential services.

Heather Roiter (MSUP ‘07) received the Frederick O’Reilly Prize for her outstanding work in helping NYC agencies respond to the pandemic. As Assistant Commissioner for NYC Emergency Management, she has developed the City’s Covid-19 hotel program serving essential workers and at-risk individuals.

Sonal Shah (MSUP ‘08), Executive Director of Centre for Sustainable and Equitable Cities (C-SEC), recently founded a non-for-profit company, C-SEC, aimed specifically at embedding gender and social equity within the discussions and practices geared towards sustainable cities.

Timothy (Terry) Stanley (MSUP ’80) has moved to Cornerstone, an MBE commercial brokerage and real estate advisory firm.

The students have enjoyed meeting a number of alumni over Zoom for the various alumni and career services events we hosted in February and March. A big thank you to the following alumni who participated. If you would like to participate in future programming, please contact Emily Junker at elj2130@columbia.edu.

Eddy Almonte (MSUP ‘19), Neighborhood Planner at HPD
Gillian Connell (MSUP ‘10), Managing Director of Business Operations, NYCHA
Jacob Feit (MSUP ‘06), Workforce Development Analyst, US Army Corp of Engineers
Eri Furusawa (MSUP ‘18), Valuation/Consulting Analyst, HR&A Advisors
James Garland (MSUP ‘02), Deputy Regional Administrator, Federal Transit Administration
Steven Getz (MSUP ‘17), Director of Production, Community Preservation Corporation (CPC)
Jen Jacobs-Guzman (MSUP ‘ 07), Chief of Staff, New Construction at HPD
Nick Kunz (MSUP ‘19), Data Scientist, Microsoft
Cheryl Lim (MSUP ‘19), Analyst, Karp Strategies
Michael A. N. Montilla (MSUP ‘19), Chancellor’s Fellow and Doctoral Student, Department of City and Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley
James Piacentini (MSUP & M.Arch ‘20), Cartographer, Apple
Charlie Romanow (MSUP ‘18), Transportation Planner, WSP
Kaz Sakamoto (MSUP ‘13), Senior Data Scientist, Lander Analytics; Adjunct Assistant Professor, Columbia University
Kovid Saxena (MSUP ‘04), Director of Environmental Planning, Sam Schwartz
Shruti Shubham (MSUP ‘16), Data Analyst, Gridics
Charlie Stewart (MSUP ‘17), Real Estate Project Manager, St. Nicks Alliance
Anna Stokes, AICP, (MSUP ‘19), Project Manager at Northeast Corridor Commission
Alex Wallach, AICP, (MSUP ‘12), Community Planning Specialist at Suffolk County Department of Economic Development & Planning / APA NY Metro Chapter PDO
Francis Yu (MSUP ‘19), Housing Fellow, HPD/HDC

We would also like to thank the following alumni for their participation in the UP Mentorship Program this year. We would also like to thank those of you who volunteered despite not being matched this time around. 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