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Carla Maria Kayanan

Current Student—Ph.D in Urban and Regional Planning

Carla Maria Kayanan

Advisor: Martin Murray
Dissertation Committee: David Bieri (co-chair), Martin Murray (co-chair), Scott Campbell, Robert Fishman

Research Interests: Economic Development, Economic Geography, Urban Geography, Urban Form, STS


I am motivated by the landscape of the city, the actors behind its urban form, and exploring the nexus between technology and economic development policy under late capitalism. Economic developers have a troubled history of adopting trends that often fail to generate purported outcomes. The current economic development paradigm primarily emphasizes growth (i.e., job growth, population growth, number of registered patents, etc.). In an effort to push the pendulum back in favor of development over growth, I  critically deconstruct the tools and mechanisms through which growth policy is enacted.

My dissertation is an empirical analysis of innovation districts –designated sites to cluster the network of people, institutions, resources, and activities frequently cited as integral to the innovation process. Based on site visits, content analysis, and over 150 interviews, my thesis compares innovation district strategies in five locations: three primary cases (Detroit, Michigan; Dublin, Ireland; and Park Center, a new urban-like development at the heart of North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park) and two supporting cases (St. Louis, Missouri and Boston, Massachusetts). Drawing from scholarship in economic geography, STS, and organizational studies, my research traces the emergence of these spaces and deconstructs the rhetoric used to funnel financing mechanisms and generate political support for their development. As innovation districts are witness to a wide-array of footloose knowledge workers, local efforts and planning tools to create geographically concentrated places are disrupted when the global reality of production (material and immaterial) extends beyond the place-bound innovation district. This leads to questions on how space is produced and for whom within the innovation district. This research contributes to knowledge building and the practice of our field in two ways: 1) By deepening our understanding of cities as laboratories and tech-favoritism in urban governance through critical studies of the economic development policies that undergird these efforts; and 2) By strengthening and repositioning the practice of economic development to address issues of equity and regional inclusion.



  • “Building cities like startups: The Silicon Valley ethos and its effect on urban planning and governance.” Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning Annual Conference, Denver, CO. October, 2017
  • “Urban Planning and the New World of Work: Analyzing the Emergent Designs and Strategies of Innovation Districts.” Spatial Reconceptualizing Urban Landscapes of Work, Urban Studies Foundation, Portsmouth, England. April, 2017
  • “Silicon Slipways and Slippery Slopes: The Story of Dublin’s Docklands and the Price of Integration into the Global Economy.” Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Boston, MA. April, 2017
  • “The Just City: An exploration of emerging research on achieving justince in the city, with Professor Susan Fainstein.” Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Boston, MA. April, 2017
  • “Challenges and Complications in Implementing Detroit’s Innovation District.” Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning Annual Conference, Portland, OR. November, 2016
  • “Altered Landscapes: Seeing Innovation Districts as Spaces of Exception.” Rule and Form: Spatial Transactions and Logistics of Capital. Planning and Architecture Research Group Biennial Conference, University of Michigan. February, 2016
  • “Improving TIF Transparency and Accountability: Towards a Consolidated View of TIF Activities in Michigan.” Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning Annual Conference, Houston, TX. October, 2015
  • “Innovation’s Invisible Architecture: Blight and Brownfields in the Staging of Urban Futures.” Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL. April, 2015
  • “Improving TIF Transparency and Accountability: Towards a Consolidated View of TIF Activities in Michigan” Innovate Michigan! Summit, Lansing, MI. April, 2014


  • Doctoral Student Award in Urban Planning, 2018
  • Faculty/Staff Mentor of the Year, Office of New Student Programs, University of Michigan, 2017
  • ACSP Student Travel Scholarship, 2017
  • Partial Tuition Scholarship, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, PhD Workshop
  • 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