Category Archives: Academic Life

Philadelphia Federal Reserve Graduate Student Research Forum

On Tuesday October 22, 2013, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve held the first annual Community Development Graduate Student Research Forum.  The Department of Community Development Studies and Education at the Federal Reserve sponsored the event, which featured six paper presentations ranging from land value models of vacant city owned property to the importance of religious institutions in community stability.  Presenters came from Penn (my classmates!), Temple, Rutgers-Camden, as well as professional presentations from local CDCs, the Philadelphia Association of CDCs, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The event offered me the opportunity to meet a number of like minded researchers, community development practitioners, and graduate students.  I look forward to continuing the relationships in community development research that the Philadelphia Federal Reserve has fostered across different institutions and practice boundaries!

MOOC for Urban Planning Update #cplan

The University of Pennsylvania School of Design will be offering a massive open online course titled, “Designing Cities.”

The course starts on October 7, 2013 and runs for ten weeks.  Renowned urban designers Gary Hack, Jonathan Barnett, and Stefan Al will lead the course offered through Coursera.  It will cover designing for population growth, rapid design change related to natural disasters, and how to make cities more sustainable and livable.

#aesopacsp13 Recapping the AESOP-ACSP Joint International Congress in Dublin Ireland

I attended the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP, it is the North American association of planning academics) Joint International Congress in Dublin Ireland from July 15-19.  What a great conference!

Dublin is a nice European city to spend a few days in, especially with the “European” style of academic conference where proceedings are held at the host university’s campus instead of in a conference hotel.  Despite the logistical considerations of getting to and from the university, it was a great way to meet other academics and to get the see the city with them.

I also got to go on a mobile tour of Tallaght, a new town development in the Dublin suburbs.  While the town dates back centuries, it was interesting to see the greenbelt style development from the 1960s as well as the more recent new urbanist commercial and mixed use development.  The recent development is struggling because of the global recession, which Ireland felt especially acutely, but in the future the area should be a nice mixed-use community. The town is about a 20 minute drive from the Dublin historic core and is connected by light rail that takes between 45 minutes and an hour.  As the region grows, Tallaght should become an alternative place to live for people working in the city.

2013-07-17 15.54.24(Tallaght commercial plaza — with both vacant and occupied retail spaces)

I learned quite a bit from the papers that I heard at the conference too.  From strategies for shrinking cities to the downfalls of cycle theory to evidence on neighborhood change and gentrification to new methods of assessing divergence from the median, I am always impressed with the quality and depth of research on urban planning and urban issues.  I also got very helpful comments on my dissertation research and suggestions for follow up studies.  I am excited to continue my research and to hear more in Philadelphia at the ACSP 2014 Conference.  (I am going to follow up with a number of posts on specific papers and presentations that caught my attention.)

And a final note – conferences are also a great way to meet new like minded people.  I met so many people, both in person and through the high quality tweeting on #aesopacsp13, that I look forward to continuing to communicate with and to be a part of my academic and professional community.


Recapping Lincoln Education and Land Policy @LandPolicy Conference

This post is somewhat belated.  The 8th Annual Land Policy Conference was held by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, MA in early June, and this year’s topic was Education, Land, and Location.

Eric Hanushek, an educational and urban economist from Stanford, was the keynote speaker where he gave an overview of research that he had conducted for the OECD that identified a economic benefit to the United States of somewhere in the range of $40-50 trillion dollars (in present terms) associated with closing the achievement gap between minority and white students in America.

The rest of the conference was made up of thorough discussions of national and international research on how land policy and education are inter-related.  Presenters (and chapters in the upcoming volume) will provide a vast overview on some relatively traditional research topics – including how school quality is capitalized in home values and why people without children in schools still support taxes for education (the answer is that it supports home value and community quality according to William Fischel’s “Home-Voter Hypothesis).  The conference papers also covered how newer policies like school choice and residential mobility programs affect individual outcomes in education and the labor market.  While there was some disagreement on the topic, choice and mobility might contribute to further inequality – but this could be just a short term effect.  There were also great papers on homeschooling, the role of segregation in educational outcomes, and how school choice affects municipal transportation costs.

I was encouraged to see urban economics, urban planning, education policy, and land policy being discussed in nuanced and innovative ways! I learned a lot at the conference and the work of the scholars at the Lincoln Conference has influenced by dissertation.


I am Honored to Have Been Named a Lincoln Institute Fellow @landpolicy

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has named me a C. Lowell Harriss Dissertation Fellow.  I am honored that the Institute has found my work on bachelor’s degree attainment, talent attraction, and labor markets as a contributor to the study of land value, economic geography, and urban form.  As a fellow, I have had the opportunity to attend Lincoln Conferences and communicate with Lincoln Institute leadership.  Their comments on my work have been influential and helped refine it.  I am appreciative of the support and guidance!

MOOC in Urban Planning Coming Up in May

As I expected and wrote about previously, 2013 will be the year that urban planning entered the MOOC arena.  As a reminder, MOOCs are massive open online courses that are offered through several providers including Coursera, Udacity, and EdX.  My previous post identified the trend and a number of “urban-related” and professional development focused courses, but there had not been an official MOOC in urban planning, nor had there been a MOOC in urban studies.  That is changing soon…

In May, Coursera will offer a course on the “TechniCity” taught by Jennifer Evans-Cowley and Tom Sanchez, professors at Ohio State and Virginia Tech respectively.  The course promises to cover topics including: social media and the city, new technology and the city, and open crowd-sourcing city mapping initiatives.

Here is a video introduction to the course:

Technology and the city is a new and important topic for planning.  There seems like no better way for planning to get into thinking about new technology than to teach it through the MOOC format.  Coming this May, I look forward to learning from the professors and the thousands of participants about how technology can change the city and how planners can use new technology to make a positive difference!

Open Education for Urban Studies and Urban Planning – Online Resources

Formal online education is becoming a reality.  You can earn a degree online in many fields now, including urban planning.  University of Florida offers a distance learning MCP. Other schools are exploring similar options.  While not a “MCP” University of Washington offers an online Master of Infrastructure Planning and Management.  There are other programs available and in development as well.

Continuing education for AICP certification has a robust online market of courses from a wide range of places.  Local planning organizations offer web based courses and  national planning resources like Planetizen offer courses like this too.  The various places to find this type of information is probably far too wide to document comprehensively.

There is another growing area for urban planning education and education in general – open online courses and shared course information from institutions of higher education.  Major companies, both for-profit and non-profit, like Coursera, Ed-X, and Udacity have partnered with traditional institutions to offer courses to anyone with an internet connection.  These courses and the new format have been nicknamed Massive Open Online Courses or “MOOCs.”  The name is fitting as some of the courses have enrolled tens of thousands (and occasionally over 100,000) students!

Are there specific urban planning MOOC courses yet?  Not exactly, but I predict that by the end of 2013, students, and anyone interested, will be able to enroll in some introductory courses on planning.  Current planners can use MOOCs to expand their horizons.  A community development planner may be interested in taking courses on nutrition and public health.  An economic development planner may want to take classes on building a start up in order to help local entrepreneurs grow their business.  (This would also be a great tool for the local entrepreneur him/herself as well).  Land use planners might be interested in numerous courses on climate change, energy, sustainability and environmental science.  There are also courses on global poverty that are in the planning orbit.

These courses do not provide credit towards graduation (yet), but many provide certificates of completion which might help in the job market.  The knowledge and skills that these courses offer are the most valuable product though.  MOOCs provide planners a chance to leaven and expand their skills by learning about emerging topics or areas that they did not have the chance to take formal college courses in.  MOOCs can also serve as refresher courses in areas like statistics, economics, politics, and mathematics.

The format of each MOOC varies slightly, but expect short lecture segments, brief readings, and weekly homework assignments.  Discussion boards and peer review are important parts of each course since there are so many students.  MOOCs attempt to capitalize on peer to peer learning.  While each platform is strong, some courses have translated to the MOOC format better than others.

If you are looking for slightly more traditional (but still free) options, MIT publishes information on every course that it offers in its Department of Urban Studies and Planning through the MIT Open Courseware initiative.  The school publishes syllabi, reading lists, assignments, lecture notes (often copies of powerpoint lectures), and other information on each course.  The upside is you get exactly the material that MIT students receive, but the downside is there aren’t lectures and, in general, you have to locate the readings yourself.  (A visit to your local community college, public university, or library can often get you access to these though).  So if you ever wanted to see what it was like to take real estate economics from William Wheaton, you can (minus the professor).  Prospective students may enjoy getting a preview of what a planning education entails.

These resources are great for professional planners who want to increase their skills and prospective students who want to explore a planning education among many other applications.  MOOCs can also enrich the traditional planning education.  Most students in MOOCs (60 percent) are from overseas, the other 40 percent are domestic.  There are few opportunities for international student collaboration that are more fertile than getting the perspective of between 6,000 and 60,000 international learners with no travel costs.  Some of the courses don’t exist yet though, but when they do, planning students can immediately communicate and compare urban issues from Albuquerque to Zagreb.  The teaching format could expand the international perspective for lower resource planning departments as well.

MOOCs have some challenges.  There are concerns about plagiarism and cheating, which is why the courses largely are not accepted towards degree attainment (but if you are simply interested in learning more on a subject this concern is trivial).  Many courses are still experimental as well – a course that is being offered for the first time may have some bumps along the way as the professor figures out how to communicate with so many students at once.  (There are another set of concerns related to copyright law and developing a MOOC that could determine what readings are offered in a course as well).

In 2012, MOOCs expanded significantly, and 2013 will see further expansion.  These courses are not likely to replace planing education any time soon, but MOOCs can increase the breadth of planning education and help planners develop new specialties.  Planning departments like MIT have “open-sourced” their teaching materials too.  Other institutions are following MIT’s lead (though not nearly as comprehensively).  Professors often post teaching material on the web somewhere.  MOOCs can help create international collaborative learning opportunities.  The internet can be a great resource for education and collaboration and it will likely add to how planners learn and how professors teach planning and MOOCs are one of the new ways that this is going to happen.