Advice for Planning PhD Students: The Secret to Writing A Lot

Trying to write that first sentence…

Trying to write that first sentence…

Academic productivity is mostly measured by our writing, whether peer-reviewed publications, the pursuit of external grants, or any of the other dozens of writing-intensive tasks we are expected to do on a near-daily basis. Much of the anxiety among early career researchers is also writing-based, or the fear of not writing. Over the years I’ve read endless columns, guides, and books on how to be a more productive writer. I have attended workshops, seminars, and writing groups. I have purchased fancy apps and programs. I bought the perfect notebook and a nice pen and noise-canceling headphones, the ultimate combination that would surly lead to more articles per year under-review. I experimented with just the right numbers of beers or cocktails to summon the muses. I have a nicely arranged desk and writing space, and have staked out my favorite coffeeshops. I have tried every ritual or piece of sage advice on writing from experienced and productive writers: I’ve written only in the morning, and only in the evening. I’ve written everyday of the week and only once per week on a designated writing day. I’ve written in short bursts with timed breaks, and I’ve done marathon sessions with no breaks. I’ve stayed at home and I’ve traveled to writing retreats. I’ve written messy first drafts with no editing allowed, and written perfect first drafts with no messiness allowed. I’ve avoided outlines. I’ve outlined.

After all these years of reading and hearing advice, I have come to know one truth - the secret to writing a lot is to write a lot. Or, as Mary Heaton Vorse advised Sinclair Lewis a century ago, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

That is it. That is the bottom-line of every bit of advice on writing you will ever find. Make the time to write, and then do it. Easier said than done, but there is great wisdom on the topic. Put your writing time on your calendar and treat it like any other obligation. Free yourself of distractions. Make goals. When you hit a rut, mix things up.

At the end of the day, no one else’s advice means anything, because your writing habits are different. Just make sure you are writing on a consistent basis.

Advice for Planning PhD Students: 10 Questions to Guide Your Journal Targeting Process

Publishing is one of the most important, but daunting, tasks for academic planners. Your publications – especially peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters – are the metric by which your research productivity will likely be measured. As I have written previously, I believe that you need 1-2 peer-reviewed journal articles on your CV by the time you are on the job market to be competitive. Faculty on the tenure-track are generally expected to publish between 1-3 peer-reviewed articles per year, depending on their institution. In short, you will be submitting a LOT of journal articles in your career. With a seemingly endless choice of journals to submit to, or “targets,” how can you act strategically?

Journal Impact Factor Trend for  Habitat International . Source: InCites 2018

Journal Impact Factor Trend for Habitat International. Source: InCites 2018

This blog post gives my advice on the process of targeting a journal. I wrote this post with PhD students in-mind, especially those who have only a basic understanding of the academic publishing process. Some junior faculty might also find the information useful. As always, this advice is based on my own experiences as an American planning academic. I have published a decent number of peer-reviewed articles and have served as a reviewer for numerous planning or planning-adjacent journals. You should be sure to check-in with your adviser, however, for advice on the journal selection process for your specific subfield and manuscript.

What is an academic journal?

Let's start with the basics. What is an academic journal? A journal is a venue for sharing, critiquing and discussing academic research. Journals are published regularly and come in many different varieties, from general-interest publications to those focused on particular issues or geographic regions. One characteristic that ties academic journals together is that their articles are peer-reviewed. If you are not sure what peer-review means and how it operates, Elsevier has a nice description.

In Planning, journals can be roughly broken up into two categories:

  1. General interest journals are those that publish research that is generally of interest for planning researchers For example, a journal like the Journal of Planning Education and Research might publish articles in transportation, land-use, or housing, or articles that cross multiple subfields. As the name implies, articles published in general interest journals are likely to be written for a general audience; that is, the author(s) will write pieces that are understandable to readers who are literate in planning research but not expert in that particular area.

  2. Subfield journals are those that are dedicated to narrower areas within planning scholarship, like housing, transportation, environment, land-use, economic development, GIS and planning theory. Articles published in these journals will typically be written for an audience with deeper knowledge and familiarity with the history, theory and literature of that subfield.

Planning is a small but diverse discipline, and planning researchers often have multiple and intersecting interests. Academic planners therefore tend to draw on literature from (and contribute articles to) journals from outside our discipline. Therefore the list of specific general-interest or subfield journals that might be a good fit for your manuscript could be quite long. I discuss some additional ways of narrowing down your choices below.

What Are the Benefits of Journal Targeting?

Archival footage of me rushing the journal targeting process

Archival footage of me rushing the journal targeting process

Choosing a journal that is a good fit for your paper is an essential skill to learn early in your career. Journal targeting should be included as a necessary part of your research process. There are many benefits: it improves your chances of receiving productive feedback from editors and reviewers; improves the chances of your paper being accepted; makes sure you are communicating with the right audience; increases the likelihood of getting cited; and helps you to prepare well for tenure and promotion processes. Conversely, choosing a journal that is poorly suited to your manuscript could result in: higher chances of editorial or peer rejection; less visibility (and therefore citation and impact); a long peer-review process as the editor searches for qualified referees; and a weak or unbalanced CV.

I’ve made many mistakes when it comes to journal targeting, to the detriment of my publication record and impact. I hope this blog post might help you avoid making some of the same mistakes!

What questions should I ask to target a journal for my manuscript?

To help guide your journal targeting process, here are ten questions you should be asking yourself:

  • What type of article am I writing? Journals tend to publish certain types of articles, which will directly affect your chances for acceptance. No matter how brilliant your manuscript is, it will be a poor fit for some journals and likely to get rejected. Journal tendencies run the gamut, from length to methods to tone. Some are clearly and explicitly stated, like the allowable length of the manuscript. Others are more subtle. Some tend to publish more qualitative work, while others publish more quantitative or geospatial (and some balance all of them). Some journals have international audiences and want pieces that broadly address their readership, while others have a country or region they specialize in. Some are perfectly happy (and expect) advocacy, while others embrace notions of researcher objectivity. Writing a literature review? The Journal of Planning Literature is all about them, and the Journal of the American Planning Association accepts them, but many journals don’t. Getting to know the personality and tendencies of journals in our field is an important step towards productivity. My best advice for learning about a journal’s tendencies is to skim through interesting articles from the past 3-4 years. Editors and editorial boards change and the direction of journals change with them, so nothing is written in stone. However, knowing the landscape of journals at any point in time is a useful way to start culling down the list of potential targets.

  • What is the journal’s reputation? In a small field like planning, journal reputation may be the single best guideline for understanding which journals are safe targets. Reputation comes from any number of places. What journals do your faculty advisors recommend? Which journals consistently appear on your course syllabi? Which show up to ACSP and meet with researchers? Reputations for journals will vary by subfield, of course. In my own subfield of natural hazards planning, a journal like Natural Hazards Review is held in decent regard, even though it is largely invisible to the broader field. Another source for information about journal reputation is Goldstein and Maier’s (2010) article “The Use and Valuation of Journals in Planning Scholarship: Peer Assessment Versus Impact Factor.” Long story short, the Journal of the American Planning Association (JAPA) and the Journal of Planning Education and Research stand head-and-shoulders above all others in terms of faculty reputation, with many other journals also considered highly reputable. While the piece is getting a bit dated (research opportunity!), it is still a very useful reference for making the argument about the relative importance of various journal targets. One note - Goldstein and Maier describe general-interest journals as diverse and subfield journals as specialized.

  • Where is the scholarly conversation happening? Look at your manuscript’s bibliography. Where are the papers that you are citing published? Where is the conversation you are hoping to contribute to happening? This is especially important as you develop your reputation in your subfield - in general, you want to build yourself up as a researcher who speaks both to a general academic audience but also to experts in your domain of planning. Nuanced and critical conversations about important research topics often happen at the subfield level, while major summative studies find their way into journals intended for general planning audiences. At least, that is how it is supposed to work.

  • What is the journal’s impact factor? Impact factors are an important but controversial part of the academic productivity conversation. Impact factors (or other measurement tools like CiteScore) are generic measurements of the impact that articles published in a certain journal tend to have. That means, how many times on average does an article published in the journal tend get cited within X years of being published? In a small social-scientific field like planning, our journals’ impact factors are relatively low. JAPA, for instance, had an impact factor of 2.014 in 2017, compared to 5.063 for American Sociological Review, Sociology’s equivalent venue. And, studies have consistently shown that certain types of results (read: quantitative) and certain types of faculty (read: male) tend to get cited more often than others. So, other questions are probably more important for helping you to target journals. Nevertheless, impact factors are part of the conversation, and it is important to understand what they are and how they get used by various evaluators of your record. To read more about citations and impact factors within planning, see Stevens et al.’s (2019) article “Why Do Some Articles in Planning Journals Get Cited More Than Others?”

  • What is the journal’s rank? Related to impact factors, journal rankings are a common but controversial tool for researchers. Journal rankings are available through the InCites Journal Citation Reports tool, which you can find through Web of Science. The good news is that you can view journal rankings for an entire category (like Regional & Urban Planning or Urban Studies), for a specific journal, or compare journals. The bad news is that the process is automated and that the results don’t necessarily make much sense. For example, here you can see the top 9 journals in the category of Regional & Urban Planning. Notice that JAPA and JPER, the two frontrunners in faculty reputation surveys, don’t even appear. Personally, I find the InCites tool to be most useful for broadening my perspective on what journals are out there (and indexed) in any particular subfield. I also find it useful to search specific journals and see how they compare to others in the field.

Source: InCites Journal Citation Report for Regional & Urban Planning for 2018

Source: InCites Journal Citation Report for Regional & Urban Planning for 2018

After waiting 18 months (!) for a certain planning journal to ultimately reject my revised manuscript. Tsk.

After waiting 18 months (!) for a certain planning journal to ultimately reject my revised manuscript. Tsk.

  • How does my paper fit in the journal’s mission and scope? Review the journal’s aims and scope. How well does your manuscript fit into the scope of the journal as described by its editorial team? This information is available from the home page of every journal. For example, here is the Journal of the American Planning Association and the Journal of Planning Theory.

  • Who is on the editorial board? Again, this information is available from the home page of most journals. Are there scholars on the editorial board who you recognize or whose work you admire?

  • Where does the publication “fit” in my larger CV? For academics, any one paper is just a piece of a larger research profile. The same can be said for the venues in which you have published. Depending on where you sit in your career, you may want to strategically choose venues that are most valuable to building out your research profile. For example, if you are a new researcher and your CV is still slim, choosing any good medium-to-high tier general interest or subfield journal is probably fine (the main goal is to start building your research profile and show search committees that you can publish in high quality outlets). Put another way, you probably want to submit your article to the best possible journal that is also the best possible fit, regardless of its category. If you already have a couple of publications in good subfield journals, you might want to focus on a top general interest journal in planning or a related field, or vice-versa. If you are junior faculty, critically examine the gaps in your CV. What journals will external reviewers expect you to have published in that you haven’t? Could you target this manuscript to one of those journals to help fill that gap? I remember one highly successful researcher telling me that his tenure strategy was to list the top 10 journals in the field and make sure to publish in every single one before tenure review. Tough strategy to pull off, but it speaks to the idea of targeting journals to round out your CV.

  • How long is the review time? All else being equal, you may want to inquire about average review times for the journals you are considering. Review times includes the length of time between manuscript submission and the editorial decision to send the piece out for review or “desk reject” it, meaning that the editor sends it back to you without getting external input. Assuming the editor sends the piece out for peer review, review time also includes the time it takes external reviewers to return their decisions back to the editor. Review times can vary greatly between journals, and even within journals. Getting your article reviewed and published (or reviewed and rejected) within a reasonable amount of time is a very important and valid concern. I’ve had articles that took more than a year to ultimately publish or reject! Such a long wait is a major barrier to building your research reputation and showing your research productivity. There are different ways of assessing journal review times. Some journals publish this information in their annual report. Some include information on every article on the dates the manuscript was received/reviewed/accepted/published. You might also reach out to friends and colleagues who have recently published in that journal to ask about review times. As a last resort you might reach out to the editor and ask, but probably better to inquire through other means first. Note: if you are unfamiliar with the many steps a paper takes as it makes its way through a peer-review and publication process. Ann Forsyth (Harvard University and editor of JAPA) published a nice step-by-step description of that journal’s process.

  • Is the journal open access? Open access has become a major issue in academic publishing. Long story short, academics perform the labor necessary to research, write and review journal manuscripts, which are then copyrighted and sold back to academics by private companies at an obscene profit. Unfortunately there aren’t many open-access journals in planning, and most of the top-ranked and cited journals are behind paywalls. For most students and junior faculty, we still need to target for-profit journals because of their reputation and importance in our field. Nevertheless, as the open access movement gains steam, this may be an important question to help guide your targeting process.

When should I select my journal target?

There is no definitive answer to this question. Ideally you should do some thinking near the beginning stages of writing about what journal might be the best fit. That way, you will know from the beginning how long the piece should be, what level of technical detail to include, and the most effective way to frame your arguments. Writing and publishing is not an ideal process, however, and sometimes you might have a well-developed or even completed manuscript that needs a journal “target.” In those cases, ask yourself what journal the piece is best suited for, and (importantly) what minor revisions you can make to ensure that it is an even better fit.

Lastly, there is always a question about rejected manuscripts. The old-school advice was to choose 3 journal targets and, upon receiving a rejection, immediately send the manuscript to #2 or #3. I do think there is a lot of wisdom in this advice, especially the notion of dusting yourself off after failure and getting right back into the review process. However, I think it is more wise to revise your manuscript for each individual journal you are submitting to, to make sure it has the best chance of getting accepted.

Last Thoughts

Journal targeting is an important process. You can learn a lot about planning and your subfield by learning more about its journals, and a careful targeting process can help you to make sure that each publication (precious as they are) is maximally useful to your research career.

Two final and cautionary notes. First, be wary of journals that are not indexed, meaning that they are not tracked and assigned impact factors by the major indexing services. Non-indexed journals are sometimes new, sometimes very small or niche, and sometimes very low quality. As a junior scholar, it is probably best if you stick with indexed journals.

Second, you should be wary of seemingly out-of-the-blue emails you get offering to publish a manuscript that you presented at ACSP or another conference. These are almost always scams by predatory publishers. Invitations to contribute to special issues do sometimes happen, but almost always through a more personal email or connection, and through a reputable journal. If you have never heard of a journal or it seems sketchy, be sure to do your homework before submitting your valuable intellectual work to them.

Advice for Planning PhD Students: Writing a Grant Budget and Budget Justification

Image: Scrooge McDuck getting his first NIH grant

Image: Scrooge McDuck getting his first NIH grant

Grants are an interesting topic in the planning academy. For some, grants are relatively unimportant, because their scholarship doesn’t cost a whole lot of money to produce or they have sufficient internal resources to support their research activities. For others, grants are an absolute necessity, whether to support their own salary (so-called “soft money” positions) or to pay for expensive research costs like graduate assistants, travel, or data collection. Some of the most highly productive planning faculty operate research centers that employ staff members and receive millions of dollars in grant money each year. I think it is fair to say that for most planning faculty, and especially younger faculty, grant writing occupies a relatively large part of our research time and receiving grants is essential to our productivity. One result of having such diversity in our discipline (versus, say, the natural sciences where most research faculty members are expected to raise funds to fund their lab) is that PhD students receive wildly different training on grantsmanship, from no training at all (my experience) to active mentoring and inclusion in research center activities and large grant proposals.

As I’ve written before, I think that every PhD student should learn how to write competitive grant proposals. Besides paying for useful stuff like travel and data collection, preparing grant proposals exposes your ideas to external scrutiny, provides validation (of a kind) of your research agenda, and sets useful deadlines for productivity. Plus, as state support for higher education continues to decline, grants are an increasingly important part of faculty’s overall funding picture.

This essay is intended to help you become a successful grant writer, and is specially targeted at those students who are not receiving hands-on training in grantsmanship.* ** It will be published in three parts. This first entry focuses on the grant budget.*** Part II will discuss writing effective grant proposals or narratives, and part III will discuss common sources of grant funding for planning researchers.

Part I: Writing a Grant Budget

Grant budgets are a detailed description of 1) how much money you are asking for and 2) your reasons for asking for the money. How much money should you request in a grant proposal? Like all good academic questions, the answer is it depends. Some grantors and grant programs will give you clear guidelines like the average grant amount or the maximum amount that you may apply for. Others provide a set amount that you will fully account for in your budget. And still others give you very little guidance, with the assumption that you will ask for the right amount of money to achieve your project goals and objectives. It is important that you carefully review the grant guidelines to establish how much your proposal should ask for. Even if the guidelines do not specify a set amount, it is very likely that there is an average range that you will want to aim for. For example, one of my grants is from the National Science Foundation. While the particular program I applied to does not give you set limits on grant amounts, looking at past recipients shows that most awards fall between $200,000-$600,000, meaning that a proposal for $5,000 or $5,000,000 would probably be unsuccessful. This all points to a broad guideline: choose grants that are the right “fit” to your project. Need a small amount of money to develop a limited case study and generate theories for later testing? A smaller, internal grant might be the right choice. Need the resources to support a research team working over several years? Then a large funder or foundation will be your likely funding source.

Once you have identified a grant “target,” you will then need to write your proposal and budget. Grant budgets are typically made up of two parts: the detailed budget and the budget justification.

The detailed budget is a numerical description of your proposed spending that is broken down into categories. While the categories will vary, they generally include:

  • Personnel: who are the people that you need to accomplish your research goals and objectives, and how will you pay for their time? For faculty members, this might include summer salary (the salary that tenure track faculty get paid when not on their 9 month contract, i.e. the summer months), academic year salary (sometimes called salary savings, or money that gets returned to a tenure track faculty member’s department/college because the grant is paying for it), or regular salary (for soft-money funded positions). You might also budget for a course buyout, which provides funds to reduce your mandatory teaching load, thereby freeing up time to work on your grant-funded project.

    This personnel category also includes the cost of research assistance, typically from undergraduate or graduate students. If you work at a PhD granting institution, you might include the cost of a PhD student (i.e. tuition, benefits and stipend). At professional programs like mine, we mostly hire Masters-level students and pay them hourly. In some cases, you might hire research assistants external to your university through a subcontract.

    For both faculty and students, you will also need to budget for fringe benefits (i.e. the cost of insurance, retirement plans, etc.). Most universities have established benefits rates. At CU Denver, faculty benefits are 27% of salary, meaning that one month of faculty time = one month of salary + 27% of that salary for benefits.

  • Travel: where will you or your research team need to go to successfully conduct your research? These costs should be included under the travel category. In general, there are three types of travel that grants might support. First is the travel to conduct the actual research, i.e. collect data. Second (and usually only included in large grants) is travel to support the research team, i.e. getting together in-person to conduct project business. Third is travel for research dissemination, i.e. traveling to conferences, workshops or communities to present your results and gather feedback.

    Estimating travel costs is pretty straightforward. First, you need to get there. For airline travel, you should use a travel website like Google Flights or Kayak to estimate the cost of a round-trip ticket in economy class. Remember to be reasonable in your request - you shouldn’t quote the absolute lowest cost ticket you can find, because it might not be available when it comes time to actually spend the money. Neither should you go with the absolute most expensive option. Use your best judgement on what a reasonable ticket will likely cost and use that number. For car travel, you can either estimate the cost of a rental car (with appropriate insurance and gas) or the cost to reimburse you for using your own vehicle using IRS mileage rates.

    Next, you have the costs incurred while traveling. For travel in the United States, the GSA per-diem (literally, “for each day”) rates are the go-to reference for daily travel costs related to lodging, meals and incidentals. Lodging is the average cost of a hotel room in that particular area, while meals & incidentals describes a daily budget for food and other small cash-based expenses like tipping hotel staff. For international travel, the U.S. State Department provides per-diem rates for most countries and cities around the world. Please note that these rates can be outrageously high for many international destinations. For example, the State Department per-diem for Kolkata, India (where I do much of my research) is a $376 per day, an amount that would normally last me a full week. For many grantors this international rate will be seen as excessive, and you would be wise to request a more reasonable amount that will cover decent lodging and meals and expressed as a percentage of the state department rate (e.g. I am requesting $75 per-diem costs per day, which is 30% of the maximum allowable rate).

    Lastly, you need to account for local transportation. How will you get from the office to the airport? From the airport to your work site? Around to collect data? Costs like taxis, public transportation, and rental cars fit under this heading.

    If you are applying for travel funds to support research dissemination (which most large grantors will expect), you can include the cost of conference registration in addition to the travel costs associated with the conference.

    For many of my grant applications I find it useful to estimate the above costs for a generic data collection trip (see Figure 2 below). So, a 3-day research trip might budget out to $1200, when all of the above items are estimated and included. A conference trip might be more expensive, when the cost of registration is included. After I figure out what a generic trip costs, I can then justify the the budget based on my number of expected trips (see the budget justification discussion below).

  • Computers or Equipment: Some grants allow you to request the purchase of computers or equipment necessary to complete your research project. For example, one of my colleagues recently purchased a drone using grant monies, to help her conduct post-disaster damage reconnaissance. These type of expenses will go in this category. Be aware that most grantors will expect that your university will provide the basic computing and software resources necessary to complete your work. But, in some instances more specialized or capable equipment is necessary and justifiable.

  • Materials and Supplies: This category includes the costs associated with activities like printing survey forms, renting meeting spaces, or producing research outputs (e.g. printed reports) for dissemination.

  • Consultant Services: For some projects, you may need the specialized skills of a consultant to achieve your research objectives. For example, in one of my previous projects we needed teaching materials translated into an indigenous language. We hired a local translation firm to consult on this task, since we did not have that capacity at our university.

  • Publication Costs: Some grantors allow you to request funds to pay for publication costs, or open-access fees that are (sadly) required by many major journals to make our work openly and easily accessible to the public.

  • Facilities and Administration (F&A): F&A, sometimes called indirect costs or overhead, is the amount of money your university requires that you charge a grant for the resources they provide to you generally. For example, I work in a very plain but nice office building in downtown Denver, have a university issued computer, visit the library regularly and rely on staff members to accomplish my work. While these costs can’t be individually assigned to any one grant (I use my computer for everything, for example), the university requires that I include F&A as part of my grant budgets. This offsets their costs of providing me with all these resources.

    If you have never applied for a large federal grant before, you might be shocked by how much F&A can be. The University of Colorado Denver, for example, charges 55.5% on sponsored research, meaning that for every $1 I budget on project costs, I also have to budget .55¢ for F&A. Suddenly a $500,000 budget looks a lot more like $250,000. For some funders, like the NSF or NIH, these costs are negotiated and expected. Others might not be as excited about paying such high F&A charges. The good news is that most universities have a tiered F&A policy, meaning that they charge different rates to different types of funders. If I am applying for money from a non-profit organization, for example, my F&A rate can go as low as 10%.

This covers most of the common categories of budget costs that I write into my grants. What do budgets actually look like? Following are two examples of budgets I wrote for grants in the past 18 months. The first is a simple, 1-year internal grant budget. The second is a multi-year budget supplement to a federal grant. As you will see, they include different types of expenses and different levels of detail, depending on the grant requirements:

Figure 1: Internal grant budget

Figure 1: Internal grant budget

Figure 2: Multi-year federal grant budget

Figure 2: Multi-year federal grant budget

Part II: The Budget Justification

The second important component of most grant application budgets is the budget justification. A budget justification is a written narrative of your grant request, describing the amount you are requesting and your reasoning or rationale for requesting it. It also includes information on how you arrived at your budget numbers. The budget narrative should be straightforward, comprehensive and efficient. You should describe each cost in terms of 1) how it helps you to achieve your project goals/objectives and 2) how you arrived at the amount. Your budget justification does not need to be verbose or eloquent - just stick to the facts and provide all of them. For example, here is a simple budget justification that corresponds to the internal grant detailed budget (Figure 1) above:

Figure 3: Budget Justification for Internal Grant

Figure 3: Budget Justification for Internal Grant

And here is a snippet of our budget justification for the multi-year federal grant (Figure 2):

Figure 4: Travel portion of budget justification for multi-year federal grant

Figure 4: Travel portion of budget justification for multi-year federal grant

A few last thoughts or pieces of advice on writing your grant budget:

  • Different grants have different restrictions on what you can and cannot apply for. Some may require that you keep F&A rates below a certain amount, or do not allow F&A costs at all. Some grants specify that faculty salary is not allowed, or will not support the purchase of software or equipment. Again, make sure you read the grant guidelines carefully to understand what budget items are “allowable” and which are not.

  • Some grants require in-kind matches from your university or other entities as part of the grant agreement. An in-kind match is a cost of conducting a research project that is borne by the university or faculty rather than the grant itself, thus “leveraging” the grant dollars. For example, I am currently preparing a grant application that requires a 25% match from the university. That means that my $100,000 request will need to be “matched” by $25,000, in cash or by something worth the equivalent of $25,000. More than likely we will match this with faculty research time (additional time not being paid for by the grant, like academic-year time), a graduate research assistant (paid by our department and not the grant), and the use of a specialized computer facility not normally covered under university F&A rates. What counts as a “match” and what doesn’t varies by grantor, and so you will need to dig into their policies and your university’s typical approach to in-kind matching.

  • It is important to use grant money carefully and appropriately, and to only budget for what you need. It is also important to budget for what you need. A common mistake I see (and have made myself) is to think that a hyper-economical budget will positively stand out. In fact, many grantors might question whether you can really accomplish what you are saying, and whether you are overpromising based on your budget amount. So, before you propose to travel on $4 a day by eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I would urge you to budget reasonably based on project goals and objectives. A successful grant proposal means that the grantor is bought into your project idea and objectives, and wants to give you adequate resources to succeed.

  • When in doubt, ask! At the college, university and grantor level, there are people whose job it is to help faculty understand the guidelines for grant programs and give you advice on how to effectively apply for them. Hopefully these basic guidelines will help you understand all the questions you have, and you can reach out to your staff or the grant officer to answer them.

Stay tuned for future posts on writing the grant narrative and how to search for grantors who might support your planning research.

*As with all of my blog posts, I am writing from the position of a tenure-track faculty member at a U.S. public research university. Depending on your location and position, this information might be more or less useful.

**Is there a gender neutral way of saying “grantsmanship?” Grantspersonship? Grantship?

***It is important to note that I write this entry to be broadly useful during your PhD studies and into your research career. Some of the specific points I discuss below (like summer salary or F&A rates) may not apply to the grants you are seeking as a PhD candidate, but should be helpful after you secure your first faculty position.

New Blog Series: Project Management For Academics

Summer is here, which means that teaching has wound down and research work is gearing up. A quick overview of my week thus far:

Monday (Memorial Day): Finalized grant application for new recovery study, including writing 3-year budget with grants manager. Reviewed contract-for-service agreement and returned to funder. Researched thorny question about RA compensation for travel. Exchanged numerous emails with collaborators about upcoming workshop.

Tuesday: Finalized hiring for new RAs for our mobile home park study. Wrote and circulated a job advertisement for another RA position on that project. Held all-team meeting. Met with human resources officer to discuss extending student employment into summer. Wrote and gathered feedback on a college proposal for new research space. Wrote close-out report for 2018 internal grant.

Wednesday: Scheduled all-team meeting for mobile home park study. Met with RA on pre-disaster recovery planning research. Met with collaborator for historic resources and flood risk study. Brought new RAs into project management platform. Submitted receipts for RA travel to conference. Submitted my receipts for travel to conference. Wrote email to college IT support asking for hardware costs to add additional computer screens. Traveled to attend project workshop.

Notice that actual research does not appear? After 8 years on the tenure track, perhaps the biggest surprise has been the amount of time I spend on project management. I write budgets, maintain schedules, negotiate overhead rates, research hardware/software needs, hire/manage/fire research assistants, build relationships with collaborators, and write project reports, among a dozen other tasks that don’t include reading, collecting data, or writing peer-reviewed publications.

Given the reality of life at an R1 institution, it is shocking how poorly prepared I was to manage projects coming out of graduate school. To be honest, my experience with project management has been mostly sink or swim, with too much sinking.

To help learn some new tricks, I am planning to write a blog series on project management in academia. But I need your help. What topics would be most helpful to you, as a reader? My initial ideas are:

blog - project management done wrong.jpg
  • Project scoping

  • Establishing and maintaining project schedules and timelines

  • Writing and maintaining budgets

  • Mentoring and supporting research assistants

  • Hiring (and firing)

  • Software tools and platforms

I plan to read and learn about project management from the many resources available from the business and non-profit worlds, and interpret them into an academic and social science setting. I will also share some of my own experiences and project management documents.

If you have thoughts or suggestions, or just want to express your interest in the series, please contact me.

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.

Abstract
 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.

Colorado-Logo-New-720x720.jpg

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.

Subscribe to my blog...

Over the past few months I have begun blogging, sharing stories or insights about hazards planning, community resilience, long-term recovery, and academia more generally. If you would like to receive an email alert when a new blog post goes up, please fill out the nifty form below.

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:

Screen Shot 2019-03-24 at 11.39.43 AM.png
Screen+Shot+2019-03-24+at+12.12.03+PM.jpg

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.  

Sincerely,

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

Screen+Shot+2019-02-10+at+12.31.57+PM.jpg

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.

Abstract

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.