Spring 2020 Urban Planning Semester in Review
From the Director

The enormity of our current time is beyond words. While we are staying home for the health of everyone, staying connected is more valuable than ever. This special edition of UP’s Semester-in-Review is one way to continue the connections among us. With the rapid shift to online learning, our students have shown tremendous resilience, and the support of faculty, staff, and alumni has been remarkable. There are ups and downs, no doubt.

For planning, COVID-19 presses us to (re)imagine what the new normal could be. How can we work towards addressing the structural failures that add to the vulnerability of disadvantaged communities and people? How can we (re)design public spaces for community engagement and interaction under the constraints of social distancing? Just a start of questions to challenge our minds and practice. Led by UP professor Hiba Bou Akar, a group of doctoral and master’s students have developed an open access reading list on Pandemic Urbanism: Praxis in the Time of COVID-19. I hope you will share this with your friends and colleagues, and contribute to make it a living document. A few students also have been working with the Meatpacking Business Improvement District, to plan for post-COVID recovery.

The shift to online learning has generated unexpected opportunities. With a strong cohort of students eager to join UP in the Fall, a new UP webpage is now in place that pools together key elements of our program and student work. A nice resource to show to anyone interested. Three open UP courses have attracted participants from all around the world. The recordings are now available in GSAPP’s YouTube channel: Community Development Planning with Moira O’Neil; Planning the Cultural Space by Douglas Woodward, Vin Cipolla and Peter Flamm; and Urban Data and Informatics II with Anthony Vanky.

My best wishes and stay well,


Program Updates

The envisioning for the MSUP program has been ongoing since November 2018. Ideas and strategies emerged from a series of faculty focus-group meetings, student ideas competition and feedback, a survey of recent alumni, and focus groups with alumni and planning colleagues. We also have shared a draft strategic plan with students, faculty, and colleagues. This document, titled UP 2020 Strategic Plan, outlines the process and analysis involved, and contents of our plan for the next 5 to 7 years. The plan also will be a part of our program’s preparation for reaccreditation – the site visit is scheduled for mid-November.

Some of you already know that UP’s Program Manager Mike Montilla will be moving on. He has been a wonderful member of our community, always effective and graceful. We will miss him, and wish him the best. In the Fall Mike will be a doctoral student in urban planning at UC Berkeley, joining a number of UP graduates in similar pursuits including two peers from the Class of 2019 now at the University of Southern California and University of Tokyo. We hope to bring in our next program manager soon.

For the first time, we have planned an Introduction to Urban Planning course for undergraduate students, as part of the Introduction to Architecture summer program. Offered in an online format, this pre-professional program is for those who are interested in urban planning, may be considering it as a career, or may wish to get a head start for application to graduate school. They can be students from Columbia or any other university.

Faculty Updates

Stefan Al created two videos on TED ED that promote urban resilience and green infrastructure (TED ED is the education branch of TED). One video, to be released on Earth Day, explains the many benefits of trees in cities. It is called “What happens if you cut down all of a city’s trees?” The link to full video can be found here. The other video, released a few weeks ago and already viewed by more than half a million people, explains how we can protect cities from floods using infrastructure that can benefit the public realm. It is called “Why isn’t the Netherlands underwater?” and it can found here.

Professor Emeritus Robert Beauregard’s Advanced Introduction to Planning Theory was recently published by Edward Elgar Publishers. In it, he portrays planning in terms of four, core tasks: knowing, engaging, prescribing, and executing, and notes how the relationship of knowledge to action has evolved into issues of justice and democracy. The book also touches on the socio-material approach to planning that he described in Planning Matter: Acting With Things (Chicago, 2015).

In January, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy appointed Tom Wright to be Chairman of the New Jersey State Planning Commission. The Commission is comprised of 17 members representing state agencies, local government and the public.

In March, Ebru Gencer chaired a session on Efficient Post-Disaster Recovery in the Frontiers in Development: Resilient Cities workshop organized by the UK Royal Academy of Engineers. She is currently developing a Learning Module on Resilient Cities and Territories that will be used by the United Cities Local Governments (UCLG), UN-Habitat and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) to train local authorities across the globe for disaster risk reduction and resilience building in their communities.

Professor Malo Hutson recently published an article entitled “Why COVID-19 Damages Some Communities More Than Others” in Columbia News. Full access to the article can be found here.

What’s the role of public spaces in the contemporary city? How to create an inclusive and vibrant space where the community can be fully represented? How to upgrade existing public spaces by using an integrated and comprehensive people-centered approach? These are some of the critical questions that the participants of UrbanactionsHK have to address. The winners of this international students’ contest, organized by Professor Francesco Rossini, will be announced on the 15th of June. Entries will be judged on their innovation and functionality; creative response to the existing site; ability to deliver new design to the surrounding neighborhood; and capacity to reactivate the sociability of the space. The jury will include Prof. Weiping Wu, Director of the M.S. Urban Planning program at Columbia University; Prof. David Dernie director of the School of Architecture of the Chinese University of Hong Kong; and Joel Chan, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design.

Studio Professor Jose Luis Vallejo, principal of Madrid and Miami based urban design firm Ecosistema Urbano, was recently visiting professor at Ateneo program, Sapienza University of Rome. During the past months, Jose Luis was a keynote speaker in the XXI Chilean Architecture and Urbanism Biennial, as well as in IUAV university Master Emergency & Resilience Venice (Italy), National Museum of Visual Arts in Montevideo (Uruguay) and Degrowth City Seminar in Split (Croatia). Jose Luis Vallejo and his team have recently been selected by the City of Hollywood (Florida) to prepare a comprehensive plan for the city. The scope of work includes the proposal of a long-term vision for the coastal area, focusing on the sustainable development of the growing city. Ecosistema Urbano has also been selected in March 2020 by the World Bank to develop the Master Plan of the Coastal Area in the city of Asunción (Paraguay), an area subject to regular flooding, as well as to develop a strategic redevelopment plan to support the cities of Osh and Uzgen (Kyrgyzstan) in enhancing their public spaces and touristic sites.

Weiping Wu has been appointed to the International Advisory Panel of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at Singapore University of Technology and Design, and has been selected as a Provost’s Senior Faculty Teaching Scholar at Columbia. In February at the early stage of the pandemic, she moderated a panel titled “The Coronavirus Epidemic in China and Beyond,” sponsored by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute. She also presented on the panel Planning Education and Digital Evolution (with more than 900 attendees on Zoom) at the NPC20 @ Home, the digital conference by the American Planning Association.

Career Services

This year’s Urban Planning Career Month was one of the most extensive in program history. Building upon the accomplishments of previous years, the 2020 edition of Career Month featured workshops on resume building, cover letters, career building, the AICP exam, seeking public office, and networking using LinkedIn and other online resources.

We also incorporated the Lectures in Planning Series (LiPS) into Career Month with two panels organized with career advancement in mind. The first was called, “When Planners got Power,” and it focused on how planning in New York changed after the NYC Planning Commission of 1989. The other was an Urban-Tech Startup Panel that discussed the rise of urban entrepreneurism as well as the role of private sector innovation in shaping our cities.

Probably the most enjoyable part of Career Month was the Alumni Speed Networking event. For one evening, a group of alumni and students met in a semi-informal setting to discuss careers, planning, and GSAPP memories over food and drinks.

Finally, as always, Career Month culminated with its signature event, the Urban Planning Career Fair. This year, students attending the fair met with firms such as HR&A Advisors, VHB, Buro Happold, CallisonRTKL, and Longfor Properties as well as public agencies such as FEMA, NYC EDC, the Port Authority of NY/NJ, and the Office of the Bronx Borough President. The Career Fair was a fantastic way to end Career Month, and we are already planning for next year’s fair.

While Career Month formally closed weeks before the end of the academic year, the global pandemic prompted additional career services programming throughout the semester. Supplemental advising sessions, the discovery of new planning job boards, and a workshop focused on building one’s career in times of uncertainty were some of the efforts taken in light of COVID-19.

We would like to thank all the alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends of the program who contributed. The growing strength of our career services programming is based on the contributions of everybody in Columbia’s Urban Planning community. Simply put, we would not be able to organize such a robust series of Career Month events without you.

Planning Studios
Final Studio Review
On May 6, the UP Final Studio Review took place over Zoom. First year students had the opportunity to present their work to clients and invited guest critics. Two were intended as international travel studios; with the ongoing crisis, they have each pivoted to include a local element.
Caribbean Reconnections - A Sustainable Future for Puerto Rico led by Richard Plunz and Douglas Woodward
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Reimagining Informality thru Public Space in Buenos Airs/Informal Vending in NYC led by Jose Luis Vallejo and Ryan Devlin.
Student Organizations
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Urban China Network: 2020-2021 Leadership Board (left to right)

Lisa Li (Liaison Officer, MSUP ‘21), Hui Lu (Treasurer, MSUP ‘21), Jiuyu Wang (Secretary, MSUP '21), Xifan Wang (President, MSUP '21), Hanzhang Yang (Event Planner, MSUP '21), Angel Yin (Media Officer, MSUP '21)

Urban China Network: New Officers for 2020-2021

Urban China Network (UCN) serves as an international platform that encourages discussions on Chinese urbanism among professionals. UCN aims to advance Chinese urban development insights within GSAPP and strengthen cultural and professional connections within the field to expand visions for GSAPP students. Founded by urban planning students in 2013, UCN has strived to provide academic and career connections ever since. For this coming academic year, UCN will continue to organize Urban China Forum featured with a contemporary theme, schedule Alumni Panels and create more opportunities for a strong and diverse planning community.

The following students above will serve as UCN officers for the 2020-2021 academic year:

Lisa Li (Liaison Officer, MSUP ‘21), Hui Lu (Treasurer, MSUP ‘21), Jiuyu Wang (Secretary, MSUP '21), Xifan Wang (President, MSUP '21), Hanzhang Yang (Event Planner, MSUP '21), Angel Yin (Media Officer, MSUP '21)

APA SRC Company Q&A Session with Max Taffet, AICP, Vice President at the NYC Economic Development Corporation.


The New York Metro Chapter’s American Planning Association Student Representative Committee (APA 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, April 2020 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 Olivia Jovine of Localize.city and APA Tech Committee, Priti Patel of Project for Public Spaces and Isha Patel, Marilyn Lee, and Max Taffet of NYC Economic Development Corporation (recordings linked). While the APA Student Studio Showcase 2020 is canceled this year, APA SRC looks forward to providing more opportunities for students to build connections next semester!

Student News

Justin Barton (M.S. UP'21) will be interning with the NYCHA Strategic Planning Office this summer.

Jenna Davis (UP Ph.D.) spent Spring 2019 as a planning intern at WXY Studio, an architecture and urban design firm. At WXY, Jenna has been involved in conducting data analyses, producing data visualizations, and performing mobility studies for several interesting projects throughout the NYC region. Additionally, Jenna recently published an article in the Journal of the American Planning Association. You can access the article here.

Tola Oniyangi (M. Arch/M.S. UP'20) was featured with a nice interview as part of the University’s commencement coverage this week. You can find the article here.

PNC Bank is sponsoring a development workshop on PhD Candidate Michael Snidal’s dissertation and 21st Century Cities grant funded project “Opportunity Zones in West Baltimore: A Baseline Evaluation” (Date TBD - postponed due to COVID19).

Caroline Thompson’s (M.S. UP'20) research was accepted for publication in Cities in March. Co-authored with colleagues from McGill University, the article introduces the term “unicorn planning” to the techno-optimist approach to new master-planned smart cities, borrowing from the venture capitalist term for high-risk/high-reward investments. Caroline and her co-authors use the example of Union Point, a new smart city outside of Boston, to illustrate how decision-makers are seduced by such ventures that continue to replicate previous new city failures. The article is available here.

Alumni Updates

Benjamin Huff (M.S. UP'12) created an Interactive Map of the Coronavirus Cases in NYC by Zip Code on Untapped Cities NY website. Additionally, Michelle Young (M.S. UP'12) helps run the Untapped Cities New York Site.

Olivia Jovine, AICP (M.S. UP ‘15) launched the local APA New York Metro Chapter’s Technology Committee, which has now been operating for a full calendar year. The Technology Committee investigates technology and planning concepts to encourage innovation and learning in the field of urban planning. The committee is committed to discussions of equity and seeks to challenge and analyze beyond “buzz words” and “hot topics.” The committee discusses best practices in the use of technology to support planning, and take a future-minded approach.

Yashesh Panchal (M.S. UP'18) joined a company called Recity, which offers technology based consultancy in the Solid Waste Management sector to cities in India thereby diverting the waste from landfills, generating revenue for the urban local bodies, and professionalizing waste workers (especially informal). Panchal hopes to bring about a significant difference in the lives of citizens in these cities and quotes, “as we enter more cities, we are also preparing to be able to influence public policy with regards to waste management in a country that probably needs it the most.”

Ivan Vamos, AICP (B.A. ‘60, M.S. UP '65) has recently volunteered his time advancing bicycle & pedestrian issues and trails development.