The theses produced by students in the GSD’s Department of Urban Planning and Design are a testament to the capacity for creative and engaged scholarship to advance our understanding of the built environment and meaningfully contribute to public knowledge. The commitment to critical inquiry, methodological rigor and passionate reasoning embedded in each project is a welcome counterpoint to the easy answers and unsubstantiated claims that increasingly dominate public discourse. In keeping with the enlightenment tradition, students’ projects acknowledge and build upon the strengths and weaknesses of prior research efforts. Looking forward, however, students’ arguments simultaneously situate them at the forefront of what is known and put them in conversation with the future trajectory of our professions and of society more broadly.

Michael Hooper
Associate Professor of Urban Planning

Emma Ogiemwanye


Internet City: Conceptualizing Digital Space to Engender Freedom

Advised by Lily Song

In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.
—Audre Lorde

What will it take to make just transitions toward a more sustainable, less oppressive future on Earth? The seeds of systemic solutions can be found in the mundane. That is, structures that go unquestioned—their construction assumed to be unimportant to their effect on reality. The internet is such a structure. It has succeeded in evading scrutiny for much of its existence—its coproduction assumed to be too complex to understand or simply not of interest beyond the realm of computer science. The framing of this shared imaginary has been entirely shaped by its architects and inventors. With more than four billion people using the internet, how is it still such a black box? Certainly, something so widely present in billions of human lives should be unboxed, understood, and left open for improvement.

This paper serves as the grounding for an exploratory study of how young black women and creators conceive of online space. By examining the online strategies of this particular group, I hope to find out about the gap between impact and design, identity formation, and online boundaries representative of a broad swath of digital citizens. This includes the large number of people around the world invisible yet beholden to Silicon Valley.

I am setting out to explore how black woman specifically create place online in order to conceptualize the internet as a site of copresence and coproduction—akin to a city. This concept of the internet as such a city is an intervention. That is, a structure through which collective contestation and emancipatory work can happen.

Emma Ogiemwanye, MUP. A still from the animated movie Ralph Breaks The Internet that shows futuristic-looking buildings, one of which has large Google logo on it.
Image credit: Pixar Animation Studios

Margaret Haltom


The Next Southern Landmark: A Roadmap for Confederate Monument Redesigns and RFP for the Site of a Former Confederate Monument

Advised by Daniel D’Oca

Following white supremacists’ acts of violence in Charleston, South Carolina (2015) and Charlottesville, Virginia (2017), activists and city officials mobilized to remove 52 Confederate monuments across the South. This contemporary era of monument removal is well-known—documented in news outlets and academic journals alike—and ongoing. Preservationists dispute the role of monuments in public memory, while progressive policymakers battle against heritage laws that prohibit their removal. But the future of these vacant pedestals, and, in particular, the role of community members and urban planners and designers to collectively create new landmarks in their place, remains relatively unexplored.

This thesis considers the context of, and process for, redesigning the sites of former Confederate monuments through a case study in Memphis, Tennessee. Focused on a former Nathan Bedford Forrest monument and its surrounding nine-acre park, I collaborate alongside a community coalition to create a process for redesign and Request for Proposals. I partner with the Lynching Sites Project (LSP) of Memphis, a coalition of teachers, faith leaders, local historians and other community members seeking to build monuments to victims of racial terror. Together, we ask: How might communities in the South reimagine and redesign former Confederate monuments? And, as the urban planner liaising with this community coalition, what is the planner’s role in creating inclusive processes to reclaim and transform these highly charged public spaces?

Through collaboration with LSP, as well as interviews with other activists, local leaders, planners, and designers, the thesis offers a roadmap for community-driven redesigns and explores the planner’s role in facilitating a more equitable design process.

Margaret Haltom, MUP. A photo illustration of a small monument topped with an American flag and surrounded by traffic cones.
Margaret Haltom, MUP. A map of Health Sciences Park—the site of a former monument to white supremacist Nathan Bedford Forrest—includes commentary from community members. Park goers and planners say the park is not an inclusive or welcoming space. The vacant foundation of the Forrest monument still stands as a symbol of hate in the center of the park
Margaret Haltom, MUP. A collage shows park goers engaging with a public installation beside the vacant Forrest monument. The interactive installation serves as a public ideas generator by displaying community-envisioned memorials and themes from public conversations.   (Collage by author, images on the wall of the installation by Colloqate’s Paper Monuments precedent).
Margraret Haltom, MUP. A timeline of Confederate monument construction charts the rise in monument placement alongside the legislation of segregation, the peak of lynching and the resurgence of the KKK. The timeline demonstrates how Confederate monuments serve as an expression of the “Lost Cause,” the South’s assertion of victory over Reconstruction, the North and Black rights.
Margaret Haltom, MUP. Three renderings show outcomes from precedent design processes. In descending order, the precedents are 1. The General Demotion General Devotion Competition to redesign Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA (source: GDGD Monument Competition, 2017), 2. The King Boston RFP for a memorial to Dr. King in Boston Common (source: MASS Design, 2019) and 3. The National Pulse Memorial and Museum for the site of the 2016 shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL (source: Coldefy, RDAI, and HHCP, 2019).
Margaret Haltom, MUP. A collage shows community members engaging in a public review of the future designs for Health Sciences Park. Community members provide critiques and commentary before voting on the winning design.

Moira McCrave-Carragee


Immobile Homes: Regulation, Informality, and Spatial Fixity in Appalachian Mobile Home Parks

Advised by Michael Hooper

The American mobile home is a paradox; though prefabricated mobile homes are, in theory, designed for continued transportability, in practice, the vast majority of mobile homes in the United States are tethered to and bound by a specific plot of land. Integral to the process by which the mobile home becomes embedded in land is the act of mobile home improvement; additions and upgrades, both prefabricated and self-built, only serve to further settle the home in a specific locality. This thesis seeks to investigate the physical nature of mobile home improvements and their relation to regulatory environments, particularly land regulation, through a study of select mobile home parks located in the greater Knoxville, Tennessee, region of the United States. Drawing on evidence from site observation, interviews, and critical mapping, I demonstrate that select forms of upgrading in specific Appalachian mobile home parks are incremental in nature. Furthermore, I argue that these forms of upgrading are physical manifestations of informality that serve to “fix” mobile homes to specific sites. This informality, as will be established, is enabled and abetted by the regulatory landscape in which the upgrading occurs. Through this research, I seek to systematize a specific instance of informality in the built environment of the United States through an analysis of its physical manifestations and the encompassing structures that enable its occurrence.

Moira McCrave-Carragee, MUP. A photograph of mobile homes.

Sydney Pedigo


Sprawl and Protest in the United States: How Spatial Conditions Relate to Protest Size and Cause

Advised by by Daniel D’Oca

Existing scholarship has extensively researched sprawl’s effect on human life, from health to civic participation. However, changing suburban demographics that depict increasing poverty and minority residents raise concerns about sprawl’s impact on political engagement for these groups. Acknowledging research on the tactics and importance of civil resistance, this thesis investigates the intersection of sprawl with protest, a highly spatialized form of political participation, through analysis of protest events and tactics in sprawling areas. The introduction of a dataset that tracks protests through media reports as well as research scoring sprawl factors allows for quantitative exploration of this question. Over 28,000 protest events from the Crowd Counting Consortium’s dataset and 700 county- level sprawl scores from Smart Growth America were analyzed using R Studio and GIS, with regression analyses showing significant correlations between protest attendance and cause with several sprawl factors. Certain causes, such as racial injustice, immigration, and environment as well as the sprawl factors of streets, density, and mix of uses correlate with protest size when held constant for county population. Semiformal interviews with environmental organizers in Houston, Texas, indicate that sprawl impacts their strategies for visibility, event planning, and communication with potential supporters. These preliminary findings merit discussion on adaptation of protest tactics to further political action in sprawled areas. More research is needed to understand potential causation between sprawl conditions and civil resistance as these demographics continue to shift.

Sydney Pedigo, MUP. An illustration of the United States of America with the words "protest" and "sprawl".

Patrick Braga


New Housing in Shrinking Cities

Advised by Chris Herbert

Over the past decade, real estate developers continued to build new housing in cities that were losing population. This articulates a seeming paradox: If former residents are leaving a place, what drives developers and investors to continue to build new housing? Population loss is hardly a rare occurrence in the United States, and although many American cities have experienced decline, the phenomenon of new housing in shrinking cities remains understudied. Toledo, Ohio, offers an archetypal Rust Belt setting where new housing continues to be built, even though Toledo has lost population both at the city and regional levels for decades. This thesis presents an in-depth case study exploring the degree to which demographic change, the provision of new housing types not found elsewhere in the market, and the spatial redistribution of regional employment inform developers’ decision to pursue a market-rate residential project. The thesis further interrogates the role of image-making, marketing, and public-sector investment within broader economic development efforts to retain and attract educated younger adults to Toledo. Interviews with real estate developers and allied practitioners provide insight into the everyday experience of pursuing and justifying new housing in the context of a shrinking city. Ultimately, the thesis aims to draw out lessons from Toledo that developers, investors, and public officials in other shrinking localities can apply to inform their policy-making and investment decisions.

Patrick Braga, MUP. A wide-angled photograph of a street with cars parked on it and lined with houses with lawns.

Nevena Pilipovic-Wengler


Financing the Climate Crisis: What the Technical and Social Realms of a 2013 Massachusetts Green Bond Can Teach Us About the Governance of the Climate Crisis

Advised by Abby Spinak

This thesis interrogates the material consequences of state and municipal applications of “green bonds” (bonds used to fund environmental projects) in order to analyze how this financial tool dismantles, mitigates, and/or contributes to the global climate crisis. While city governments increasingly do important work in strategizing how to fight the crisis, how they will fund such strategies remains unclear (Bulkeley 2010). Simultaneously, we must consider how racialized, colonial, and extractive economies created the climate crisis’s existence (Hardy, Milligan, and Heynen 2017; Isla 2015; Klein 2014). Green bonds embody the tension between these two problems. They offer promising potential to provide much needed funding, yet they are a function of a racialized and extractive debt market (Bigger and Millington 2019; Ponder and Omstedt 2019). This article investigates the novel green bond program of the first US state green bond issued by Massachusetts in 2013. An analysis of the public, private, and residential actors at play in the architecture of this bond will illuminate points of shared and divergent efficacies. Ultimately, in order to preserve the promise of funding urban governance toward the climate crisis, we need to understand how green bonds and other financial tools materialize socioeconomically and ecologically. I hope this paper contributes to this pressing question: How can city and state governments finance the fight against the climate crisis without further fueling it?

Nevena Pilipovic-Wengler, MUP. A red-and-black hand-drawn infographic.

Saul Levin


A Green New Deal for Federal Lands: Lessons from the Redwoods National Park Expansion for a Just Transition

Advised by Abby Spinak

Federal lands cover roughly one quarter of United States lands and account for one quarter of US carbon dioxide emissions. As a result of this heavy emissions profile and singular federal ownership, public lands have increasingly been cited as a potential site for rapid, large-scale decarbonization in response to the escalating climate crisis. The core question in assessing this possibility is how the transition can be just and, therefore, how it can account for those most affected: workers and indigenous communities. This thesis presents a possible response by developing a critical analysis of the expansion of Redwoods National Park in 1978, which kicked an extractive, nonrenewable industry off lands in the watershed of the tallest trees in the world. The legislation that expanded the park included unprecedented provisions that gave workers substantial and concrete compensation and created a large-scale restoration ecology program that rehired dispossessed workers to reverse industry destruction of the land. Through telling this story, and exploring the strategy, process, and challenges that brought such unlikely results about, I offer a key precedent for a just transition on federal lands. In so doing, I demonstrate that a just transition away from fossil fuel extraction on US federal lands is possible and explore how it might underpin a Green New Deal for all federal lands.

Saul Levin, MUP. A photograph of redwood trees.

Tiera Satchebell


Housing Histories: Understanding Influences on Housing Preferences, Aspirations, and Attainment

Advised by Jennifer Molinsky

Storytelling is such an important activity because narratives help people to organize their experiences into meaningful episodes that call upon cultural nodes of reasoning and representation.
—Berger, 1997.

This thesis seeks to answer the question of how housing histories of the previous generation reflect or influence the current generation’s housing histories, aspirations, and preferences through the lens of a single family. By allowing people to tell their own stories, it allows for an in-depth narrative of housing experiences and how housing responses and policies impacted housing preferences, aspirations, and attainment across generations.

Tiera Satchebell, MUP. A black-and-white photo-collage with the word "History" printed on it.

Evan Hazelett


Cultivating Abolition: Resisting Carceral and Capitalist Logics in the (Un)Sustainable Prison Garden

Advised by Lily Song

The US carceral system, which generates the highest rates of in incarceration in the world, is the legacy of several centuries of racial capitalism culminating in a robust penal institution that feeds on the criminalization of the poor and communities of color. Today, in an otherwise violent and securitized carceral environment, prison gardens, at an individual level, present moments of resistance to carceral logics through humanized encounters that build on therapeutic activity, skill development, socializing, fresh food, community and employment connections, and critical pedagogy. Prison gardens, however, are limited by various forms of structural oppression: “prison sustainability” initiatives, rhetorically akin to city sustainability projects, that operate both as racialized accumulation and as a socioecological fix to a crisis of legitimacy, mediated by symbolic (sustainability) capital; the institution itself, permeated with oppressive logics of discipline and control; and a racialized, individualizing recidivism framework. Drawing from critical literatures in political economy, geography, planning, and sociology, I explore these possibilities and limitations in depth, opening up theoretical and empirical insights into a severely underexplored topic. Finally, I ask what role prison gardens play in prison abolition, the “unsustainability of prison,” which seeks the long-term abolition of mass incarceration and a reimagining of “justice,” all while supporting those currently caged. How do, and can, prison gardens amplify the survival tools, and the humanization, of incarcerated people by resisting carceral logics while simultaneously contesting the legitimacy of the institution? I conclude with numerous avenues for further research and a hopeful note on social change.

Evan Hazelett, MUP. A photograph of incarcerated men planting flowers.