Taubman College

Ph.D. in Urban Planning / Current Student Research and Awards

Current Students

Patrick Cooper-McCann

Advisors: Margi Dewar, June Thomas

Areas of interest: urban governance, community development, shrinking cities, Detroit

My master's thesis concerned the history and politics of "urban triage" in St. Louis and Cleveland in the 1970s. For my dissertation, I intend to research the evolution of community development strategies and governance structures in cities that are shrinking and/or adapting to austerity.



  • "Urban Triage in St. Louis." 15th National Conference on Planning History. Toronto. October 5, 2013.


  • Rackham Centennial Fellowship Award, 2013
  • Rackham Conference Travel Grant, 2013
  • Rackham Student Research Grant, 2013

David Epstein

Advisors: Jonathan Levine, Robert Fishman

Dissertation Committee: Margaret Dewer (Chair), June Manning-Thomas, Jonathan Levine, Larry Gant (School of Social Work)

Working Dissertation Title: Fostering Capacity Building and Participation with Neighborhood Information Systems.


  • Margaret Dewar and David Epstein, "Planning for 'Megaregions' in the United States", Journal of Planning Literature, Volume 22, Number 2, Pages 108-124, 2007

Presentations (Accepted on basis of abstract)

  • David Epstein (presenter) and Yaakov Garb, "Finding Common Ground in the Galilee", Association of European Schools of Planning, Napoli, 11-14 July 2007.
  • Margaret Dewar (presenter) and David Epstein, "Planning for ‘Megaregions' in the United States", Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, Fort Worth, November 9-12, 2006.
  • Margaret Dewar (presenter) and David Epstein, "Planning for ‘Megaregions' in the United States: Findings from Planning for the Great Lakes Megaregion", World Planning Schools Congress, Mexico City, 11-16 July 2006.

Presentations (Invited)

  • Yaakov Garb (presenter) and David Epstein, "Rapid Retail Deconcentration in Post-Communist Prague: Causes and Travel Consequences," invited presentation to the conference Spatial Deconcentration of Economic Land Use and Quality of Life in European Metropolitan Areas, Jerusalem November 20-22, 2005.
  • David Epstein, "Labor Organizing & Strategic Labor Research in the US," invited presentation for Kav La'Oved, Tel Aviv, August 14, 2005.

James Fishelson

Advisor: Jonathan Levine

Carla Kayanan

Advisor: David Bieri

Research Interests: Economic development, urban design, urban form


  • Institute for Social Research-Rackham Summer Training Award, 2014
  • Michigan State University Center for Community and Economic Development-EDA University Center for Regional Economic Innovation (REI) Co-Learning Plan Grant, 2013-2014 "Improving TIF Transparency and Accountability: Towards a Consolidated View of TIF Activities in Michigan"

Michael Koscielniak

Advisors: Margi Dewar, June Manning Thomas

Wonhyung Lee

Advisors: Gavin Shatkin, Joe Grengs

Areas of interest: Urban ethnic geography, Globalizing cities, Network analysis, Cross-Cultural research

My research currently explores the socio-spatial dynamics among foreign-born populations in the context of mega-cities where exhibit new space and culture of ethnic heterogeneity. Particularly, I am interested in how "foreigners" use the urban space and how the patterns of spatial usage relate to the meaning of segregation.

Devon McAslan

Advisors: Richard Norton, Larissa Larsen

Justin Meyer

Advisor: Larissa Larsen

Sarah Mills

Advisors: Richard Norton (chair), Larissa Larsen, Robert Marans

Interests: Rural land-use decision making, agricultural viability & farmland preservation, exurban development, energy planning.

More information on Sarah's research interests are available in this interview.

Shohei Nakamura

Advisor: Scott Campbell

Dissertation Committee: Scott Campbell (Co-chair), Gavin Shatkin (Co-chair, Northeastern University), Lan Deng, and Raj Arunachalam (Economics)

Areas of Interest: Informal Housing, Land Use Planning, Informality, Property Rights, Planning in Asia (India)
Methodology: Mixed-Methods (Quantitative & Qualitative), Spatial Analysis

Working Dissertation Title: Land Tenure, Tenure Security, and Self-Help Housing Improvement in Indian Slums

My dissertation research will assess the scope of the formalization of informal settlements, or slums, for the improvement of the quality of life of the socially marginalized populations who live there. To do so, I will investigate the process and outcomes of slum-notification policy in Pune, the ninth-largest city in India. In rapidly urbanizing developing countries, a large number of slum dwellers suffer from poor living conditions and face the risk of forcible eviction without due compensation because of their illegal status. One of the critical challenges is how to achieve inclusive urbanization by improving the tenure security and living conditions. Therefore, integrating informal tenure status with formal systems, commonly referred to as tenure formalization, has become common practice. While academics often tout formalization as an important step, it remains unclear how and to what extent formalization improves the quality of life of those in slums. The project will fill the critical gap by offering systematically investigated empirical evidence about the process and outcomes of slum-notification policy, a type of tenure formalization.


Peer-Reviewed Papers

  • Nakamura, S. "Impact of Slum Formalization on Self-Help Housing Construction: A Case of Slum Notification in India", Urban Studies, forthcoming.

Peer-Reviewed Book Chapters

  • Nakamura, S. (2013). "Tenure Formalization, Tenure Security, and Housing Investment: Relevance of Self-Help Housing in India Re-examined". In A. Garland (Ed.), Innovation in Urban Development: Incremental Housing, Big Data, and Gender. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.


  • Semi-finalist (selected for publication), Reducing Urban Poverty paper competition 2013, sponsored by USAID, International Housing Coalition, World Bank, Woodrow Wilson Center's Comparative Urban Studies Projects, and Cities Alliance
  • NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants, 2013–2014
  • Rackham Graduate Student Research Grant, University of Michigan, 2012
  • The Institute for Social Research-Rackham Summer Training Award, University of Michigan, 2011
  • Joint Japan/World Bank Graduate Scholarship Program (JJ/WBGSP), 2010–2012
  • Mario Einaudi Center International Research Travel Grant, Cornell University, 2009
  • US-Japan Fulbright Scholarship Grant, 2008–2010

Kate Owens

Advisor: Lan Deng

I am interested in urban planning and real estate finance in low income countries, particularly in East Africa. My dissertation will investigate the impact of changes in the land regulation system and foreign investment on the spatial form of four cities in Tanzania.

Nghi Nguyen-Phuoc

Advisor: Gavin Shatkin

Dissertation topic: My dissertation research will aim to ask the following questions: What kind of housing do low-income people get in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam? How do they get it?

Areas of interest: I am interested in housing policy in developing countries with a particular emphasis on low-income housing. I am also keen to explore the socio-economic and spatial implications of rapid urban expansion in the transitional economies of Asia. For instance, I am interested in the 'new towns' which are cropping up on the city peripheries to cater to the emerging middle class and upper-middle class in Vietnam. The political and economic processes which give rise to such developments, and the spatial, social and economic implications of this phenomenon, have much in the way of determining what kind of a society the country is on course to become.

Nicholas Rajkovich


Dissertation Committee: Larissa Larsen (Chair), Richard Norton, Scott Campbell, and Marie O'Neill (Public Health)

Each year in the United States more people die from heat waves than from any other type of natural disaster. Assessments of climate change project an increase in the intensity, frequency, and duration of extreme heat events. Fatalities associated with increased temperatures occur primarily in cities. Planning for heat waves will require city officials to determine the vulnerability of residents, to assess risk related to global warming, and to add adaptive capacity to the built environment. My dissertation borrows insights and methods from building science, urban climate, and the environmental health sciences to assess exposure to thermal stress in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Greater Cleveland is the focus of the study because several national-level assessments of heat vulnerability identified the county as being extremely susceptible to high temperatures.

Journal Articles

  • Walliser, Andres, Rajkovich, Nicholas B., and John Forester. 2012. Exploring the Challenges of Environmental Planning and Green Design: Cases from Europe and the USA. Planning Theory & Practice 13 (1): 109-169.
  • Pyke, Chris, Sean McMahon, Larissa Larsen, Nicholas B. Rajkovich, and Adam Rohloff. 2012. Development and analysis of Climate Sensitivity and Climate Adaptation opportunities indices for buildings. Building and Environment 55(9): 141-149.
  • Conlon, Kathryn C., Rajkovich, Nicholas B., White-Newsome, Jalonne., Larsen, Larissa, & Marie S. O'Neill. 2011. Preventing cold-related morbidity and mortality in a changing climate. Maturitas 69 (3): 197-202.
  • Kwok, Alison G., and Nicholas B. Rajkovich. 2010. Addressing climate change in comfort standards. Building and Environment 45(1): 18-22.

Book Chapters

  • Rajkovich, Nicholas B., Alison G. Kwok, and Larissa S. Larsen. 2013. LEED, collaborative rationality, and green building public policy. In Constructing green: sustainability and the places we inhabit, edited by Rebecca Henn and Andrew Hoffman. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Rajkovich, Nicholas B., William C. Miller, and Roland J. Risser. 2013. The prospect of zero net energy buildings in the United States. In End of Electricity Demand Growth, edited by F. P. Sioshansi. London: Elsevier.
  • Rajkovich, Nicholas B., William C. Miller, and Anna M. LaRue. 2011. Zeroing in on Zero Net Energy. In Energy, Sustainability, and the Environment: Technology, Incentives, Behavior, edited by F. P. Sioshansi. London: Elsevier.
  • Rajkovich, Nicholas B. 2007. Contributor of four strategies and a case study describing the 2005 Cornell University Solar Decathlon House in The Green Studio Handbook: Environmental Strategies for Schematic Design, Walter Grondzik and Alison G. Kwok. Architectural Press.


  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 2011–2014.
  • Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute Fellow, 2011–2012.

Danielle Zoe Rivera

Advisors: June Manning Thomas, Lan Deng, Lesli Hoey

Areas of Study: Community Development, Border Studies / U.S.-Mexico Colonias, Quantitative and Qualitative Program Evaluation


  • Ford School Center for Public Policy in Diverse Societies Grant, 2014
  • Tinker Field Research Grant, 2013
  • Rackham Graduate Student Research Grant, 2013

Napong Rugkhapan


Areas of interest: Urban form and morphology, history of the built environment, towns and cities in Southeast Asia.

Eric Seymour

Advisors: Margaret Dewar, Scott Campbell

Areas of interest: Affordable housing, community development, shrinking cities.

My research focuses on emerging processes for planning after abandonment and the tensions they raise between equity and efficiency in housing, infrastructure, and service provision. In my dissertation, I intend to examine the processes and products of the Detroit Works Project, which offers an important case study in the perils and possibilities involved in negotiating these conflicts.

Joshua Shake

Dissertation Committee: Martin Murray (chair), David Bieri, Harley Etienne, Fernando Arenas (Brazil Studies), Eduardo Marques (Political Science, University of São Paulo)


Public-private partnerships and participatory planning have emerged as two leading governance styles influencing the built environment. Using the case of central city redevelopment in Sao Paulo, my research explores the dynamics of these two legislatively-mandated forms in the Brazilian context. In doing so, the roles of political alliances, politics, economic structures, and social movements are analyzed and lessons are drawn beyond the case of Sao Paulo.

Conference Papers

  • Joshua Shake, 2012, "Stabilizing Flows: São Paulo's Nova Luz Project." Spaces and Flows Conference, Wayne State University.
  • Joshua Shake, 2013, "Jane Jacobs and São Paulo." The São Paulo Symposium, University of Chicago.


  • International Institute Individual Fellowship, 2012
  • Rackham International Research Award, 2013

Qingyun Shen

Advisors: Jonathan Levine, Joe Grengs

Areas of interest: My research interests started from noting the spatial pattern of job-housing imbalance in most north American metropolitan areas and the consequent problems caused by such pattern, including the daily long-distance commuting (mostly by driving), congestion, increasing auto dependence, restriction of location choices for low-income people, etc. I am interested in finding the causes of such problems and the solutions to them by looking into the mechanics of urban housing and real estate markets, the success and failure of certain programs on affordable housing, and transportation policies and planning. I am currently involved in a research project on the calibration of accessibility index of major metropolitan areas in the U.S. with Professor Levine and Professor Grengs.

Thomas Skuzinski

Dissertation committee: Scott Campbell (chair), Richard Norton, Jonathan Levine, and Elisabeth Gerber (cognate)

Areas of Interest:

Regionalism and metropolitan governance; local government; land use


I study the behavior and attitudes of local actors--including elected officials, appointed officials, planners, and non-public stakeholders--with regard to using alternative forms of governance, particularly as applied to policy areas that are at the heart of local autonomy (such as land use planning and zoning). My dissertation focuses on explaining attitudes toward Michigan's Joint Municipal Planning Act, and discerning whether these attitudes are motivated by fiscal and demographic circumstance, electoral dynamics, and/or personal latent affinities regarding group behavior and social hierarchy. The research relies on data drawn from a novel survey of municipal elected officials and staff planners conducted in 2013 and 2014.

Courses Taught (as primary instructor):

  • Introduction to GIS
  • Intermediate GIS

Conference Presentations:

  • Midwest Political Science Assocation (April 2014)
    Panel: Federalism
    Presentation: Explaining Attitudes Toward Intermunicipal Land Use Cooperation in Metropolitan Counties in Michigan
  • Urban Affairs Association (March 2014)
    Panel: Cooperation and Non-Cooperation in the Production of Urban Policy and Governance
    Presentation: Explaining Attitudes Toward Intermunicipal Land Use Cooperation in Metro Detroit
  • Southern Political Science Association (January 2014)
    Panel: Politics of Multiple Governments in the Same Space
    Presentation: Explaining Attitudes Toward Intermunicipal Land Use Cooperation in Metro Detroit
  • Regional Studies Association International Conference (December 2013)
    Panel: The Metropolitanization of Governance
    Presentation: A Framework for Understanding Attitudes Toward Intermunicipal Cooperation: The Case of Land Use in Michigan
  • Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, Annual Conference (October 2009)
    Panel: Changing Conditions, Changing Needs: Assessing Policy Tools
    Presentation: The Use of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits by Public Housing Authorities in Portland and Seattle

Melissa (Missy) Stutts

Advisors: Larissa Larsen, Rosina Bierbaum
Joint Degree: Urban Planning and the School of Natural Resources and the Environment

Areas of Interest: Urban resilience to climate change; different ways to frame climate change issues and the short and long-term impact frames make to climate action.


  • National Science Foundation Graduate Student Research Program awardee
  • Dow Sustainability Fellow

Ian Trivers

Advisors: Lan Deng, Larissa Larsen

Salila Vanka

Advisors: Larissa Larsen, Gavin Shatkin

Areas of interest: technology, greening of cities, developing countries

Matthew Weber

Advisor: Margaret Dewar, Richard Norton

Areas of interest: Community development, neighborhood planning, legal geography, urban poverty, social equity.

My dissertation research focuses on the ways that property as an institution changes in "shrinking" cities. Specifically, I am studying spatial concentrations of clouded title and squatting in abandoned houses and on vacant land in Detroit as an emerging informal property regime. My research asks: (1) What are the causal factors that generate informal property in the City? (2) What are the consequences of informal property for its owners, its neighbors, and for what shrinking neighborhoods become? (3) What policy responses to informality are appropriate at the local and state levels?


  • Dewar, Margaret, and Matthew Weber. Forthcoming. City Abandonment. In Oxford Handbook of Urban Planning, edited by R. Weber and R. Crane. New York: Oxford University Press.

David Weinreich

Advisors: Richard Norton, Joe Grengs

Areas of Interest: Regional governance, public transportation, transportation finance, politics

I am interested in the challenges posed by increasing fragmentation in metropolitan governance. I am looking at what exceptional conditions have enabled counties within large regions to cooperate, one issue at a time, in order to solve these otherwise intractable problems – and under what conditions such cooperation has not taken place.

Jennifer Williams

Advisor: Martin Murray

Research Interests: Informal settlement upgrading, resident relocation processes, social networks, and mixed-use developments in Johannesburg, South Africa.


  • Department of Afroamerican and African Studies South African Initiatives Office Research Grant, 2013
  • Rackham Graduate Student Research Grant, 2013