#BUCPUA Professor reveals how to land the best job ever


On September 29, more than 250 policymakers and job seekers gathered at the 8th Annual Massachusetts Green Careers Conference, held at the DCU Center in Worcester.  BU City Planning and Urban Affairs (BUCPUA) Adjunct Faculty Professor Eugene Benson, JD addressed the entire crowd and also led a smaller breakout session.   Benson compelled the audience to pursue the best job ever – municipal conservation agent.

Eugene Benson
Professor Eugene Benson, JD, explains implementation of the Wetlands Protection Act at the 2016 Green Careers Conference

Passionate degree candidates in the #BUCPUA Program assess the social contexts and economic structures that influence the management of fragile open spaces, such as wetlands.  The #BUCPUA Program provides students with high-demand tools and pertinent skills to excel as environmental planners.  Relevant course offerings include UA 521 Environmental Law, UA 617 Applied Sustainability, UA 654 Geographic Information Systems for Planners, and UA 629 Urbanization and the Environment.  Students can complement their Master of City Planning or Master of Urban Affairs degree with a Certificate of Applied Sustainability.

Aside from teaching law to #BUCPUA students, Benson is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of Conversation Commissions (MACC). MACC’s tenants include advocacy, education, and conservation, and the state leader in providing education and training to more than 2,500 conservation commissioners.   Benson urged participants to fully grasp the wetlands crisis in the United States, as half the country’s wetlands have disappeared since settlement by Europeans.  This loss of wetlands has exacerbated flood conditions, particularly in states like Iowa, which has lost 80 percent of its wetlands.  Wetlands perform invaluable functions by buffering floodwaters, capturing carbon, and providing habitats that sustain biodiversity.

Master of City Planning degree candidates Luis Quintanilla and Monique Yaptenco attend the 2016 Green Careers Conference.
Master of City Planning degree candidates Luis Quintanilla and Monique Yaptenco attend the 2016 Green Careers Conference.

As municipal conservation agents, citizens have a direct stake over the protection and management of these vital, yet vulnerable, areas that envelop land, water, and biological resources.  Conservation agents are full-time positions that support and guide all-volunteer municipal conservation commissions.  On average, volunteer conservation commissions experience a 10 percent annual turnover, which underscores the value of a municipal conservation agent who can create a stable foundation for long-term planning and land management.

At the state level, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Massachusetts Regional Planning Agencies also offer full-time positions that directly influence the protection of open spaces.  Qualifications required for state or municipal conservation agent positions include a thorough understanding of environmental law and superb communication skills that conform when influencing different stakeholder groups.   Organization skills, creativity, and flexibility also help conservation agents preserve open spaces against myriad external factors, including impacts of climate change and ongoing economic development.

Aside from teaching law in the #BUCPUA Program, Professor Benson also instructs courses at the BU School of Public Health.

Congratulations, CPUA Class of 2021

By Andrea CiminelliMay 24th, 2021in Alumni, Events, Faculty, News

Congratulations to our City Planning and Urban Affairs Class of 2021! We are so proud of your accomplishments, and we wish the very best in your next chapter!

Spring and Summer 2021 Graduates: Arya Alizadeh, MCP, Andree Entezari, MCP, Shengxiang Jin, MCP, Jiawei Li, MCP, Julia Mintz, MCP, Aneri Patel, MCP, Daniel Pezzano, MUA, Winston Pierre, MCP, Maria Alejandra Santa, MCP, Ceping Shan, MCP, Lauren Shapiro, MUA, Boyang Shi, MCP, Peiyao Wang, MUA, Stephen Yale, MCP

CPUA’s Summer Reads: 10 Books on Marginalization, Resiliency, and Planning

By Emanne KhanApril 30th, 2021in Blog, Faculty, News

The Spring semester is coming to a close, and the Summer promises some much-needed R&R. But just because your classes have ended doesn’t mean that your learning should be put on pause. If you have some spare time in the months ahead, check out these 10 titles recommended by CPUA faculty and staff: 

Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World

By Julian Agyeman, Robert D. Bullard and Bob Evans

Read if you’re interested in: environmental justice, sustainable development

Throughout the world, those segments of the population that have the least political power and are the most marginalized are selectively victimized by environmental crises. Just Sustainabilities argues that social and environmental justice within and between nations should be an integral part of the policies and agreements that promote sustainable development. The book addresses many aspects of the links between environmental quality and human equality and between sustainability and environmental justice more generally.” ~MIT Press

Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America

By Conor Dougherty

Read if you’re interested in: housing policy, grassroots activism

Spacious and affordable homes used to be the hallmark of American prosperity. Today, however, punishing rents and the increasingly prohibitive cost of ownership have turned housing into the foremost symbol of inequality and an economy gone wrong ... With propulsive storytelling and ground-level reporting, New York Times journalist Conor Dougherty chronicles America’s housing crisis from its West Coast epicenter, peeling back the decades of history and economic forces that brought us here and taking readers inside the activist movements that have risen in tandem with housing costs.” ~Penguin Random House

People Before Highways: Boston Activists, Urban Planners, and a New Movement for City Making

By Karilyn Crockett

Read if you’re interested in: transportation, grassroots activism, history of Boston

“In 1948, inspired by changes to federal law, Massachusetts government officials started hatching a plan to build multiple highways circling and cutting through the heart of Boston, making steady progress through the 1950s. But when officials began to hold public hearings in 1960, as it became clear what this plan would entail—including a disproportionate impact on poor communities of color—the people pushed back … Linking archival research, ethnographic fieldwork, and oral history, Karilyn Crockett in People before Highways offers ground-level analysis of the social, political, and environmental significance of a local anti-highway protest and its lasting national implications.” ~UMass Press

Neighborhood Defenders: Participatory Politics and America's Housing Crisis

By Katherine Levine Einstein, David M. Glick and Maxwell Palmer (of the Boston University Initiative on Cities)

Read if you’re interested in: housing policy

“The book draws on sweeping data to examine the dominance of land use politics by 'neighborhood defenders' - individuals who oppose new housing projects far more strongly than their broader communities and who are likely to be privileged on a variety of dimensions. Neighborhood defenders participate disproportionately and take advantage of land use regulations to restrict the construction of multifamily housing. The result is diminished housing stock and higher housing costs, with participatory institutions perversely reproducing inequality.” ~Cambridge University Press

A People's History of the New Boston

By Jim Vrabel

Read if you’re interested in: grassroots activism, history of Boston

Although Boston today is a vibrant and thriving city, it was anything but that in the years following World War II. By 1950 it had lost a quarter of its tax base over the previous twenty-five years, and during the 1950s it would lose residents faster than any other major city in the country. Credit for the city’s turnaround since that time is often given to a select group of people, all of them men, all of them white, and most of them well off. In fact, a large group of community activists, many of them women, people of color, and not very well off, were also responsible for creating the Boston so many enjoy today. This book provides a grassroots perspective on the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s, when residents of the city’s neighborhoods engaged in an era of activism and protest unprecedented in Boston since the American Revolution.” ~UMass Press

The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism

By Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak

Read if you’re interested in: urban growth, sustainable development

“In The New Localism, Katz and Nowak tell the stories of the cities that are on the vanguard of problem solving. Pittsburgh is catalyzing inclusive growth by inventing and deploying new industries and technologies. Indianapolis is governing its city and metropolis through a network of public, private and civic leaders. Copenhagen is using publicly owned assets like their waterfront to spur large scale redevelopment and finance infrastructure from land sales. Out of these stories emerge new norms of growth, governance, and finance and a path toward a more prosperous, sustainable, and inclusive society.” ~Brookings Institution Press

Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City

By Brandi Thompson Summer

Read if you’re interested in: race and urbanization

While Washington, D.C., is still often referred to as ‘Chocolate City,’ it has undergone significant demographic, political, and economic change in the last decade. In D.C., no place represents this shift better than the H Street corridor. In this book, Brandi Thompson Summers documents D.C.’s shift to a ‘post-chocolate’ cosmopolitan metropolis by charting H Street’s economic and racial developments.” ~UNC Press

Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time

By Jeff Speck

Read if you’re interested in: urban development

Jeff Speck has dedicated his career to determining what makes cities thrive. And he has boiled it down to one key factor: walkability. Making downtown into a walkable, viable community is the essential fix for the typical American city; it is eminently achievable and its benefits are manifold.” ~Barnes & Noble

Resilience for All: Striving for Equity Through Community-Driven Design

By Barbara Brown Wilson

Read if you’re interested in: community-driven planning and design

In Resilience for All, Barbara Brown Wilson looks at less conventional, but often more effective methods to make communities more resilient. She takes an in-depth look at what equitable, positive change through community-driven design looks like in four communities—East Biloxi, Mississippi; the Lower East Side of Manhattan; the Denby neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan; and the Cully neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. These vulnerable communities have prevailed in spite of serious urban stressors such as climate change, gentrification, and disinvestment.” ~Island Press

The Just City Essays: 26 Visions for Urban Equity, Inclusion and Opportunity

Read if you’re interested in: urban development and justice

“Our organizations, The J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City at the City College of New York, The Nature of Cities, and Next City, have built our respective missions around creating and disseminating knowledge, reporting and analysis of the contemporary city … Our shared values brought us together to produce the first volume of The Just City Essays. The outreach to our invited 24 authors began with two straightforward questions: what would a just city look like, and what could be strategies to get there? We raised these questions to architects, mayors, artists, doctors, designers, scholars, philanthropists, ecologists, urban planners, and community activists. Their responses came to us from 22 cities across five continents and myriad vantages. Each offers a distinct perspective rooted in a particular place or practice. Each is meant as a provocation—a call to action.” ~Next City

From CPUA, have a great summer and happy reading! 

Emanne Khan, CAS ‘23

Tagged: , , , , , ,

Downtown After COVID: IOC/CPUA Panel Explores Key Questions in Urban Pandemic Recovery

By Emanne KhanApril 13th, 2021in Alumni, Events, Faculty, News
(Boston, MA 4/7/21) BUCPUA faculty members David Valecillos and Emily Innes discuss the future of our cities with Brian Swett of Arup and Jon Chesto of The Boston Globe as part of the Initiative on Cities/CPUA event, “Downtown After COVID: Will Urban Centers be the Same?”. (Photo by Andrea Ciminelli)

As the weather warms and the city of Boston emerges from a long winter defined by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one question looms in everyone’s minds: what will our cities look and feel like in the months ahead?

The April 7th panel “Downtown After COVID: Will Urban Centers be the Same?”, hosted by the BU Initiative on Cities and BUCPUA, centered around this very question. The virtual event brought together three experts in city planning, sustainability, and real estate for a conversation moderated by Jon Chesto of The Boston Globe: Brian Swett of the global design firm Arup; Emily Keys Innes, founder of Innes Associates and current CPUA faculty member; and David Valecillos, Director of Design at North Shore Community Development Coalition and a CPUA faculty and alumnus.

Chesto’s first question invited the panelists to share their general perspectives on the future of cities post-COVID.

Swett touched on the tension between people’s desire for a return to socialization and the benefits of working from home. “After the year-plus that we’ve been through, I think there is a sincere desire to interact more with our colleagues, but not necessarily a return back to full-fledged normal,” Swett said. 

In his view, the cities that have fared best during the pandemic have been those that were “inherently further along in progress to a walkable urbanity with a mix of uses.” With less people commuting and more people spending time outside, Swett envisions a future in which “we can use our outdoor spaces and our public realms and reduce some of the areas that we had devoted to parking and logistics.”

After Innes and Valecillos offered their perspectives, Chesto shifted the conversation to what Boston’s recovery might look like as compared to smaller cities.

Innes named several policy changes that could benefit both larger cities like Boston and smaller cities and towns throughout the region. In addition to expanding broadband internet access to facilitate working and learning from home, Innes said leaders should focus on “making sure that we have a strong regional network of transport, whether it’s bus, train, light-rail.” 

“That’s what’s going to make a successful region and state recovery and not just a successful Boston recovery,” Innes said. 

The conversation moved to infrastructure investment, and Valecillos emphasized the need to invest with an eye towards social justice and equity. According to Valecillos, a major component of equitable investment is “helping make transit cool again.” 

“We have decades of policy making focusing only on the car and how to benefit the car and the highway,” Valecillos said. “How do we shift that paradigm so that when you go out, you take the bus, you take the train, it’s cool and it’s nice and it’s how you see your friends?”

One reason why efficient transportation networks will be so important in the post-pandemic world is shifting patterns of work and leisure. Swett pointed out that when remote employees are no longer leaving their homes for work, they will be more willing to travel farther in their free time. This opens up “the opportunity for our region to get much less structured about when we’re working, when we’re playing, and when we’re visiting each other.”

From Innes’ perspective, Boston and its surrounding towns should capitalize on this opportunity by building transportation systems that allow people to “jump over to the next town or two towns over” after work. Instead of having just one large urban cultural center within a state or region, Valecillos added “there might be different energies focused elsewhere.”

A subsequent audience question about the role of public parks in urban recoveries elicited an enthusiastic response from the panelists.

“Parks are a foundational aspect for any community, but especially for a big city,” Innes said. “How do we think about these places, whether large or small, as really being fundamental rights for the communities?”

According to Swett, new parks and public spaces might not appear to have obvious patrons, but “you build it and people will come out of the woodwork at all hours of the day for something cool and a new experience in the public realm.” In Valecillos’ experience, public parks are key to bringing together people from different backgrounds and fighting urban segregation.

Chesto concluded by asking the panelists for their suggestions about how the benefits realized from urban pandemic recoveries can “be shared by all going forward.”

Swett said cities should be intentional in uplifting communities that have been historically disprivileged and forgotten. “We have to be justice-oriented and inequitable in our investment in the sense of investing in communities that received less investment in the past,” Swett said. 

From Innes’ point of view, the pandemic laid bare many of the inequities in our cities, and leaders should seize the opportunity to address them, whether through easily accessible transportation or affordable multigenerational homes.

“Low-income communities deserve great design and great solutions just as much as higher-income communities do, and I think sometimes we forget that,” Innes said. “Let’s put our best talents in design of systems as well as places [for] those communities and really invest in them.”

Emanne Khan, CAS ‘23

Tagged: , , , , , ,

From Networking to Interviews: BUCPUA Students Learn Tips for “Ensuring Success in Your Job Search”

(Boston, MA 4/2/21) BUCPUA students listen to a Zoom presentation about career-building resources as part of the CPUA workshop, “Ensuring Success in Your Job Search.” (Photo by Andrea Ciminelli)

Finding and securing a job in today’s turbulent environment is no small feat, and candidates face myriad challenges when taking the next steps in their professional lives. On Friday, April 2nd, BUCPUA hosted a virtual workshop entitled “Ensuring Success in Your Job Search” to ease some of the anxiety inherent to the process and equip students with useful insight and resources for conquering the job market.

The workshop featured CPUA Director Dr. Madhu Dutta-Koehler; current Dean of the School of Business and Communication at Regis College, Dr. William Koehler; and Monique Yaptenco, a 2017 CPUA alumna with a Master in Urban Affairs. All three speakers are seasoned professionals with years of experience navigating multiple industries, and at the April 2nd event they shared their extensive knowledge with the group of students and alumni in attendance.

Dr. Dutta-Koehler began by welcoming the attendees and emphasizing the importance of the workshop. “This is really the first step to being successful,” Dr. Dutta-Koehler told the group.

After the two other speakers introduced themselves, Yaptenco followed with a presentation on preparing to launch your job search. Her extensive professional history includes jobs at a television station in the Philippines, the United Nations, local government in New Zealand and, more recently, BU. 

Yaptenco advised the attendees to start by reviewing their online presence from an employer’s perspective. “It’s very important for you to figure out what is out there about yourself,” Yaptenco said. “Your profile, your digital presence, this is your context. You have to make sure you have control of it.”

She went on to provide the group with tips for developing their personal brand in order to distinguish themselves from other candidates. According to Yaptenco, “We don’t all have to be the best at everything, we just have to be able to communicate who we are, what is meaningful to us, and what we can bring to the organization.”

Polished self-presentation turned out to be one of the recurring themes of the event. Dr. Dutta-Koehler followed Yaptenco with a section about searching and applying for jobs. When crafting a resume and cover letter, Dr. Dutta-Koehler stressed the importance of presenting yourself in a manner that is “precise” and “pin-pointed” to the specific job you are applying for.

Dr. Dutta-Koehler added that personal connections are just as important as your written documents. “It is super, super important to start nurturing your connections,” Dr. Dutta-Koehler said. “Generally, it’s good practice to know what other people, your peers, [and] professionals are doing and to learn from them, because that really is the fastest way to gain experience and insights that you wouldn’t ordinarily have.”

The task of covering one of the most daunting steps in the job search fell to Dr. William Koehler. Dr. Koehler began his career as a recruiter and hiring manager, and he approached his portion of the workshop from an employer perspective. He focused primarily on interviewing, which many candidates find intimidating but is key for both the employer and candidate to assess potential fit.

Specificity and authenticity are the name of the game when it comes to interviews, according to Dr. Koehler. After sharing his “Ten Commandments of Interviewing” with the group, he opened the floor for workshop attendees to practice answering common interview questions and provided feedback on their responses.

For open-ended questions like “What type of work environment do you prefer?”, Dr. Koehler advised the group to begin their response with a short tagline before launching into specific examples based on their past experiences. Anecdotes serve to show that “you’re learning through the process of your professional development and you’re actively exploring how to take the next steps.”

In fact, using examples and anecdotes from past experiences is one of the best strategies candidates can use to answer a variety of questions. Dr. Koehler stressed that “All experience is good experience,” as long as you can clearly relate your experiences to what you learned from them. “Make every answer as specific and tied to past experience as possible,” Dr. Koehler added. 

While the workshop provided invaluable advice and resources tailored to the CPUA community, it was just the first step in “ensuring success in your job search.” For students and alumni who missed the event or want a refresher on what was covered, watch the recording or visit the official CPUA professional development site with even more resources to offer. Good luck to all!

Emanne Khan, CAS ‘23

Tagged: , , , , , ,

Lessons from the Past and Looking to the Future: BUCPUA Celebrates Women’s History Month

By Emanne KhanMarch 25th, 2021in Events, Faculty, News
(Graphic by Emanne Khan)

March is Women’s History Month, and amidst the hustle and bustle of the semester BUCPUA recognizes the unique role that women have played in urban planning throughout the years. Women are historically underrepresented as leaders in the profession, but change is happening both at BU and across the world to increase women’s visibility and participation in urban planning spaces.

Sexism in Our Cities

From its sidewalks to its public transportation systems, the average American city was not built with women’s needs in mind. Urban scholar and historian Dolores Hayden focused on this fact in her groundbreaking 1980 article, “What Would a Non-Sexist City Be Like? Speculations on Housing, Urban Design, and Human Work.”

Hayden argued that much of our physical environment was designed at a time when women were expected to stay at home caring for their families, and architects and urban planners did not prepare for women to enter the labor force as they did in large numbers during the 1960s. “Dwellings, neighborhoods, and cities designed for homebound women constrain women physically, socially, and economically,” Hayden wrote. 

From Hayden’s perspective, conventional, single-family homes with their private, self-contained spaces isolate women as they carry out housekeeping tasks. Women who attempt to move beyond the isolated, single-family home find it difficult navigating from residential areas to places of employment to childcare services, because cities were built around the idea that “the traditional household with a male worker and an unpaid homemaker is the goal to be achieved or stimulated.”

Today, women still face many challenges in their interactions with urban design. A 2011 Gallup poll identified a 23 percent gap in the number of men versus women in high income countries who say they feel safe walking alone in their cities at night. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, women use public transportation more than men, but public transportation infrastructure does not always include accommodations for women who might be traveling with children. Bus and train stations are often located far from employment hubs, forcing women to make long, potentially dangerous walks on poorly lit streets. Public parks do not always have bathrooms for women, or well-lit open spaces where women are less likely to be harassed. 

Why are women’s needs still being left out of the equation? It helps to start at the top. Women are woefully underrepresented in positions of authority and influence within the urban planning and design worlds. Urban anthropologist Katrina Zimmerman-Johnston observed in 2017 that women made up less than half of the speakers at the foremost urbanist conferences that year, and only six percent of contributors to a 2016 edition of the Routledge Press City Reader. Women hold only 17 spots on the most recent edition of Planetizen’s list of the 100 most influential urbanists.

“If you have the same people around the table who have been trying to solve the same challenges for 50 years, nothing will change,” planning advocate Lynn Ross told Zimmerman-Johnston. “I think it’s important to have women not only at the table, but women running the meeting, setting the table, bringing voices in and leading. She has a variety of perspectives, as a caretaker, as a mother, as a sister, but also—she’s an urbanist—and she has something to say about cities and how they work.”

Time for Change

The lack of recognition and space for woman urbanist leaders is a challenge current BUCPUA students Ashiyana Swar, MUA and Maria Alejandra Santa, MCP are tackling head-on through the new BU Women in Urban Planning (WUP) collaborative, which they launched in February.

Swar reached out to Santa, a fellow member of the BU Urban Planning Association, about starting a professional group for women after observing “all the remarkable women” in the CPUA program. “It was very enriching and enlightening to hear about all the diverse backgrounds of where these women were coming from both professionally and personally,” Swar said. “And as I reflected, I envisioned there can perhaps be a lot of growth, if all the women in our program came together to build a community for dialogue and advancement.”

Santa added that she hardly knew Swar before they got together to discuss starting a women’s group, but they immediately clicked once they started talking. “I wondered, well, if that [connection] happened to Ashiyana and [me], what is going to happen if we really build a community where we feel safe to talk about women's problems, issues that we face, how we feel outside, how we feel walking?” Santa said. 

Santa and Swar began conducting research to inform WUP’s mission and goals, and the statistics they found were disappointing, if not surprising. According to a 2020 World Bank report, women occupy only 10 percent of the highest ranking jobs at leading architecture firms and urban planning offices worldwide. 

“And for the 10 percent of the women in these positions, we reflected on their journeys, and we were actually inspired to increase the percentage of women [in] these high ranking positions,” Swar said. 

After establishing the need for a group like WUP, Santa and Swar turned to Dr. Madhu Dutta-Koehler, CPUA Director and Associate Professor of Practice, for support. Dr. Dutta-Koehler is an MIT-trained planner who in addition to overseeing the CPUA program at BU, serves as the president and co-founder of Urbanability, a non-profit organization that designs technology-integrated strategies to improve the health and well-being of all urban residents.

As a woman holding multiple leadership roles in urban planning, Dr. Dutta-Koehler is well-acquainted with the challenges women face advancing in the field. “Historically, it is very hard and challenges the status quo when women think differently, speak differently, communicate differently,” Dutta-Koehler said. “And it always feels that [women] have to prove [themselves] more than most.”

Guided by their goal of creating a space for advancement, empowerment, and career-building, WUP held their inaugural event on March 5th. At the virtual event, a group of CPUA students and alumnae gathered to listen to a speech by Dr. Dutta-Koehler and connect with each other. Both Santa and Swar said it was a rousing success.

Santa shared that WUP’s next event will be a career development panel on March 26th where a professor and a planning alumna will give insight into their career journeys. Other upcoming events include a meditation event, a zumba session, and a wine and paint night.

“Without acknowledging the significance of personal and professional growth which go hand [in] hand, we cannot become the leaders we are aspiring to be in the future,” Swar added.

When asked if they have any advice for women at other institutions considering forming a group or collaborative, Swar and Santa said, “Just do it, representation matters. One of the most crucial things for us being in the urban planning field is [building] and creating a community that works for all. And we believe, this is one of those little pieces that can forge a new beginning of  building a stronger and hopeful community.”

Thanks to ambitious groups like WUP working to break down barriers to positions of power and influence, urban planning is slowly but surely becoming more equitable. Dr. Dutta-Koehler noted that like many sectors of our society, there’s still a long way to go, but change is possible with intentional effort. 

“I think it's been a long time coming, that we are recognizing women’s contributions and their caliber,” Dutta-Koehler said. “And I think this is a really great time for us to understand that women leaders have had equal success, but in different ways. If we want to see that kind of inclusiveness, if we want to see that kind of representation, we have to be intentional and strong and make it happen.”

From BUCPUA, Happy Women’s History Month! 

To learn more about WUP, read about their mission and executive board https://www.bu.edu/cityplanning/people/students/buwomeninurbanplanning/ and follow them on Instagram @bu_wup for updates.

Emanne Khan, CAS '23

Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Cohort of New Students Joins BUCPUA at Virtual Spring Orientation

By Andrea CiminelliFebruary 4th, 2021in Events, News
(Boston, MA 1/21/21) Incoming BUCPUA program graduate students come together for a class picture over Zoom. (Photo by Dr. Madhu Dutta-Koehler)

On Thursday, January 21st, BUCPUA hosted its second fully virtual orientation session in program history. At the hour-long event, Director Dr. Madhu Dutta-Koehler and Program Manager Andrea Ciminelli were joined by a small cohort of new graduate students via Zoom for an official introduction to the CPUA community and its resources.

The Spring 2021 orientation session mirrored the format of the Fall 2020 session, which was also held on Zoom to accommodate COVID-19 safety protocols. “Congratulations and welcome to the program,” Dr. Dutta-Koehler told the group at the start of the event. “We are absolutely delighted to have all of you.” 

Dr. Dutta-Koehler then moved on to a broad overview of the CPUA program and its history. The program was started in 1976 and is now home to about 100 students, with international students making up one quarter of the student body. Housed at the BU Metropolitan College, the CPUA program offers two graduate degrees, a Masters in City Planning and a Masters in Urban Affairs. It also offers a Bachelor of Science in Urban Affairs, as well as two graduate certificates in Urban Policy & Planning and Applied Sustainability. 

One of BUCPUA’s biggest strengths is its people, according to Dr. Dutta-Koehler. “Really the backbone shall we say of our program is our extraordinary community,” Dr. Dutta-Koehler said, adding that program faculty are “so well-connected” and alumni are scattered across the globe. “We really pride ourselves on being a community first and being able to connect with each other with great ease.”

The application of knowledge gained in the classroom is another key facet of the CPUA community. “In our program, we are very much about ‘why does this learning matter?’” Dr. Dutta-Koehler said. “We really privilege practice and application and innovation above all else.”

Program Manager Andrea Ciminelli followed Dr. Dutta-Koehler’s introduction with a review of BU’s COVID-19 testing protocols for students visiting campus and the Learn from Anywhere system, which provides students with flexible options for attending class both in-person and remotely. Ciminelli also introduced the professional development opportunities available to students, including a website with job search tips. 

Dr. Dutta-Koehler wrapped up the logistics portion of the orientation session by reminding the group of important communications channels and academic advising resources.

Next, two current CPUA student representatives introduced the Urban Planning Association, a student-led organization that offers advice on classes, hosts discussions about relevant city planning topics, and holds monthly meetings and celebratory events.

The orientation session concluded with show-and-tell introductions. Each virtual attendee, including program leadership and faculty, took turns introducing themselves to the group and sharing a meaningful everyday object in their possession. At a time of physical and social separation, “we would love to get a glimpse into your world and your environment,” Dr. Dutta-Koehler said at the start of the day’s events. 

Before they parted ways, the attendees shared a diverse selection of objects, including plants, bicycles, and a camera.

Like Fall 2020, the Spring 2021 semester will undoubtedly present unique challenges and opportunities for overcoming them. The BUCPUA community is excited to welcome its new cohort of students and looks forward to everything they will accomplish in the months ahead.

Emanne Khan, CAS '23

Tagged: , , , , ,

BUCPUA alumna, Beya Jimenez, leads #BUcity Co-Lab Week event on anti-racist city planning for racial equity

By Anne JonasNovember 11th, 2020in Alumni, Events, News
(Boston, MA 10/29/20) Beya Jimenez, Director of Economic Opportunity with the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and BUCPUA MUA ’17, moderates the panel discussion for the event “Planning for Anti-Racist Cities: How Planners Can Champion Racial Equity in the Field.” (Photo by Andrea Ciminelli)


On Oct. 29th, over a hundred Zoom attendees—faculty, staff, students, and members of the public—came together to attend the third-to-last event in the #BUcity Co-Lab Week, entitled “Anti-Racist Cities: How Planners Can Champion Racial Equity in the Field.” 

The event was moderated by CPUA’s very own Beya Jimenez, who now serves as Director of Economic Opportunity with the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and who focuses on engagement to close the racial wealth gap.

The event featured a slew of panelists in the planning and public health fields to discuss how they have championed anti-racist policies and plans in their own work to achieve racial equity.

The panelists included: Jessica Martinez, a transformative development initiative fellow with MassDevelopment; Courtney Lewis, a regional planner with Metropolitan Area Planning Council; Joyce Sanchez, a senior specialist on the stakeholder management team and capital delivery division with National Grid; and Dr. Meghan Venable-Thomas, a culture of health leaders fellow with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a cultural resilience program director with National Initiatives. 

Jimenez began the event with a call to action to address racial inequity within planning, such as redlining and the displacement of Black and brown people from their neighborhoods through gentrification, as well as on a broader societal level, with systemic racism and the silencing of Black, Latinx, and Native voices.

“We need to act now. We need students who are engaged and ready to ask tough questions. We need planning professionals who won’t sit on the sideline,” said Jimenez.

City planners play an important role in standing up for equity and “upsetting the set-up,” or disrupting the status quo and established systems that are a stronghold of racial inequity, said Jimenez. 

Jimenez began the panel discussion by giving panelists the opportunity to share how they have been taking care of their mental health as Black and brown people of color in 2020. 

Sanchez responded by saying that she takes moments to step back and do things that bring her joy, like writing poetry, taking walks, and reading books. In addition, Sanchez said she sees her work as a “silver lining” and opportunity to uplift the community.

“What uplifts me is my role as a stakeholder manager,” said Sanchez. “It brightens my day when I can address a concern with a resident or business owner.” 

Dr. Venable-Thomas brings together her passion for public health with her passion to decolonize wellness by working at TrillFit

“What we know in public health is that communities who are most likely to succeed are socially connected,” said Dr. Venable-Thomas. Wellness is one way to establish social connections between communities and encourage better mental health, said Dr. Venable-Thomas.

Jimenez then asked the panelists about the racial and gendered disparities that have been revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and how to address the call to action against racism under the looming public health threat of the pandemic.

Dr. Venable said in her work with Mass Design Group, she has come to realize that design is not neutral––it either harms or it  heals––and that planners play a unique role in impacting the future disparities of the communities they work with. “Planners have to see that they’re not just a planner or a designer,” said Dr. Venable-Thomas. “You’re also a health practitioner, you’re a cultural practitioner, you are the place where people spend most of their life.”

“Create a community that is focused on creating thriving places,” said Dr. Venable-Thomas, “where people can have dignity, home, safety, security, and feel good about where they live.”

Lewis chimed in saying that “as planners of color, we have a responsibility to advance racial equity in the community,” especially since urban planning has perpetuated institutional and systemic racism in our cities and towns.

Like Dr. Venable-Thomas, Lewis said that planners wear many hats when it comes to their impact on the community. “We [as planners] have to recognize that we are positioned at the nexus of urban design, public health, and economic opportunity,” said Lewis. “We have to be agents of change to undo disparities caused by the built environment.”

Sanchez said that the public and private sector play an important role not only in the wake of the pandemic, but in addressing and combating racial inequity. National Grid has taken up this responsibility through their Grid for Good program, which provides mentorship to socio-economically disadvantaged youth between the ages of 16-24.

The next question concerned changing demographics in gateway cities, a designation that describes post-industrial cities in the state of Massachusetts.

Martinez took the floor to answer this question, explaining that her recent work with Lawrence, MA has worked toward establishing dignity and stable schooling and jobs. 

“Gateway cities offer really good bones to a city,” said Martinez, who said planners should see their work as “gardening,” as putting work and love and care into the community in order for it to grow and thrive on its own.

Lewis said his work at MACP has focused on using an equity lens to take an introspective look at the policies and practices planners use, and making sure planners “are actually walking the talk.” Specifically, Lewis said MACP has created the REMAP program, which works with six different communities to develop and operationalize racial equity plans.

Jimenez then asked the panelists what advice they would give current Black and brown student planners, as well as advice they would give to themselves five years ago?

Sanchez listed three tenets of advice she would give to current students and herself: 1.) Don’t underestimate networking, 2.) Never stop networking, and 3.) Know your worth.

“As a person of color, as an educated person of color, don’t sell yourself short,” said Sanchez. “Ask a company how effective their current diversity initiatives are and if they have any benchmarks tracking how effective those initiatives are.”

Lewis said to learn as many different topic areas within the planning profession as possible and take advantage of every opportunity to express thanks and gratitude to those working alongside you. 

“You are worth more than anything someone can compensate you for,” said Lewis, “because of the unique blessing you bring to the world. Your best should bever be compared to someone else’s best.”

Dr. Venable-Thomas said that student planners of color should “use their experience as a person of color as their expertise,” and to see that experience as that which should be lifted, heard, and valued..

“When we show up as our full selves,” said Dr. Venable-Thomas, “we lift up those residents whose voices and bodies and experiences are at the table in how we do development and design.”

Then, the panel discussion ended and Jimenez encouraged the audience to ask the panelists questions.

One of the questions asked was: How do we inspire underrepresented students that aren’t typically exposed to planning and design?

Martinez said we need to teach young people that planning is a survey course, and that you can go into so many different fields with a planning background. 

Lewis said it’s important to create a pipeline that exposes high school students to planners of color, because representation matters. 

“My first introduction to urban planning was Sim Town,” said Lewis, “It wasn’t until I was in college as an undergrad that I understood that this is what I want to do.”

Another question posed by an audience member asked how safe and inclusive streetscapes can be planned and designed for people of all backgrounds, and what a paradigm looks like. 

Martinez said that inspiring imagination in people––planners and community members alike–– is important in the design of inclusive streetscapes for communities, as well as piloting to engage with the community.

In response to an audience question about how to use the current moment to champion racial equity and public health, Dr. Venable-Thomas said the current moment is “an opportunity for Black, indigenous, people of color to interrogate their own trauma and healing, because decolonization starts with you [an individual] in addition to the system.” 

Lewis said we should “capitalize on this moment to push for zoning reform across the Commonwealth.” 

Anne Jonas, CAS '21

BUCPUA professor Emily Keys Innes presents this fall’s #BUcity keynote lecture, “The Early Days: Next Steps”

By Andrea CiminelliNovember 10th, 2020in Events, Faculty, News
(Boston, MA 10/28/20) Emily Keys Innes, director of planning at Harriman and BUCPUA adjunct professor, discusses the nine words which serve as “guideposts” to her journey as a planner during her presentation at the #BUcity Fall 2020 Keynote Lecture, "The Early Days: Next Steps." (Photo by Andrea Ciminelli)

On Oct. 28, Emily Keys Innes, director of planning at Harriman and CPUA adjunct professor, presented her keynote lecture, “The Early Days: Next Steps” to a group of eager students, faculty, and CPUA community members.

The lecture began with a literary introduction, an epigram by Alasdair Gray––borrowed from Dennis Lee’s 1972 “Civil Elegies”––which reads: "Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.”

The epigram, Innes said, gives us “a moment to think about how we rise to meet challenges,” many of which are “something larger than what each of us can do alone.”

The power of the planner and their work, then, is to make the active choice to be present in the world. And that work, Innes said, is “at its base about creating a new future. What we do is a deeply social act. Our work requires us to collaborate with others into acts that will shape the future of the communities in which we live.”

Innes guided her presentation by analyzing individual words from the epigram. She began with the word “world,” explaining that as humans generally, and as planners specifically, we move through countless intersecting worlds throughout our day.

Whether it be the roads we drive on, the neighborhoods we drive through to get to work, the buildings we work in, etc. we must consider how each world intersects with one another and consider the lived experiences of the people in those worlds.

The first step as a planner in addressing these worlds is “defining the world you want to make better,” said Innes. The second step, and perhaps the more challenging one,  is understanding that your experience of that world is not always shared by all.

Whether it be zoning that perpetuates social inequalities, or urban renewal that strips neighborhoods of their culture, it can be difficult for residents and planners alike to imagine ways to make the world better.

But, Innes said, it’s not impossible, and planners should strive to begin again, to find out what better means and how to get there. To do this, Innes transitioned into her analysis of the words “early days.”

Using the play Hamilton as an example of collective action toward a specific moment, Innes said it’s important to expand our relationships with one another (and with ourselves) in order to bring our vision of possibility, of what the early days should and could look like, to fruition.

To unpack this relationship-building, Innes identified nine words which serve as “guideposts” to her journey as a planner. The nine words she chose were: care, trust, learn, make, forgive, breathe, rebel, co-create, and act. 

To accompany each word, Innes included nuggets of wisdom:

“Care: Care because every decision you make as a planner has an impact on people.”

“Trust: Trust people, especially those you disagree with. Allow new voices into the conversation and trust that their voices will add to the conversation. And trust yourself.”

“Learn: Be humble about what you don’t know.”

“Make: Do something physical with your hands, ignore time as you create, put your tools where you can see them.”

“Forgive: You will run into some seriously nasty people in your career, but you must focus on your larger goal, on your purpose that brought you to planning.”

“Breathe: “Learn to be alone in perfect silence.”

“Work: The most important part of being a planner is that you will accomplish nothing without collaboration. You cannot build without agreement, and you cannot get agreement without compromise.”

“Rebel: Try new things, but think through the norms before you disrupt them.”

“Co-create: Find real joy in working with others to create. Community resiliency is how we work.”

“Act: Our actions have more impact than our words. We cannot argue for the importance of local economies if we buy all of our goods from far away. We need to act by making choices and mistakes and trying again. Our actions must lead to a better world.”

Innes then ended her keynote lecture by asking all attendees to choose a word from her list and send her an email on April 28th, 2021 about the word they chose and what they did with it. 

After her lecture, Innes took audience questions on topics ranging from race relations in Boston, the intersection between city planning and public health, bureaucracy, and affordable housing.

Anne Jonas, CAS '21

Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

#BUcity Co-Lab participants learn about visual communication, portfolio design, and personal branding from BUCPUA’s very own David Valecillos

By Andrea CiminelliNovember 9th, 2020in Alumni, Events, Faculty, News
(Boston, MA 10/27/20) David Valecillos, BUCPUA alum and Director of Design at North Shore CDC, discussed his work as a city planner and designer during the third event in the #BUcity Co-Lab Week with a presentation called “Visual Communication for Urban Professionals: The Why and How?” (Photo by North Shore CDC)

David Valecillos is a graduate of the BUCPUA Master in City Planning who now works with the North Shore Community Development Corporation as the director of design. Valecillos is also a founder and director for the Punto Urban Art Museum, an open air museum in the El Punto neighborhood of Salem, MA. 

On Tuesday, Oct. 27, Valecillos led the third event in the #BUcity Co-Lab Week with a presentation called “Visual Communication for Urban Professionals: The Why and How?” about his work as a city planner and designer.

Valecillos began by explaining that growing up in Venezuela, “a rich country naturally, but with high inequality,” led him to pursue city planning as a way to “understand the intersection of communities and socio-economic divides.”

His work in Salem has brought this interest to fruition. Salem is the second most visited city in Massachusetts, with most tourists visiting in October for the spooky, witchy history of Salem’s colonial past.

While the downtown area receives much attention and tourist attraction, the El Punto neighborhood, which is situated just adjacent to the downtown area, receives little to none. Like Roxbury and Dorchester, El Punto is segregated from the downtown, even though it is just blocks away.

The El Punto neighborhood is a mostly Hispanic neighborhood, with 80 percent of residents from the Dominican Republic. The neighborhood, which was primarily French-Canadian in the early 1900s,  used to be an industry center for blue-collar, factory workers.

Valecillos wanted to address the segregation of the neighborhood from downtown Salem as well as the stigma that is associated with the neighborhood, with causes detriment to its residents. To address these concerns, Valecillos developed a plan for community engagement in 2012, which reached 300 people in the neighborhood.

From this plan, some common goals were established: improving housing infrastructure, improving public infrastructure, and reducing the stigma associated with the neighborhood.

Putting these goals into action, Valecillos made 50 units out of 150 into affordable housing, and established a community space for residents in the building to hold events.

The North Shore Community Development Corporation now owns 300 units––30 percent of the neighborhood––and has rehabilitated 200 of the units. Included in this rehabilitation were parks and sports facilities, such as a basketball court which features art chosen by kids in the neighborhood in collaboration with a local artist.

Art is a major part of Valecillos’ work, and it is used to bridge the gap between the El Punto neighborhood and downtown Salem, as well as bringing the community together to erase the stigma of the neighborhood through restorative place-making.

95 large-scale murals have been installed across the El Punto neighborhood, with the collaboration of 75 artists from across  the world, but especially artists from Hispanic backgrounds. These murals became what is now the Punto Urban Art Museum, an open air, public museum celebrating the culture of the El Punto neighborhood and its residents.

To help launch the museum and the neighborhood gain traction from the public, Valecillos rebranded the organization and rebranded the webpages. The organization's worth expanded from  $2 million dollar to $3 million as a result.

Valecillos transitioned into the design component of his presentation, emphasizing the importance of technology for young urban planners as they develop their portfolio and brand themselves for future employers.

When is the time to start thinking about your portfolio? Now!

The first step in developing your portfolio, Valecillos said, is identifying how your past projects, life experiences, skills, and education make you a desirable candidate for future employers, and from there, identifying what kind of work you envision yourself doing and succeeding at.

Your portfolio should be an act of storytelling, emphasized Valecillos, that is realized through a few key elements in the design process of your portfolio.

The key elements Valecillos highlighted were: color and text, formatting, general content, and layout. 

Within these elements, there are subsections as well.

For example, when choosing the color and text of a page in your portfolio, the first step is choosing your color palette, followed by selecting a font style, and lastly, by organizing the visual aspects of the page into a hierarchy. Larger, brightly colored, or bolded fonts are more eye-catching and therefore higher in the hierarchy than smaller, lightly colored fonts.

Within the formatting element, Valecillos said to identify a type, as well as an orientation and flow. The pages of your portfolio should be formatted consistently so that the reader has a clear picture of what problems in your project or work were presented and how you solved them.

The general content and layout of your portfolio should include: a cover, your contact information, a short bio, an index, and project summaries. 

The presentation ended with questions from the audience on gentrification, affordability, and instilling a sense of community.

Valecillos said that it’s important for city planners to have an ear-on-the-ground to listen to the communities they are working with to ensure that they are not imposing, and that any changes are made collaboratively, hopefully easing the fear of gentrification and change.

Anne Jonas, CAS '21

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Elijah Romulus

BUCPUA kicks off #BUcity Co-Lab Week with panel discussion on tools for inclusive and accessible city planning

By Andrea CiminelliNovember 9th, 2020in Events, News


(Boston, MA 10/26/20) Elijah Romulus, assistant town planner for the town of Bridgewater, addresses a question from the audience during the "Planning Streets to Support Everyone" panel discussion. (Photo by Andrea Ciminelli)

The City Planning and Urban Affairs Program kicked off its #BUcity Co-Lab Week–– a series of events, panel discussions, and workshops running from October 26th through October 30th –– Monday night with a panel discussion event co-sponsored by BU Sustainability, and moderated by Sustainability’s own Erica Mattison, assistant director of communications.

The event, “Planning Tools to Support Streets for Everyone,” offered up advice, resources, and perspective from five industry experts on how city planners can––and should––design accessible, inclusive projects.

The five panelists covered a variety of backgrounds and experiences within and outside of the field of city planning.

“I landed in this field by mistake,” said Anabelle Rondon, program director of Great Neighborhoods with LivableStreets, who first got involved in the community development field by working at a non-profit and specializing in Latino businesses.

“I fell in love with finding out the specific needs of the community,” said Rondon, whose work specializes in the intersection between housing, transportation, and climate.

Nigel Jacob, co-chair and co-founder of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, is also invested in an on-the-ground approach to community involvement and development.

“When I left grad school, I was looking for a mission,” said Jacob. “My mission has stayed the same: try to change the way local government works.”

And he’s doing just that by engaging with communities via technology and design––literally.

Beta Blocks is his most recent project. The project aims to “explore how to teach people to interrogate their built environment,” said Jacob, by placing technology on streets to engage with community members and give them a platform to share opinions and concerns.

Marion Decaillet, director of inclusive public transit at the Institute for Human Centered Design, is equally concerned with and fascinated by connections with people, which is why she was drawn to transportation.

“I love to connect people to each other,” said Decaillet, “I love the physical connection.”

Decaillet works to provide accessible, inclusive public transportation by designing and planning projects with a holistic approach.

“We need to make sure that there is a connection between the project we want to deliver and the demographic we are serving,” said Decaillet. “We cannot design in a vacuum.”

Elijah Romulus is the assistant town planner for the town of Bridgewater, working in land use development and managing different energy projects and policy proposals.

Romulus had been involved in community work well before working in the public service, and it is this interest that led him to pursue city planning, after completing his undergraduate degree as an engineer.

“I started organizing in my hometown of Brockton,” said Romulus, “And as I was doing that community service work, I wanted to combine my engineer experience and activism passion."

Jimmy Pereira, the community and transportation planner with Old Colony Planning Council, was led to city planning after completing his bachelor's degree in geography and regional planning with a minor in ethnic and gender studies.

“Planning is very interdisciplinary,” said Pereira, who, from the beginning of his career looked at the ways the built environment and active transportation, like bicycling, were interconnected. 

Pereira worked with MassBike in the years prior to improve cycling, make sure that roads and infrastructure were safe for cyclists and drivers alike, and to reduce emissions by encouraging more people to take up biking.

Some of the most important and challenging problems and issues facing planners today is making sure communities are as involved as possible in the planning process, but this proves to be much more difficult in practice than in theory.

Rondon, who worked with the New York City Housing Authority on a planning process in the South Bronx, said a common mistake she sees in her work is translating the language of the plan to the greater community, across languages and the busy lives of community members.

To solve this problem, Rondon implemented coffee hours, a plan to “bring planning to the people.” Rondon and her team brought coffee into the lobbies of public housing buildings to listen and translate the concerns of the people about gentrification and the changes to come.

“We should be meeting people where they are,” said Rondon.

Pereira echoed Rondon, saying that planners should have a boots-on-the-ground approach with low-income and English as a Second Language communities to provide as much transparency as possible.

“We try to cast the net and drag it back in and see what we have,” said Pereira, who said the pandemic has resulted in a method of outreach moving toward video and audio, with literature moving to the backseat.

This poses problems, though, for low-income communities who might not have access to wifi. As a result, there is “a lot of sifting in the dark,” said Pereira, to try to find an approach that is inclusive of the population but also accessible to their needs and limitations.

Romulus said that one of the more positive things to come out of the pandemic is that public engagement has increased two, sometimes three times as much as years prior, in terms of the amount of people attending meetings.

Rondon said that COVID has amplified advocacy and the need for policy change, placing the demands on decision makers to actively listen to community members. Rondon added that COVID presents a unique opportunity to push change and to challenge the status quo.

In tandem with the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement has pushed America toward a racial reckoning and re-evaluation of how the government serves its people.

“What does innovation look like in the era of trying to make city hall anti-racist?” asked Jacob. “How do we redesign the way decisions are made?”

These questions, although rhetorical, can be answered via “shining light on the root cause of some of these issues,” said Romulus, like looking at questions of abolition, looking at where public money and tax payer dollars do, and looking at how to be proactive as opposed to reactive.

Part of these changes are a move toward a more ecological and sustainable future for cities.

Romulus said the town of Bridgewater plans to add a fleet of hybrid vehicles to its current fleet and install charging stations on Town Hall’s campus, thus reducing the carbon footprint. The town of Bridgewater is also retrofitting LED lights to streetlights, replacing older halogen lamps to reduce energy usage, brighten up streets for pedestrian safety, and save money.

After the panel discussion, Mattison opened the floor to audience members to ask questions to the panelists.

Audience members asked astute questions about specific resources for inclusive city planning––panelists recommended reaching out to non-profit organizations in your community, as well as MassDot and the Mel King Institute.

Another question concerned local zoning laws and the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) Movement. Rondon answered this question, explaining that Massachusetts has a unique web of state laws that haven’t been updated since the 70s, causing 351 cities and towns to decide on zoning laws on their own because there is no state-level operation to handle that. Rondon said that voices need to come to the table to discuss opinions so that some change can be made.

Romulus echoed this, saying that a city planner is a change agent and a power-broker, working with stakeholders and trying to come to some middle lane.

For more information on CPUA’s Co-Lab Week, visit https://www.bu.edu/cityplanning/bucityco-labweek/

Anne Jonas, CAS '21

Tagged: , , , , , , ,