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. I have also made high-level expert contributions to the United Nations Human Settlements program, serving on their Academic Advisory Board for the 2009 and 2011 Global Reports on Sustainable Cities and Climate Change and then supplying background research on gender and transport for their 2013 Global Report on Sustainable Transport.
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). I have also published a lot of internationally comparative studies on high-speed rail, rail stations, intermodal transport and paratransit. I typically employ qualitative social science methods with a particular penchant for doing in-depth 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 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 discourses around 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 as well as new directions in outdoor education and the design of natural playscapes. I understand urban environmentalism as a rebalancing act that sees and seeks to reestablish diverse forms of nature in the metropolitan realm, foregrounding efforts towards ecological resilience with a strong awareness of the habitat needs of many different humans and other species.
I published my award-winning dissertation, Planning for a Sustainable Europe, as a monograph with the Technical University of Berlin back in 2006. Since then, 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 hyperlinked on the ‘Publications’ tab of this page. Alternatively, try my ResearchGate, GoogleScholar or ORCID pages.
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.)