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Stefan Chavez-Norgaard

Stefan Chavez-Norgaard is a Doctoral Candidate in Urban Planning at Columbia GSAPP. Norgaard is passionate about how city residents receive and repurpose city plans, particularly in the context of unequal and traumatic urbanization processes. His interests include urban and planning theory, local-government and planning law, and mixed-methods research focused on planning practice and urban governance in the related but distinct contexts of post-apartheid South Africa and the United States. In addition to his doctoral work at Columbia, Norgaard is a Democracy Visiting Fellow at Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation (2023–2024), an in-resident scholar at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (2023–2024) and was a Visiting Scholar at the University of the Witwatersrand (2022).

Stefan holds a Master in Public Policy (MPP) degree from the Harvard Kennedy School, where he served as Managing Editor for the Kennedy School Review (KSR), Teaching Fellow for Professors Roberto Unger and Cornel West at Harvard Law School, and Course Assistant for Quinton Mayne’s “Urban Politics” class. While at HKS, he worked on developing negotiation analytic teaching cases with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative (BHCLI) in 2019, and in 2018 supported the OECD’s Champion Mayors Team, developing program strategy, research, execution, and implementation in Paris, France. Stefan holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honors (BAH) degree from Stanford University, where he double majored in Urban Studies Public Policy. His undergraduate honors thesis centered on understanding the attitudes, values, and beliefs of South Africa’s youth population and its potential to change social and political structures. This thesis built on study-abroad experience with Stanford in Cape Town and work with the U.S. Department of State’s South Africa desk.

Prior to starting his PhD at Columbia, Stefan worked as a Negotiation Research Fellow with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative. Previously, he worked as an NYC Urban Fellow with the New York City Department of Transportation, working on public space planning and design with the DOT Urban Design, Art, and Wayfinding teams. Stefan was also Research Fellow on the Ford Foundation’s Equitable Development team, focusing on housing insecurity, access to opportunity, and equitable urban infrastructure and decision-making in both domestic and global contexts.

Stefan’s dissertation research explores how residents of Mahikeng, South Africa, a former “Bantustan” capital city and receiving site of forced relocation during apartheid, have responded to professional urban planning systems with varied multi-actor networks, creative material and social assemblages, and heterogeneous (and diverging) spatial forms. He makes use of the concept of repurposing, defined as actions or efforts to transform urban space in accordance with visions or vernacular uses other than those originally anticipated by professional planners. To explore repurposing, Stefan draws on an extensive urban theory literature from South Africa. His grounded empirical account of repurposing in Mahikeng involves an extended-case study with multiple embedded units of analysis: four Mahikeng neighborhoods that each possess different socioeconomic compositions and dominant planning actors. He also analyzes repurposings across time through critical archival readings, semi-structured interviews with residents and current and former civil servants, and in situ analyses of neighborhood built sites.

Related scholarly and research interests include: urban and planning theory; planning history; political economy and world systems; urban governance, governmentality, and democracy; African urbanism, with a focus on history and politics in South Africa; local government law and planning law; spatial politics and equitable development; participatory methods, oral history, and social justice. Geographically, Stefan is focused on South Africa, the United States, and Mexico. His research examines world-historical and political-economy dimensions of urbanization in specific geographies created by the apartheid South African government: the peri-urban township, the Bantustan, and large-scale agro-industrial farming. In contemporary contexts, Stefan seeks to analyze public-private arrangements, governance, “zones of exception,” and racialized/gendered labor in global comparative contexts.

Some of Stefan’s current, ongoing research projects include:

A proposed major mixed-methods investigation into former Bantustans in South Africa investigating urban governance from the perspectives of migrant civil servants and residents in both former Bantustan capital cities and peri-urban townships (planned dissertation topic);

An inquiry into whether and how Specialized Agrarian Industrial Districts, or SAIDs, might supplant or ameliorate international divisions of capital and labor and their associated outputs in regional clusters;

An examination of Johannesburg, South Africa’s Ponte City Tower as physical embodiment of changing governing regimes and resident re-appropriation from apartheid to post-apartheid liberal democracy;

An historical examination of Jane Jacobs’ professional engagement with philanthropy and foundations’ urban development programs, in ways that both shaped/informed her work and the field of urban grantmaking, drawing on comprehensive archival analysis at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC);

An examination of “special districts” in Colorado in comparison with municipal governments, drawing on theoretical and empirical methods; An examination of public-private arrangements, governance, “zones of exception,” and racialized/gendered labor, drawing on Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in former South African Bantustans;

An examination of ‘muscle memories’ of violence using a theoretical framework of genre knowledge and the empirical case of South Africa’s COVID response; An engagement with the photography of South African photographer Mikhael Subotzky and his work on securitization in Johannesburg;

An archival, geospatial, and quantitative inquiry into the scope and nature of violence in Tancítaro, Michoacán, México; and

A proposed, mixed-methods investigation into the recombinant spatial form of the former Bantustan in South Africa, and how layered legacies of ‘Bantustanization’ shape urban governance outcomes today.