I am a German-American urbanist and environmental advocate who believes in the crucial importance of “getting cities right.” My work seeks to meaningfully contribute to the creation of more socially just and environmentally sustainable human settlements. My experience combines over two decades of environmental advocacy and consulting for non-profits and major international institutions such as UN Habitat and the World Bank with an equally long transatlantic career in research and academic teaching.
My main academic background is in urban planning and policy development but I have additional graduate training in international affairs and urban design. The broad unifying question in my scholarship is the creation of sustainable and equitable cities – and how these are defined in different geographical contexts. My core emphasis has been on the key role different transportation infrastructures play in shaping human settlements and the socioeconomic conditions and opportunities of their inhabitants. I firmly believe that the creation of automobile-oriented cities with high carbon footprints constitutes the most fundamental planning mistake of the 20th century, with important repercussions for all 21st-century life on this planet.
As a passionate advocate for environmentally sustainable and socially equitable transportation and mobility, I have often done advocacy-oriented research to elicit and promote best practices centered around public transit and “active” transportation (i.e. biking & walking). For this work, I typically employ qualitative social science methods with a particular penchant for doing comparative case study research.
My writing and my teaching are also always infused and intertwined with my personal experiences rooted in the places I have lived in. I spent the majority of the 1990s as a graduate student and bike activist in New York City. When I moved back to my native Germany in the early 2000s, I became fascinated with the rapid urban change that its capital Berlin was undergoing post-reunification. I have now lived in Los Angeles for over a decade, still torn over whether to call this place paradise or dystopia. As a region, Southern California clearly continues to fail to adequately and equitably respond to climate change-related threats such as sea-level rise, droughts, and heightened fire threats while important socioeconomic stressors such as housing cost and traffic congestion remain high on locals’ list of worries.
There are no easy solutions to any of these challenges, of course. As a comparative urbanist and planning theorist, I have sought to step away from simple normative definitions to focus instead on re-problematizing many of the concepts and categories planners often take as given (e.g. “sustainability” “rationality” “global cities” “gentrification” “nature”). I frequently rely on discourse analytical strategies to highlight the complexities of local and regional planning and policy controversies.
More recently, I have begun to explore locational conflicts and related discourses around “sharing” cities, with a particular emphasis on variations of “urban commoning” that emphasize social and environmental goals in lieu of profit maximization. I have also begun to trace debates over the unequal access to and awareness of “nature” in the city and over new directions in environmental education more generally.
Besides publishing my award-winning dissertation, Planning for a Sustainable Europe, as a monograph with the Technical University of Berlin back in 2006, I have published ten co-edited books on a wide variety of planning-related subjects, along with a multitude of journal articles, book chapters, major research reports and other diverse writings in English and German. Most of them are available at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Deike_Peters.
Outside of academia, I enjoy running, hiking and biking in the local mountains and along the beautiful SoCal coast. (Yes, that’s the paradise part.)