PhD Projects

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  • “Informal Spaces and Social Equity on an Urban Campus” (Evie Klein)

    To help architects and school leaders respond to complex social conditions, this dissertation project will demonstrate ways to design and promote social equity and belonging. This dissertation will focus on applying research to design in the setting of higher education, specifically looking at the informal spaces outside the classroom in public urban schools. The existing structural challenges facing college students are many, including limited financial resources, mental health/wellness, family responsibilities, identity formation, and cultural patterns. College campuses have an ever-increasing amount of pressure on their resources, too, and this is particularly true for public colleges. Using the theoretical framework of education as a liberatory process, this dissertation looks at how to understand and design educational facilities to support radical inclusion, rather than further reinforce inequity. In this research, the social construction of learning environments is linked to the importance of informal learning spaces on a campus and how some school facilities can (intentionally or not) create alienated students. Research methods from psychology, anthropology, geography, education, phenomenology and architectural practice all play a part in framing the path for designers and school leaders to address both design form and design processes in settings where structures of inequity are often hidden.

    The Public Space Research Group
  • Public Space in the Smart City (Troy Simpson)

    Publicly accessible spaces in New York City are constantly transforming, both in terms of how they are designed and managed, as well as in terms of the nature of activities and experiences that take place within them. One of the key emergent factors in publicly accessible spaces in New York City is the degree to which new and changing technologies are woven into their design and operations. Troy’s dissertation work focuses on interrogating the experiential aspects of such spaces, and is organized around the following questions: first, (a) how do members of different constituencies interact with emerging smart cities technologies in the context of public spaces (i.e., do they interact directly, and if so, how?)?; and second, (b) how do users conceptualize and navigate notions of publicness with regard to their activities?

    The summer of 2019 marked the initiation of this dissertation project, and as such, the primary activities Troy engaged in related to conducting preliminary fieldwork in New York City. Field research methods for this project are drawn from multiple sources, but primarily from the Toolkit for the Ethnographic Study of Space (Low, Simpson, & Scheld, 2018), which is an in-depth yet efficient method for studying the everyday life of a particular public space via the application of ethnographic methods. The TESS is particularly well suited for the research questions associated with this project because it helps researchers establish a contextual background (e.g., via documenting history through multiple forms of data collection) but emphasizes the evaluation of lived experiences and processes of meaning-making among users of public spaces via multiple forms of observation and interviews.

    This dissertation project is capturing transformations in New York City public spaces as they occur, and is oriented toward comparing the perspectives and experiences of different constituencies that interact with such spaces. As such, this study provides a valuable perspective from which to understand nuanced aspects of contemporary conditions, as well as situate these findings in the broader historical context of transforming public spaces in New York City.

    The Public Space Research Group
  • Why context matters (Javier Otero Peña)

    Javier Otero Peña‘s dissertation consists of three articles related to how contextual factors affect park use, urban environmental justice and place attachment. The first proposed article is an analysis of contextual elements related to park use at both the neighborhood (objective) level and the individual (self-reported/perceived) level, and how they affect park use. The second proposed article is an ethnography of parks renovated in low-income gentrifying neighborhoods, from an urban environmental justice perspective. This article seeks to flesh out the feelings towards renovations and neighborhood change itself, with an emphasis on procedural and interactional justice, and on identifying potential contradictory emotions that might arise when a renovation occurs in a changing neighborhood. The third proposed article is an exploration of the impact of park renovations on attachment to the park and to the neighborhood, and also, new technology-based methods to identify place attachment using a sentiment analysis of tweets.

    The Public Space Research Group
  • Staying Power (Erin Lilli)

    Erin is a PhD Candidate in Environmental Psychology at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Her dissertation work, tentatively titled Staying Power: the Black struggle for home and place in Crown Heights, develops from the overlapping discourses of gentrification and racialized housing through a study of residential oral histories among Black residents in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights.  Using racial capitalism as a theoretical framework and drawing on histories within the Black Radical Tradition, Erin seeks to position gentrification, and concomitant forms of neoliberalism, as something more antagonistic and thoroughly political. In other words, to frame the process of gentrification as a recurrent historical moment within a racialized (and now) financialized capitalist system acting to keep people of color subordinate to a continually reconstituted white dominance.

    Through utilizing qualitative methods with residential oral histories and participant observation; archival research on real estate policy and practices, local community groups, and local history; and quantitative analysis of ownership and rental patterns – Erin attempts to answer two main questions: 1) Are Crown Heights’ Black residents experiencing dispossession from their homes for the benefit of real estate capital and redevelopment? and 2) In Crown Heights, what forms of everyday resistance are employed by Black residents to confront threats of displacement and housing instability?

    Additionally, Erin will analyze interview data in conversation with literature on the psychological and emotional attachments to place and the concept ontological security as she contends that racial capitalism serves to repeatedly disrupt these senses of home.

    The Public Space Research Group
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