I have spent most of the last three decades concerned with the future of our communities from a theoretical, practical, and political sense. As major domestic and global issues frame debates in new ways, communities are the vehicles for getting things done, putting theory into practice, and making our world work better for all. At the end of the day, I believe that situations can change and circumstances improve and I teach my classes and conduct my research in Housing, Community, and Economic Development accordingly. Students are challenged to consider possibilities and creative solutions to what are deemed systemic or ‘wicked” problems facing our civilization. We go beyond historical context to future sustainability in change with a lens on the policy, practice, and engagement that must occur for real change to have any chance of success.
My primary courses are the graduate courses are Housing and Community Development, Economic Development, and Leadership and Community Change. A cross-listed course, which is the capstone class for all fourth-year planning students, Neighborhood Planning Workshop, is taught as an applications course and gives students the opportunity to bring all their skills together. Over the years students have tackled the ramifications of a dedicated service center in public housing developments, the challenges of increasing the number of people who work in four low-to middle income neighborhoods, and the transformation of an existing neighborhood into Jane Jacobs’ notion of an urban village.
Before coming to the University of Virginia, I spent a couple of decades in philanthropy and research at the Kettering Foundation and the Pew Partnership for Civic Change. These experiences brought me in contact with community leaders, public officials, and citizens in all 50 states that were and are working to build sustainable and just communities. I wrote about some of this work in Smart Communities: How Citizens and Leaders Can Build a Brighter Future. I also manage a blog by the same name. As I complete the tenth anniversary edition of this book for 2014, I am even more convinced that the strength and creativity of our localities across the globe will define our ability to address successfully the challenges ahead.
In addition to the Smart Communities book, I have two research monographs that address workforce development and civic capacity. These join a whole series of articles, speeches, and commentary on topics ranging from the dropout crisis to Cuban landscapes to communities of the future. Over the last few years, I have spoken at the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Scottish Council of Development and Industry, and many communities and regions in the United States.
Finally, I have the privilege of being involved in two research and practice efforts at the University and within the Architecture School. I serve as director of the Appalachian Prosperity Project Research team and the newly formed Center for Public Practice and Scholarship.
My current research is about ways to make communities more globally competitive by improving their quality of life and their economic vitality. Using a data base of more than 350 metropolitan statistical areas, our research team is identifying criteria for measuring progress. A second major project is the development of a typology for evaluating ways to most effectively use community assets and resources to: 1) build resilience in an ever-changing world economy and 2) evaluate tradeoffs that these decisions require. As we understand more about globalization and the magnitude of its effects on communities and their livelihoods, a methodology for evaluating local resources and assets is needed for planners, citizens, and local officials in order to craft a strategic response.
Finally, in the service component of my work I serve as the chair of the Kettering Foundation Board of Trustees, Immediate Past Chair and Board Member of the Piedmont Community College Board.
In 2011, I was honored by the School of Architecture student body to give the School's graduate commencement address.