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

Briana Gauger

Advisor: Scott Campbell

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"
  • Rackham Graduate Student Research Grant, 2014


  • Carla Maria Kayanan (presenter) and David Bieri, "Improving TIF Transparency and Accountability: Towards a Consolidated View of TIF Activities in Michigan," Innovate Michigan! Summit, Lansing, September 4, 2014.

Michael Koscielniak

Advisors: Margi Dewar, June Manning Thomas

Devon McAslan

Advisor: Scott Campbell

Areas of interest: urban sustainability; sustainable development theory and practices; sustainability metrics; urban history; urban form


My dissertation research looks at the rise of car free development in cities around the world. Specifically my research will be investigating the various cultural drivers and built environment characteristics that facilitate car free development and car free lifestyles, primarily in cities in developed countries but also with implications for developing cities who see automobile ownership as a sign of progress. My research examines the policies that cities have implemented to reduce automobile dependence and encourage car free living, either directly or indirectly. Lastly, my research looks at the impacts of car free living on environmental and social sustainability as well as overall urban livability and quality of life.

Another line of ongoing research looks at the development and use of sustainability and quality of life metrics within urban development and planning. This research looks at the way in which we now measure and assess progress in cities and how this relates to widely held concepts of urban sustainability. Also within this area of interest is the broad relationship between quality of life and sustainability.


  • Devon McAslan. Forthcoming. "Assessing Urban Sustainability: Using Indicators to Measure Progress" in Understanding Sustainable Cities: Concepts, Cases, and Solutions, 2nd Edition, by K. David Pijawka (eds). Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.
  • Devon McAslan, Mihir Prakash, David Pijawka, Subhrajit Guhathakurta, and Edward Sadalla. 2013. "Measuring Quality of Life in Border Cities: The Border Observatory Project in the US-Mexico Border Region" in Community Quality-of-Life Indicators: Best Cases VI, eds. M. Joseph Sirgy, Rhonda Phillips and Don Rahtz. New York, NY: Springer.
  • David Pijawka, Subhrajit Guhathakurta, Edward Sadalla, Kimberly Collins, Mihir Prakash, and Devon McAslan. 2013. "Urban Indicators for Border Areas: Measuring and Tracking Community Conditions in the U.S.-Mexico Border Region" in Remaking Metropolis: Global Challenges of the Urban Landscape, eds. Edward Cook and Jesus Lara. London, UK: Routledge.

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.

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.

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

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) Stults

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

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

Dissertation Committee: Martin Murray (chair), June Manning Thomas, Ana Paula Pimentel Walker, Anne Pitcher (cognate)

Research Interests: Resident relocation processes, social networks, informal settlement upgrading, and housing developments in South Africa.


  • Rackham International Research Award (RIRA), 2014
  • Rackham Graduate Student Research Grant, 2014
  • Rackham Conference Grant, 2014
  • Department of Afroamerican and African Studies South African Initiatives Office Research Grant, 2013
  • Rackham Graduate Student Research Grant, 2013