New Research: The Justice of Disaster Risk Creation in Indian Cities

Source: Environment and Planning E

Source: Environment and Planning E

My recent work in India has sought to understand disaster risk in small cities, towns, and urbanizing villages, communities that are “off the map” for most scholars but that will actually account for much of the country’s urban growth over the next several decades. Many of these fast-growing communities are located in environmentally hazardous areas, and rapid urbanization has caused a precipitous rise in disaster risk. While most human development activities increase risk to natural hazards, how should we consider whether disaster risk in India’s small urban places is being justly created or shared?

One of my newest article attempts to answer this question. It is a collaboration with Jeremy Nemeth, an Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at CU Denver who studies the environmental justice of urban development decisions.

Conceptual diagram of a disaster justice framework

Conceptual diagram of a disaster justice framework

The paper makes two contributions to the literatures on urbanization, urban disasters, and environmental justice. First, it proposes a framework for evaluating disaster justice that we derive from the literature on procedural equity and participatory and communicative planning. The framework is broad, foundational and a-contextual, meaning it can be adapted by urban development professionals in their unique environmental and political context. It uses John Dryzek’s criteria for democratic processes: franchise, scope and authenticity. The framework allows urban development professionals to evaluate their decisions regarding disaster risk and “move the dial” towards more just processes and outcomes.

The second contribution of the article is the application of the framework to the Darjeeling Himalayas, a mountain region in northern West Bengal that is at-risk from earthquakes, landslides, and heavy monsoon downpours. To test the framework, we draw on data collected during six field visits to the region from 2013-2018. We were especially interested in the development of multi-story concrete buildings (MCBs), a relatively new building form that is at high-risk from earthquake and landslide hazards. In such an inhospitable climate and topography , how have urban development professionals allowed MCBs to proliferate? Drawing on 51 interviews with key informants knowledgeable about the urban development process, as well as participant observation and plan analysis, we find that the franchise, scope, and authenticity of development decisions about MCBs are low, making the disaster risk they create manifestly unjust. We then describe opportunities for professionals to seek justice through improved decision-making.

The full article is available here, and I’ve included the abstract below. If you do not have access to EPE, please contact me and I can provide you with a copy. The paper is part of a great theme issue on Disaster Justice in Asia’s Urban Transition, edited by Mike Douglass and Michelle Miller at the National University of Singapore.

 The Darjeeling Himalayas is a rapidly urbanizing region in north-eastern India, increasingly exposed to natural hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, and changing patterns of precipitation due to climate change. This paper explores the complex roots of disaster risk creation in the region through the lens of disaster justice, asking: by what standards should we consider whether disaster risk is justly created or shared? And how might urban development professionals account for increasing vulnerabilities to natural hazards and climate change in their everyday work? To answer these questions, we develop a framework for disaster justice derived from the literature on procedural equity that considers the franchise, scope, and authenticity of development processes. We apply this framework in the Darjeeling Himalayas using the construction of multistoried concrete buildings as our object of analysis and based on data collected from interviews, plans and policy documents, and participant observation. This case study shows that a standard framework of justice is a useful starting point for examining development processes and their contribution to disaster risk, but also illuminates how considerations of disaster justice are unique to particular places. By using such a framework, modified to fit particular contexts and circumstances, we believe that urban development professionals can establish a more transparent and informed way to evaluate the justice of their work.

Learning and Resiliency in Colorado

Source: The Denver Post

Source: The Denver Post

In 2013 Colorado suffered one of the worst disasters in state history, a rainfall event that caused flooding and landslides across a wide area of the state. The 2013 floods came on the heels of several major wildfires like the Black Forest Fire and the Waldo Canyon Fire.

I had just moved to Colorado when the floods hit. Over the past six years, in my capacity as a researcher and practitioner, I have seen a remarkable learning process spurred by the floods There are too many examples to count, but a few of my favorites:

  • Resiliencia Para Todos is an emergent organization in Longmont that works with the Latinx community to identify potential vulnerabilities and actions for disaster and climate resilience.

  • The Colorado Hazard Mapping Program is a state-funded and led effort to update hazard mapping for communities at-risk from floods, erosion and debris flows. These efforts are vital to efforts to make meaningful regulatory changes at the local level.

  • The Colorado Recovery and Resiliency Collaborative (CRRC) is a bottom-up effort by local, county and state government officials to learn from the 2013 floods and improve resiliency to future events. The CRRC’s efforts, which began with a “Lessons Learned” event in 2015, eventually led to the reform of the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act, several guides and programs that will help future local governments to respond to extreme events, and cross-sector collaborations for building community resilience.

  • The Planning for Hazards project (full disclosure, I work on this one) provides land-use planning tools and model code language for communities to mitigate the impact of future hazards.

  • The Colorado Resiliency and Recovery Office (now the Colorado Resilience Office) led a state-wide process to create a resiliency framework that incorporates lessons learned from the fires and floods.

  • Communities like Lyons have fought tooth-and-nail to recover housing for families with low and moderate-incomes, and recognized that housing affordability is one of the central issues for building resilient communities.


Anyone who studies hazards planning and policy knows that there is a window of opportunity for learning after a disaster, a time when public support and external resources make learning and policy changes possible that might not otherwise have been possible. Nearly six years after the flood, many of the external funds that fueled our recovery have dried up, recovery staff have moved on to other opportunities, and most residents (and voters) have stopped thinking about the event. Folks like myself, who live and breathe disasters, naturally worry about the window of opportunity closing with so much more left to do. To really shape long-term resilience to natural hazards in our state, we need to reform our institutions and have real, durable incentives to plan for hazards.

Yesterday, the state legislature took a huge step in the right direction by reauthorizing funding for the Colorado Resilience Office on a deep, bi-partisan basis. The office, which works to assist communities to build resilience to future hazards and recover after disaster events, had initially been required to raise grant funding to continue operating, and its future was in doubt. This legislation will fund the office from state general funds (well, at least until 2022 when the funding is scheduled for a sunset review), and allow its 3-person staff to engage, leverage, and build on the many learning efforts that have happened post-flood.

It feels great to work in a state that is investing in resilience. Congratulations to the CRO and a special thanks to the lawmakers (Jonathan Singer, Rochelle Galindo and Joann Ginal) who sponsored the legislation.

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Mitigating Natural Hazards Through Land-Use Planning

Land-use planning – the authority to regulate the development and use of land to advance the health, safety and welfare of the public – has long been recognized as a tool for natural hazard mitigation and climate change adaptation. Gilbert White and Eugene Haas, in Assessment of Research on Natural Hazards (1975), pointed to the vast potential for local land-use controls in regulating development in hazardous areas. Foundational studies that shape our current approach to disaster management, like Dennis Mileti’s Disasters by Design, also recognize the central importance of land-use planning in reducing disaster losses.

And yet, land-use planning has been largely absent from the U.S. emergency management policies and programs. Even hazard mitigation plans – one of the best policy vehicles we have for advancing local disaster risk reduction efforts – drastically underutilize land-use planning. There are likely several reasons for this. First and most obvious is the common ceding of land-use authority to local governments, meaning we have a patchwork of tens-of-thousands of land-use authorities with different needs, resources, and political considerations. Using land-use planning as a tool for hazard mitigation also requires a background and knowledge set that have not been particularly common in the emergency management community, which has historically been dominated by professionals from the military, police, fire and emergency medical services professions (aka the “lights and sirens” crowd). The messy local politics of land-use planning is often a poor fit for their experiences and strengths. Third, emergency managers and planners historically have had few institutional incentives to collaborate and speak different professional languages, common issues with the “siloing” of expertise. Lastly, federal policies and programs can actually thwart efforts to use land-use planning to reduce risk. Raymond Burby and his colleagues (1999), for instance, describe how local land-use planning is routinely undermined by federal programs that incentivize, protect, or even encourage development in hazardous places.

Source: CPAW

Source: CPAW

This is all changing. In recent years, planners and emergency managers have increasingly acknowledged their shared goals and interests. The emergency management profession has begun to diversify, and increasing numbers of emergency managers have training in planning, public administration, and other land-use related fields. FEMA has funded and made available a terrific set of resources on land-use planning, from Integrating Hazard Mitigation Into Local Planning to Phil Berke’s prep talk on Land-Use Planning for Community Resilience. Likewise, the American Planning Association has published several important guides on planning for natural hazards, like the recent PAS reports Planning the Wildland-Urban Interface and Subdivision Design and Flood Hazard Areas. Across all these resources, we are seeing an increasing convergence between hazard mitigation and land-use planning, to the benefit of both.

Screen Shot 2019-04-14 at 10.42.15 AM.png

This is difficult work, however. Leveraging land-use planning for hazard mitigation requires significant time, information, money, political commitment, and community buy-in. These are resources in short-supply in many communities, especially given the myriad of other important issues we need to plan for.

Many communities are making progress, however. Here in Colorado, I have had the good fortune of contributing to Planning for Hazards: Land-Use Solutions. This guide and website, which came about after the devastating wildfires and floods in our state in 2012-2013, provides 28 profiles of common land-use planning tools and how they can be used to mitigate natural hazard risk. It further includes 16 model code languages and commentaries, to allow local governments to work from a template when revising their regulations. It is also chock full of examples and links to real communities and real land-use examples in Colorado and nationally. as well as linking to, interviews with land-use planners, a video of

Since we launched the Planning for Hazards project in 2016, we have learned some important lessons. First and foremost, knowledge about land-use planning and hazards is necessary, but not sufficient, to spur action. While we believe our guide if fairly unique, it is only information. The Department of Local Affairs and CU Denver, among other partners, have tried to help communities move from “knowledge to action” through a variety of projects that use the guide as a jumping off point. These included a two-year webinar series on land-use planning for natural hazards; interviews with local leaders who have “walked the walk” of hazards planning; a year-long implementation project with three communities in Colorado who revised their land-use tools to better mitigate risk; and the Mitigating Hazards Through Land-Use workshop that helps local governments to kick off their land-use planning process with expert consultation and peer-to-peer learning. All of the materials from these activities are free and available on the Planning for Hazards site.

Second, the project has taught us how important collaboration is for achieving action, especially in smaller communities and those with fewer planning resources. Planning for hazards, especially for hazards beyond floods, requires a great deal of resources that are often beyond the capacity of communities. Finding the right mix of resources and incentives that will spur communities to act is still a challenge.

We hope this project might inspire similar projects in other states. In fact, much of the work is already done! For many states it would be a short step to modify our guide to match their own communities needs and interests. We would be more than happy to share whatever material we have.

Learn More

The Natural Hazards Center recently wrote a story about the project, which highlights the implementation aspects of the project. The Western Planning also wrote a nice summary of the project in 2018. If you happen to be at the Natural Hazards Workshop this year, I will be moderating a panel where project participants will discuss their experiences.

About the Project

The Planning for Hazards project was conceived and led by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Clarion Associates, along with DOLA, the University of Colorado and a great group of consultants, created the guide. Today, I help to manage the project along with DOLA and a steering committee of hazard mitigation and land-use planning experts from organizations like FEMA, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Natural Hazards Center, and the town of Manitou Springs.

Advice For Planning PhD Students: Writing Your CV

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 4.16.27 PM.png

The curriculum vitae, or CV, is one of the most important components of your academic job application. It is the document that most search committee members will read first, before they (hopefully) dive into your cover letter, research/teaching/diversity statements, and writing sample. It is an outline of your record, a shorthand of your accomplishments. Your CV will evolve with you throughout your academic career. It is a highly individual document that you also share with the world.

Every academic planner has a CV, and thus every academic planner has an opinion on how a CV should be written. There are no hard-and-fast rules. And yet, the CV is a place where norms and standards are performed for search committees. A CV that doesn’t conform to certain unwritten expectations may signal to committee members that this candidate is not ready. The goal of this blog post is to describe the contents of an effective CV, and some of the norms and standards that you are expected to follow. Hopefully this advice will allow your CV do the work you want it to do; i.e. provide a succinct account of your accomplishments in a format that is legible across our discipline and the academy. Please note, this advice is specific to the United States academic job market. The norms and standards of CVs will likely vary in other places.

What goes in a CV?
In this section I describe the components of a CV in (roughly) the order they should appear. For reference, here are my CVs from my first time on the job market, second time on the job market, and in my current position. I don’t hold these up as models. In fact, I see a lot of mistakes on my job market CVs that I wish I could go back and correct. Alas.

Personal information: Your name, institutional mailing address, email address, phone number and website address (if applicable) should appear at the top of your CV. Do not include a photograph or any additional personal information like gender, birthdate, hobbies or marital status.

Education: You should then describe your educational background, starting with your PhD and through your undergraduate degree. If you are a current PhD candidate, you might indicate the date when you expect to receive your degree. Some candidates include the names of their dissertation committee members. I don’t personally do this, but think it is fine to do. Don’t include information like your GPA or membership in honor societies.

Academic positions: Next, list any academic positions you have held here. Make sure to be specific. So, for example, in my second job market CV I described my appointment as a visiting lecturer at Cornell as well as my Assistant Professor position at the University of Hawaii. Be sure to include dates and the department(s) or unit(s) within which you worked.

Professional experience: Most academic CVs will not feature professional experience. Urban and regional planning is a professional field, however, so it may be beneficial to list your relevant work experience outside of academia. You will need to use your best judgement on whether to list your professional experience, and be sure to only include substantial work that is directly relevant to your research, teaching, and/or service. If you have 10 years of experience working in a professional planning setting, for example, that is certainly worth including and will likely be viewed as an asset by many search committees. If you have a year of experience or a summer internship, however, I would not include them.

Research: The next section of your CV should describe your research accomplishments, most importantly your a) publications b) grants and c) presentations.

Publications: You should write this section according to the hierarchy of publications, starting with the most universally recognized and important (in a job-market sense) publications and ending with manuscripts that are still under review or in-progress. As you can see on my CV, I list my peer-reviewed journal articles followed by peer-reviewed book chapters, reports and other non-peer reviewed publications, and journal articles under review. If you have a book published or under contract, you would likely put it at the top of this section. A few general do’s and don’ts with regards to publications:

  • Do include a full citation for each publication.

  • Don’t mix publications together. Peer-reviewed journal articles should be separately listed from book chapters, which should be separately listed from book reviews, encyclopedia entries, opinion pieces, etc. Don’t force the search committee to parse your publications! There is a clear hierarchy with regards to the categories of publications in planning and academia generally, and this section of your CV should reflect that.

  • Do list your manuscripts under review. For your job market CV (i.e. the one you send to search committees), list the journal where a paper is under review regardless of its status (submitted, under review, revise and resubmit, or accepted pending minor revisions). For your public-facing CV, don’t list the journal unless you have already received a revise and resubmit decision.

  • Do/Don’t include a ‘manuscripts in preparation’ section. After all these years, I still don’t know what to think about this common CV entry. On the one hand, describing your future papers can signal to a search committee that you have a well-thought out publication plan. On the other, anyone can describe all the great things they intend to do in the future without including any actual information about the present. My advice: be sparing. If you decide to include papers in preparation, limit the number and don’t describe the journals where you intend to submit them. Do try and associate them with an accomplishment (i.e. presented at the 2019 ACSP conference, manuscript currently being revised for submission). Don’t be the person who has 12 manuscripts under preparation but none actually published - this sends the wrong signals.

Grants: The next part of the research portion of your CV should describe your competitive grants. This means grant funding you have received separate from your standard university stipend/package. I separate internal/external grants, but as a PhD candidate you can probably combine them. What grants should you include? Those where you are the principal investigator (PI), co-principal investigator (co-PI), or investigator i.e. grants you had a part in receiving and administering. If you were hired onto a grant project as a PhD student, you probably shouldn’t include the grant on your CV. Do include the competitive academic fellowships you have received.

Presentations and workshops: Next, describe your research presentations and/or workshops. As a PhD student these will mostly be conference presentations. Include the paper or talk title, date, and conference/workshop/proceeding. You might also include a section on invited talks. There are too many individual circumstances to discuss here, but if someone sought you out to present your research based on your record or reputation, it is generally considered invited. If you sought out an opportunity to present your research (e.g. submitted a conference abstract) then it is not considered invited. Be cautious about what you include in this section, generally - there is a line between “accomplishment” and “padding” that you don’t want to cross. You prepared a 45-minute research presentation for an on-campus lecture series? Absolutely include it on your CV. Delivered an informal presentation about your research to friends over beers? Don’t.

Teaching: The next section of your CV should describe your teaching experience. There are different ways to organize this, but in-general you want to make sure the search committee can clearly understand the courses, seminars or workshops you have taught and distinguish between different levels of responsibility. It is probably a good idea to include a few sentences for each course. For example:

  • Urban Sustainability is a graduate-level course on the fundamentals of environmental planning and sustainable development. I was the instructor of record from 2013-2019, during which time I delivered 12 sections of Urban Sustainability.

  • Global Cities is an undergraduate course that introduces students to the histories and theories of urbanization outside of the United States. I was a graduate teaching assistant for Global Cities in 2009 and 2010. During that time I led my own discussion section, graded student papers, delivered a once-per-semester guest lecture, and assisted the instructor of record with other teaching-related tasks.

Notice that I clearly describe and differentiate my teaching responsibilities in these short descriptions rather than simply listing the course titles and years.

Jim Soto, a professor of philosophy at St. Clair County Community College, offered some helpful advice for those of you who might be applying to a community college or teaching intensive position:

“Switch the order of publications with teaching. Or as I like to say, ‘lead with teaching.’ Also, go ahead and elaborate on the courses taught, don't just list them. In particular, if you've taught/developed a course, or emphasized special content in an existing course, or teach it in an interesting way, give a sentence or two describing it.”

If you have any specialized training on pedagogy, you should also include it in the teaching section.

Service: In this section you should describe your service activities, whether to your university (committees, student leadership), the profession (e.g. academic peer reviewer, regional/national leadership), or the community.

Awards and honors: Finally, you should list any awards or honors you have received. The lines get a little blurry here…for example, a Fulbright-Hays fellowship is both a grant and an award. You will need to use your best judgement, but if you have received an award or honor for your research, teaching or service, you should make sure it has a home in your CV.

How should I design my CV?
After content, you should also think about form. What font should you use? What size? How large should the margins be? These are all important questions, but not ones you should obsess over. If your CV includes the information described above and generally follows the conventions of the field, the form will matter less than the substance. Try and follow the basic rules of design. Pick a font and font size that is clear and professional (Arial = yes, Papyrus = no). Choose margins that are not too small and not too big. Space your sections a bit, but don’t include excessive white space. And so on. When in doubt, pick a few CVs that look great to you and mimic their design, or find the standard CV template for your university and use that. If you are hopelessly lost, ask one of your design-oriented friends to take a look. If they don’t recoil in horror, you are probably ok.

The evolution of CVs and finding role models
As you can see, my CV has evolved significantly since I was a first-time job market candidate. It still provides a summary of my work and accomplishments, but serves a slightly different purpose today than it did then. Most importantly, I have begun to curate the contents for the sake of brevity. I am not “on the market” these days and don’t need to paint a complete picture of my work. If I were on the market, I would provide more detail in the teaching, peer-reviewed conferences and invited talks sections.

This is all a way of saying that you shouldn’t necessarily mimic the CVs of professors in your department, particularly ones who have been around for years or decades. You will probably be better served by asking to see the CVs of the recently appointed faculty, or those who have recently been successful on the job market. If you are a faculty member reading this blog and have a good CV you are willing to share, please send me a message and I will post it.

Last point - and I can’t stress this enough - get together with your peers and critique each others CVs. Your personal tastes and preferences will vary, but you should seek out feedback in a low stakes and supportive environment. Print some paper copies, get some red pens, and order a pizza. Invite some junior faculty. It will pay off handsomely.

Final thoughts
The CV is a deceptive document. It is simple in its form, yet does a lot of spoken and unspoken work. When in doubt, remember to make your CV is organized and only includes the essentials. It is ok if your CV is short! In fact, the search committee probably expects it. Much better to communicate a brief record of solid accomplishment than to muddy the waters with padding and fluff.

Further Reading
I wrote this blog post for PhD students in Urban and Regional Planning, but the advice is probably transferable to most social science disciplines. Similarly, many advice articles on academic CVs from social scientists are relevant to planning PhD students. A couple of recent ones that I enjoyed are:

Property Buyouts and Hazard Mitigation: Old Ideas, Old Concerns About Equity

Land acquisition (or property “buyouts”) has become a key tool in hazard mitigation and resilience planning. At a basic level, land acquisition programs aim to reduce disaster risk by removing development from hazard exposed land and protecting it from future development. These properties are typically returned to a natural state and sometime used for low-intensity recreational uses like bike paths or parks. In Colorado, for instance, jurisdictions have established land acquisition programs with the intention of establishing public control over ‘repetitive loss’ properties and other properties that are highly exposed to natural hazards. FEMA (through the 404 program) and HUD (through Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) grants) both fund voluntarily property acquisition programs, and have spent billions of dollars over the past couple of decades in places like Houston and New York.

These programs raise important equity concerns. A whole lot of communities with low-incomes and affordable housing are located on hazardous land, especially floodplains, for reasons of historical racism and the dynamics of private property markets. When we purchase affordable housing to protect future populations from disasters, we might be trading one type of vulnerability for another. Are the households being “bought out” able to afford to stay in their communities and keep their social networks intact? Are they able to afford housing that is less exposed to hazards? When we take affordable housing out of the system, are we replacing it elsewhere to avoid cost escalations for households with low-incomes, generally?

These are important questions, and not new ones. Recently, one of our graduate planning students (Alex Hemmer) was doing research on his hometown of Cincinnati and came across this report on the 1913 Ohio Valley Flood. This paragraph was especially interesting:

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As this report shows, the idea of property acquisition for hazard mitigation has been around a long time, as have the equity concerns that accompany them. The report also makes you shake your head a bit. After 106 years, have we really only come this far? (if that question interests you, highly recommend the Greer and Binder piece linked below).

Lastly, there has been some terrific research recently on property ‘buyout’ programs post-disaster. I am linking a few of my favorites below, but am interested to hear your recommendations:

Binder, S.B. and Greer, A. (2016). The devil is in the details: Linking home buyout policy, practice and experience after Hurricane Sandy. Politics and Governance.

Gotham, K.F. (2014). Reinforcing Inequalities: The Impact of the CDBG Program on Post-Katrina Rebuilding. Housing Policy Debate.

Greer, A. and Binder, S.B. (2017). A Historical Assessment of Home Buyout Policy: Are We Learning or Just Failing? Housing Policy Debate.

New Research: "Resilient Growth - Fantasy Plans and Unplanned Developments in India's Flood-Prone Coastal Cities"

Urban development encroaching on the East Kolkata Wetlands. Credit: HSBC

Urban development encroaching on the East Kolkata Wetlands. Credit: HSBC

In the face of rising seas and rapid growth, coastal cities in India have taken up the mantle of “resilience” in glossy climate action plans, high-profile international partnerships, and voluminous disaster management documents. And yet, while resilience has firmly entered the Indian city planning lexicon, environmentally destructive urban development continues largely unabated. What explains this seeming disconnect between the transformational goals of resilience planning and the everyday practices of urban development?

In a new article just published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Liza Weinstein, Saumitra Sinha and I examine the contradictions between global and national discourses of urban resilience planning and continuing patterns of destructive urban development. We look specifically at Kolkata and Mumbai, two of India’s largest and most flood-affected cities. We argue that resilience planning, promoted by the central government and international consultants, and presented in locally produced “fantasy plans,” fails to address the risks of flooding due to its tendency to sidestep questions of politics, power and the distributional conflicts that shape urban development. We conclude that analyses of governance and informality, and especially the politics of planned and unplanned development, should more directly inform studies of urban coastal flooding.

The paper is part of a symposium in IJURR on the future of urban political theory in light of hydrological crises in Asia. The symposium includes several terrific papers on the urban politics of coastal flooding:

The symposium follows a workshop convened by Gavin Shatkin and generously supported by Northeastern University in 2016, and a subsequent panel at AAG in 2017.

I hope you will give the symposium a look. As always, if you don’t have access to these articles, just contact me and I can share soft copies.

CU Denver Will Not Participate in the Planetizen Rankings

Dear Colleagues,

As planning educators, we believe it is our responsibility to help prospective students identify the graduate program that best fits their needs, goals, and interests. In light of this responsibility and after considerable deliberation, the full-time faculty of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Colorado Denver have decided against participating in the 6th edition of the Planetizen Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs.

We have several concerns with the Planetizen rankings that led us to our decision. First and foremost, we feel that our continued participation in the Planetizen process elevates a faulty premise – that PAB-accredited planning programs can, or should, be ranked against one another. Planning schools certainly have strengths and limitations that should be carefully weighed by prospective students, but the Planetizen rankings work to obscure these important differences by reducing multi-dimensional programs to a single score. In our experience, factors like the quality of a program’s curriculum, the skills it teaches, its location, student access to faculty, and the program’s connection to the local and regional planning community are the crucial factors that inform a student’s job-market success and career satisfaction, yet are all difficult to quantify and measure. We believe that ranking graduate planning schools – programs which already meet rigorous accreditation standards – discourages the kind of nuanced and critical assessment a prospective student must make to determine which program best suits them.

Even if we did support the premise that program rankings are a valid or useful tool for prospective students, we have several additional concerns. Foremost among them is graduate school affordability. Our experience tells us that many students’ interests are better met by in-state or regional-serving institutions with lower tuition and costs, yet such programs tend to appear lower in the rankings. We believe this gives some prospective students the false impression that if they choose a lower-cost program they will receive a lesser education.

A related concern is the cost of the Planetizen guide itself. To produce their guide, Planetizen relies on substantial effort by planning faculty and staff, which they then package and sell to prospective students at a premium. We are concerned about a private company using our limited resources for their own profit, and are particularly worried about the burden it places on smaller programs.

Finally, we have concerns with the ranking methodology, which after a decade remains opaque and proprietary to Planetizen. As critics of the Planetizen guide and other ranking processes have noted, the self-reported data that impacts such rankings are vulnerable to manipulation. Further, using a faculty survey of program reputation would seem to intrinsically favor large, nationally-prominent universities with high-profile research faculty and PhD programs from which most planning faculty earned their degrees. These are excellent programs, but we believe the survey of program reputation disadvantages many smaller and more regional-serving institutions that also deliver an excellent graduate education.

We believe there is value in having a comprehensive and informative guide to graduate urban and regional planning programs. We also believe that the Planetizen process has encouraged programs to more routinely collect comparable information that is useful for prospective students – a trend we support. In the near term we will continue sharing these and other key indicators about our  program on our website. In the long term, we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded programs to help make comparisons as straightforward and transparent as possible by sharing common data and metrics. We are also committed to working with colleagues to produce a free guide to graduate planning programs, one that allows students to understand the many nuances that make our programs unique.  


Carrie Makarewicz, Jeremy Németh, Rocky Piro, Andrew Rumbach, Ken Schroeppel, Manish Shirgaokar, Jennifer Steffel Johnson, Austin Troy, Elizabeth Walsh and Nan Ellin

Department of Urban and Regional Planning
University of Colorado Denver

Residents of mobile home parks were at greatest risk To the Camp Fire

Burned mobile home park in Paradise, CA Image: Noah Berger / Associated Press

Burned mobile home park in Paradise, CA Image: Noah Berger / Associated Press

This excellent LA Times story on the Camp Fire paints an all too familiar scene: low-income, elderly, and disabled residents of a mobile home park in Paradise were the most likely to perish in the disaster. Some quick thoughts on this important story…

There is a stunning lack of research on mobile home parks, generally and specific to disasters. Mobile home parks house nearly 3 million households in the United States, in all sizes and shapes of communities. They are a vital source of affordable housing in many places, especially California, Texas and Florida.

I’m sure we have all heard the jokes about mobile home parks and tornados. Toby Keith affectionately sings about the stereotypes in the song Trailerhood, for example. Disaster researchers do know a little bit: we know that mobile homes, especially pre- “HUD code” homes (built before 1976) are especially vulnerable to natural hazards like fire and high winds. But this is only one dimension of vulnerability. Many of the unique aspects of mobile home parks and their relationship to disaster risk remain unexplored.

My colleagues (Esther Sullivan and Carrie Makarewicz) and I have a lot to say about this in a paper that is currently under review and hopefully coming out soon, but I can share a few of our key insights from an 18-month study of Colorado that align strongly with this case in California:

  • Mobile home parks can be fantastically affordable, especially in the context of the growing affordability crisis in many parts of the country.

  • Mobile home parks tend to spatially concentrate socially vulnerable households.

  • Mobile home parks tend to be in more hazardous areas (like floodplains) relative to site-built housing, for different historical reasons.

  • Mobile home parks are stigmatized in popular culture and even the affordable housing world, and tend to get stigmatized in local plans and regulations - what Esther Sullivan identifies and terms “socio-spatial stimgatization” in her new book. This has all kinds of important implications for disaster risk, including presenting major barriers to recovery.

  • Mobile home parks have unique tenure arrangements, where residents often own their housing unit but rent the land underneath. Again, this has all kinds of important effects on disaster vulnerability, from lack of insurance to exclusion from community engagement processes.

Lots more to say, and I will share our article when (fingers crossed!) it gets published. In the meantime, the NSF has given us the resources to do a large-scale study of mobile home parks and Hurricane Harvey in the Houston metropolitan area. You can read a few of our preliminary findings here.

New Research: Rural Urbanization and Disaster Risk in India


Gretel Follingstad (PhD candidate, University of Colorado Denver) and I have a new article in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction entitled “Urban disasters beyond the city: Environmental risk in India’s fast-growing towns and villages.” We studied 5 fast-growing towns and villages in the mountains of West Bengal, India with some pretty eye-opening findings.

The mountains of West Bengal are exposed to numerous hazards, most importantly landslides and earthquakes. We used Birkmann et al.'s MOVE framework to study household and community risk to these hazards. Numerous factors contributing to disaster risk, most importantly the expansion of the built environment into hazardous areas. In places still governed as rural we found that the number of buildings and paved roadways has increased by 40-80% in the past decade alone. The economy has also shifted, away from agriculture and towards tourism, an industry highly vulnerable to acute "shocks," especially from a major disaster. Lastly, towns and villages are still governed by rural institutions which are largely unequipped to manage urbanization. There is little-to-no regulation of building and development, or coordinated efforts at hazard mitigation.

While urbanization has brought many short-term benefits and increased resilience in some ways, disaster risk is being created and is accumulating in the built environment, and will someday be "released" by a major disaster event. While this is a small-N study, we expect to find similar trends and dynamics in fast-growing villages and towns elsewhere in India. This "hidden urbanization" is a force that is virtually absent from the hazard/disaster research literature.

Please see the abstract of the article below. The full article is available here. If you do not have access to IJDRR, please contact me and I can provide you with a copy.


India is one of the fastest urbanizing countries in the world. Although urban scholars tend to focus on India’s large cities, urbanization is also transforming its villages and towns. In this paper we ask how urbanization is shaping environmental risk in five fast-growing towns and villages in the Darjeeling District, a mountainous region in the state of West Bengal. We base our study on the MOVE Framework, a comprehensive and integrative framework for assessing disaster and climate risk. Drawing on primary and secondary data collected over a 3-year period 2015–2017, we find that urbanizing towns and villages are characterized by rapid spatial growth, dynamic and challenging hazard contexts, and limitations in governance capacity or resources to document, govern, or adapt to emerging environmental threats. The risk that is accumulating in the built environment and economy may only be “revealed” after a major disaster, however. These characteristics and trends are likely common in other small urbanizing places and must be managed to achieve national and international goals for sustainable and resilient development.

Lecture: disasters and uneven recovery (University of Utah)

Damaged mobile homes in Evans, Colorado. Image: The Greeley Tribune.

Damaged mobile homes in Evans, Colorado. Image: The Greeley Tribune.

I will be speaking at the University of Utah on February 21st, 2019 on “Disasters and Uneven Recovery: Lessons from the 2013 Colorado Floods.” My lecture will report findings from an 18-month study of mobile home parks in Colorado that were impacted by the disaster, and the struggle of residents to return to their communities and rebuild. The lecture is part of the Year of Resilience Event Series, hosted by the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning and the Global Change and Sustainability Center at the University of Utah.

For information on the time and location, and to learn about other resilience events at the U, visit their webpage.