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Robert Pfaff

Current Student—Ph.D in Urban and Regional Planning

Robert Pfaff

Advisor: Joe Grengs
Dissertation Committee: TBD

Research Summary:
My research interests center around Detroit, and draw from my background as a historian to inform discussions about regional planning in rust belt cities and diverse regions. In particular, my work engages the so-called “metropolitan revolution” and the urban sprawl that has typified growth since the mid-twentieth century, and seeks to apply historical research on twentieth century transit networks in Detroit to twenty-first century planning debates about regional cooperation between the cities and their expanding metropolitan regions. Ultimately I hope to pursue a project that builds upon the history of Detroit’s former streetrail network, and uses the decline of public transportation in the city as a lens to analyze how new organizations like SEMCOG, DOT, SMART, and the RTA have coordinated, approached, prioritized, and pursued regional development in the 21st century, with particular attention to issues surrounding social equity, discrimination, and suburbanization.


  • “Rubber Versus Rail: A History of the Decline of Detroit Street Railways” National Undergraduate Research Conference, University of Kentucky, April 2014
  • “Rubber Versus Rail: A History of the Detroit Street Railways - 1901 - 1956” Traffic, Transportation and Mobility (T2M) Research Conference, Drexel University, Phildadelphia, September 2014