Sharing the Work and Research of James Jennings
| April 4, 2015 | 6:57 pm | Events | Comments closed

Toward Racial Equality and Social Justice

This Wednesday, April 8, Tufts UEP and the Tufts Consortium on Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora is hosting a symposium in celebration of  Dr. Jennings work and research. The event will feature current and former colleagues, and a panel discussion. Register for the event here.


When: Wednesday, April 8th, 2015. 4:45pm to 7:30pm

Where: Barnum 008, 163 Packard Ave at Tufts University Medford Campus


  • Julia Jordan-Zachary, Associate Professor and Director of Black Studies Program at Providence College
  • Miren Uriarte, Professor of Human Services and Senior Research Associate at the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Fran Jacobs, Associate Professor at the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy at Tufts University
  • Chris Jones, Executive Director at Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative
  • Pearl Robinson, Associate Professor of Politics, Africa, and African-American Politics at Tufts University
  • Nina Gaeta Coletta, Family Center Director at East Boston High School
UEP Economics Guest Lecturer: John Barros
| April 1, 2015 | 3:33 pm | Uncategorized | Comments closed

Boston’s new Chief of Economic Development, John Barros, spoke at a recent UEP Economics course lecture addressing students’ concerns about current events in the city. Discussion began with housing, and the lack of access to affordable housing in Boston. Boston is seeing around $8 billion in residential development, with the vast majority going toward luxury apartments. One interesting note is that many of the new luxury apartments function as second homes for foreign nationals. Barros stressed his desire to maximize access to affordable housing while still allowing for this growth. He is also thinking about creating linkages between areas already benefiting from development and those in which the city wants to incentivize future development.

Affordable housing is frequently defined and priced for those making 80% of the city’s median income, which in Boston is $92,000. At the community level, this doesn’t always make sense. In Roxbury, for example, the median income is $25,000, so “affordable housing” is actually unaffordable for most of the neighborhood. Large, multiunit residential developments are currently required to offer 15% of units as affordable, but Barros wants to increase that number to 25%.

Boston 2024 Summer Olympics

John Barros supports Boston in seeking to host the 2024 Olympic Games, and has been tasked with helping to build public support. Up to this point, several Boston area CEOs have been running most of the pro-olympics campaign, which Barros admits has not helped to gain grassroots support. One positive aspect of so much private leadership is the fact that the city wants to put a lot of the development burden on these private interests. In an effort to avoid using public funds, Barros claims the city would only fund investments in roads and transit. Sports venue infrastructure investment would have to come from the various universities and sports teams in the area. The city would then use this as an opportunity to raise further funds by placing linkage fees on new developments, essentially charging a tax on Olympics development investment.

He sees the Olympics, or even just the hype around it, as a way to build support for new infrastructure. All the international press about Boston increases its name recognition and could result in increased investment, even if the bid doesn’t go through successfully.

The idea will be put to a referendum in November, with both the city and the state having a say. The referendum will require both the city and the state to separately approve Boston as the host of the 2024 Olympics.

Micro-Apartments Buzz in Boston
| March 26, 2015 | 3:44 pm | Uncategorized | Comments closed

An article came out in the Boston Globe this week about “millenial villages,” bringing up an interesting approach to addressing some of the issues facing Boston’s housing situation. The article quotes Barry Bluestone, founding dean of the School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs at Northeastern University,  who proposes construction of 10,000 units of these “millenial villages.”

The idea isn’t new, but has actually been historically discouraged in and around Boston. The concept is a more communal style of living, with lots of shared space but not much private square footage. In fact, in Boston they don’t meet minimum-square-footage guidelines. Apparently, in the age of urban renewal, eliminating such approaches to housing was seen as a way to eliminate poverty, something the article agrees is ridiculous.

The globe cites the disappearance of vast collections of books and records, converted into an iPad or similar device that takes up a fraction of the space, as a reason why millenials can survive in a “micro-unit.”

Last month, WBUR discussed the same topic in an article, quoting some who refer to micro-apartments a “cash cow for developers.” This is one problem with the new approach: It’s seen by many as a way to avoid paying for washers, dryers, lots of furniture, etc., but rent prices have not actually reflected that savings.

353 micro-units have been approved in Boston’s Seaport District, aimed at housing Boston’s influx of millenials (apparently the largest percentage in the country). According to Bluestone, as millenials increasingly move into micro-units, rents would no longer continue to rise and triple-deckers would open up across the city for working families.

Kairos Shen at the Boston Redevelopment Authority is less optimistic. He believes that it will require “a creative agreement with the developers on managing the rents.”

It seems that more space-efficient development of residential areas would lead to a larger housing stock, but what is being done to house the people already living in and being priced out of their neighborhoods? So much attention to a passing millenial fad seems shortsighted, as 10 years from now the demographic profile of the city could be quite different when millenials move into larger houses to start families. Despite the stereotype of a millenial as college-educated and well-to-do, Boston has plenty of folks in the same generation who don’t have all the same benefits and are not as likely to take advantage of these micro-units. Residential innovation is something Boston needs, but we need innovation for everybody, not just recent college grads.


GDAE Event: Macroeconomics in the Age of Climate Change
| March 20, 2015 | 4:24 pm | Events | Comments closed

This Monday, March 23, at 5:30pm, Duncan Foley and Lance Taylor will accept the 2015 Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought at the Tufts ASEAN Auditorium. The prize honors economists whose work combines theoretical and empirical research to promote a more comprehensive understanding of social and environmental processes. The prize was created by the Global Devel0pment and Environment Institute (GDAE) in 2000, named after Nobel Prize winning economist Wassily Leontief.

Dr. Foley’s recent research is in analyzing financial instability, sustainable economic growth, and global warming from a political economy perspective. Dr. Taylor has made major advances in the “structuralist” approach to macroeconomic policy and has recently looked at climate change from a macroeconomic perspective.

The event will feature the prize ceremony, lectures by Foley and Taylor, and a reception with hors d’oeuvres. It is free and open to the public.

More information about the event can be found here. To RSVP, please respond here.

On Water: Visualizing the California Drought from Space
| March 16, 2015 | 2:17 pm | Events | Comments closed

Last Wednesday, Tufts Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences was visited by UC Irvine professor and NASA water scientist Jay Famiglietti. His talk, titled “Observing the Epic California Drought and Groundwater Depletion from Space” was based on articles “The Global Groundwater Crisis” and “Satellites Measure Recent Rates of Groundwater Depletion in California’s Central Valley.”

Famiglietti began with a timeline of the California Drought, beginning with January 2014’s declaration of of a drought emergency. This was followed by a series of cuts in surface water allocation. Despite efforts, groundwater levels have continue to drop. Governor Brown’s continued attempts to mitigate the situation led to his freeing up drought relief funds and the signing of historic groundwater management legislation.

On the technical side, Famiglietti outlined the methods and instrumentation for his analysis. NASA’s Gravity Recovery Climate Experiment (GRACE) was launched in 2002 as a “scale in the sky” to weigh monthly changes in groundwater storage around the globe. Since water is much heavier than most other earth components, and its local mass fluctuates more drastically than other geological features, GRACE satellites are able to accurately measure these fluctuations in an areas gravitational field. Subtracting known or estimated changes in surface water, snow and soil moisture, scientists can quantify changes in groundwater level over time.

California’s position as a highly productive agricultural region makes this an important research area with international implications, but Famiglietti’s work isn’t limited to that geographic area. The Middle East, North China, the rest of the American Southwest, and other areas are sharing similar experiences. He notes that parts of northwestern India are experiencing the greatest rate of groundwater depletion in the world. With 33% of total water use and half of all agricultural use worldwide coming from groundwater sources, predictions of continued drought mean that action must be taken to better manage our water resources.

UEP Colloquium: Memories of Mayor Thomas Menino
| March 9, 2015 | 12:54 pm | Colloquium | Comments closed

Last Wednesday, at an event held to honor the 21 year long career of Mayor Thomas Menino, UEP invited a panel of alumni from within and without City Hall to talk about the late mayor’s legacy. The panel consisted of:

May Louie, community activist with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI).

Kris Carter, director of programs at the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics.

Thomas Menino was the 53rd Boston mayor, in office from 1993 until he stepped down last year. According to a 2013 poll in the Boston Globe, Menino’s approval rating rested at a healthy 74%. Notably, nearly half of the poll’s respondents had personally met the mayor at some point. His “politics as personal” approach was mentioned by both panelists as one of his greatest attributes.

May Louie, whose career has been outside of city hall, recounted the history of DSNI’s relationship with the mayor. Having been given eminent domain power by previous mayor, Raymond Flynn, they feared a loss of support under a new administration. Those fears turned out mostly unfounded. Louie says that Menino was comfortable in Roxbury, though there were times when the neighborhood disagreed with his tactics.

Carter spoke about Mayor Menino’s desire to bring in new, talented people to work in city hall. He had begun working in the mayor’s office during the mayor’s final term. He went on to speak about Camp Harborview, started by Menino as an opportunity for students 11-14 in at-risk neighborhoods to spend part of their summer outside of the city and living the summer camp experience.

Comparing Mayor Menino to new mayor, Marty Walsh, both panelists remarked on their shared approach of spending time on the street with communities. Louie mentioned that Mayor Walsh comes from a labor background, which Menino had often found some friction with. Menino had the benefit of decades of experience, something that can only come to Mayor Walsh in time. The panelists did agree that the new mayor “knows what he doesn’t know,” and doesn’t forge into new territories without the help of experienced staff.

Mayor Menino was “a beloved figure” in Boston. For much of the younger generation, he has been the only Boston mayor. His leadership will be missed.

The next UEP colloquium will take place this Wednesday, March 11, at 12pm in Sophia Gordon Hall. We will be visited by representative of Right Question Institute and UEP alum Marcy Ostberg. As always, lunch will be provided.

UEP Colloquium: Planners, Policy-Makers and #BlackLivesMatter
| February 27, 2015 | 1:51 pm | Colloquium | Comments closed

Following Wednesday’s Forum on Race, Inequality and Action, in which the university took an academic approach to engage the community and create a better understanding of issues surrounding the Mike Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions, UEP hosted a forum of its own to address the role of planners and policy-makers in the Black Lives Matter movement.

The university-wide forum featured Tufts professors Peniel Joseph, Kendra Field, and Helen Marrow to address public policy and racialized violence. Joyce Sackey, Heather Curtis, and Pearl Robinson spoke on encouraging and empowering for social change.

At the UEP Colloquium, roughly 25 people showed up to report back on the forum and discuss how we, as planners and policy-makers, can effect change on the issue. Participants mentioned the diversity of cultures participating in the discourse, emphasizing the different ways that racialized police violence can be approached. The panel also emphasized the importance of knowing the long history of the issue in order to understand current problems. Quota policies force officers to arrest a certain number of people each month, which becomes almost a necessity as a funding source for municipalities. As funding continues to be a recurring problem, military weapon hand-me-downs are welcomed by police forces, worried about future funding prospects.

After the colloquium, a number of resources were distributed by participants for further reading on the topic:

This article, from Progressive Planning Magazine, directly addresses the connection between urban planners and racial justice.

Here, a former Seattle Police Chief talks about the militarization of the police force.

St. Louis Public Radio takes inspiration from Cincinnati police reform.

Closer to home, The Somerville Times covers an experiment in finding common ground between police and local youth.

For those interested in participating further, Tufts Graduate Student Organizing will hold a meeting in Jaharis room 155 at the Boston Campus on Tuesday, March 3rd from 5-7pm. UEP is trying to build support throughout the graduate student community, but all are invited to attend.

UEP Colloquium: Aseem Inam
| February 19, 2015 | 4:45 pm | Colloquium | Comments closed

Transforming Cities – Transforming Urbanism

In the first of this Spring’s UEP colloquium series we were visited by The New School’s Professor of Urbanism and director of TRULAB, Aseem Inam. Clear from the title of his presentation, Inam’s focus is on transformation and urbanism. He began the talk by clarifying his use of words like “transformation”, as well as distinguishing between “urbanism” and “urban design.” Truly transforming a city, according to Inam, is not likely to be achieved by tweaking reform, but by a fundamental shift in ways of thinking about the structure of cities. More than once during the presentation, he stressed the avoidance of “best practices” and formulaic approaches to urban design, in favor of aspirational and investigative perspectives.

In defining his use of the term “urbanism,” he emphasizes the ideal of what it could be instead of its current definition in relation to urban design. Inam’s urbanism is more future oriented, embracing of plurality, and welcome to change. This can only result from a change in the way we think about cities, incorporating the following:

  • adaptability
  • collective thinking
  • engaging in constant change
  • testing ideas, with constant tweaking
  • multiple approaches

Inam then walked through several examples from around the world, many featured in his book Designing Urban Transformation (2013). He presents his concept of the “city-as-flux” through the development of Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Egypt. In the development of a new park, planners cleaned up a 500 year old landfill, replaced it with water tanks, and trained local people in historic preservation for artifacts encountered along the way. The plan changed throughout its implementation.

Finally, Inam emphasizes the use of urbanism as a “creative political act,” using the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi, Pakistan as an example. The project is set in an area with a history of extreme poverty and ethnic and religious violence. It functions collectively, allowing residents to work on solving their local sanitation issues. While this may not sound revolutionary at first, it was effective enough to ruffle the feathers of those in power, leading to death threats and the eventual assassination of the nonprofit’s director.

In a topical discussion, brought up by a member of the audience, Inam gave his opinion on the possibility of the Olympics coming to Boston. He noted that the only Olympics in recent history to have made a profit was the 1984 Los Angeles games. In the World Cup, for example, the only entity making a profit is FIFA. He stressed that the city should identify first how it can be done equitably, and second whether or not it should be done at all.

Next week’s colloquium will follow the university-wide forum on Race, Inequality, and Action. The UEP Colloquium on #BlackLivesMatter will be centered on how we, as students and future changemakers, see our role in working towards equity.

Daniel Abramson on Obsolescence, Sustainability, and Beyond
| February 11, 2015 | 5:15 pm | Events | Comments closed

Tufts’ undergraduate urban studies collective, UP3, invited professor Daniel Abramson to speak at Sophia Gordon Hall about his work on obsolescence in architecture. Abramson is director of the Architectural Studies program at Tufts, and will be releasing a book on the topic later this year, titled “Obsolescence: An Architectural History.”

According to Abramson, obsolescence emerged about 100 years ago as a paradigm of change and how to manage it. As businesses could deduct obsolescence from income tax payments, it became advantageous for them to speed up the rate at which their assets obsolesce. Authorities later defined obsolescence for various types of buildings (e.g. 40 years for an office building).

In the context of urban renewal, obsolescence was frequently referred to as “blight.” City evaluators, in determining areas in need of redevelopment, used architectural obsolescence as well as cultural aspects as parameters. Areas like the West End in Boston, an historically working class neighborhood, were deemed blighted and promptly razed and rebuilt.

Architects such as, Georges Pompadou, Kisho Kurokawa, and Peter Cook sought to incorporate moveable walls, loose site plans with demolish-able or expandable blocks, and replaceable parts into their buildings.

As the urban planning theories of Jane Jacobs began to take hold and people began to value obsolete buildings for other purposes, the trend of obsolescence in architecture began to fade. Abramson cites sustainability and green design as having supplanted obsolescence as the current dominant architectural idea. When asked by the audience what would follow sustainability and green design, Abramson replied that he doesn’t know. Until the zeitgeist changes it is hard to imagine a more rational approach to building and design.

Shomon Shamsuddin presentation on LIHEAP
| February 10, 2015 | 3:50 pm | Uncategorized | Comments closed

Examining the Effects of Home Energy Assistance on Low Income Families

Last week, UEP’s Brown House hosted a presentation about the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by MIT postdoctorate research fellow, and former policy analyst at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Shomon Shamsuddin. He began with some background on the current state of low income access to home heating, as well as general housing issues. The last 30 years have seen stagnant income for low income families, while housing costs have risen. As a way to better understand housing issues, Shamsuddin uses a new, broader framework of examining housing conditions and stability, integrating housing, energy use and health policy for communities. Residential instability has been shown to contribute to poverty and segregation.

By providing help to families in meeting their energy needs LIHEAP hopes to increase residential stability, but policy has been more focused on how assistance is delivered than on measuring outcomes. At an estimated $3 billion per year in all 50 states, Shamsuddin seeks to measure whether these policies result in end benefits to residents. Controlling for various demographic parameters, he conducted a multivariate regression analysis on housing stability, health, employment and home energy assistance. At this stage, he has come to some interesting findings:

  • LIHEAP has shown a positive effect on allowing residents to remain in their homes.
  • LIHEAP has helped to decrease residents’ medical expenses.
  • LIHEAP has shown no significant impact on employment.

A discussion with the audience followed the presentation, bringing up possible outside causes of the trends seen in the research. Interestingly, some of the strongest supporters of the LIHEAP program are in the fossil fuel industry, as it essentially acts as a subsidy increasing demand for their products.

Shamsuddin’s work has thus far suggested that LIHEAP has been successful in achieving its goals, and will hopefully lead to further improvement in residential stability.