During the summer, I had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with former Tufts student and 7th year Assistant Professor, Justin Hollander of the Tufts Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning Department (UEP).  Apart from teaching several courses on regional and urban planning, Dr. Hollander has  published countless articles and three books since 2009, and has been asked to share his work with audiences across the country. In October, The New York Times published an Op-Ed written by Hollander where he argued for the preservation of paper as a central form of educational media, comparing the trend of “going digital” to the dismantling of streetcar systems after the invention of automobiles. Dr. Hollander’s multidisciplinary work has focused on the issues of polluted land (specifically, brownfields) and cities with shrinking populations, both issues associated with the economic recession, and specifically with the decline of the American manufacturing industry.

While contaminated land is a relevant issue in almost every region of the U.S., Dr. Hollander has done the majority of his fieldwork in the metro areas of Boston and New York, and in many post-industrial “rustbelt” cities such as Detroit and Flint, MI.  His latest book,  “Sunburnt cities: The Great Recession, Depopulation and Urban Planning in the American Sunbelt,” (Routledge, 2011)  deals with the problem of neglected residential properties due to shrinking populations in states such as California, Florida, and Arizona.  One example, of abandoned swimming pools, exemplifies the multidisciplinary nature of Dr. Hollander’s research on land use planning.  Empty swimming pools can be dangerous to small children, however, they also provide breeding grounds for mosquitos and consequently create a hazardous disease vector.  Dr. Hollander integrates human health, ecology, and economics into his research on land use and planning.

When he isn’t making appearing on NPR to discuss his latest book, Dr. Hollander directs the Open Neighborhood Project, where he works with Tufts students to create immersive virtual representations of urban spaces.  The Project aims to increase civic engagement and allow for more collaboration on urban planning projects.  Sitting in his office on Talbot Ave., Dr. Hollander used a mouse to direct a woman around Kelley’s Corner in Acton, via a virtual world called “Second Life.” Virtual environments like the model of Kelley’s Corner (which looks a lot like the popular “Sims” video game series) allow community members to create and share their own vision for the future development, through an entertaining and accessible platform.  This emphasis on human-environment interaction characterizes the Tufts UEP program, and urban planning as a discipline.

While Dr. Hollander’s courses are all taught through the UEP Graduate program, he frequently welcomes advanced undergraduate students from other departments to enroll.  Dr. Hollander hopes to teach a new course next year on human perception and response to the built environment, in connection with the book he is currently developing on the same topic.  The course and forthcoming book will attempt to incorporate cutting edge neuroscience research on human perception into established “rules” on urban development.  Dr. Hollander plans to use his virtual environments to execute some of the research for this next project, and to collaborate with members of the Tufts community.  Any Tufts student with an interest in human-environmental interaction should consider taking a course with Dr. Hollander, or reading some of his published works.

This spring, Dr. Hollander will be offering two courses through UEP, UEP 0255-01 Field Projects: Planning and Practice, a required core course for UEP majors only, and UEP 0233-01 Regional Planning: Tools and Techniques, which is open to ENVS seniors with permission. The course explores the dynamics of metropolitan growth and change and how a policy and planning address that change. He will also be a welcome addition to the ENVS Lunch and Learn lecture series, speaking about  Human Perception and Response to the Built Environment on February 13th.