Selected Publications

Mixed-income housing is a popular strategy used by planners, ­developers, and government agencies to simultaneously revitalize blighted urban neighborhoods and preserve affordable housing for low-income residents. Yet the term “mixed income” is not consistently defined, so there is no clear understanding of what mixed-income housing is, what characterizes it, and how mixed-income projects differ from one another. Planners and policymakers are making important decisions about whether and how to pursue this urban redevelopment strategy without knowing the kinds of housing mixes available. We construct a data set of all 260 HOPE VI mixed-income redevelopment projects to conduct a descriptive analysis of income mixes across projects and develop a framework for categorizing key aspects of mixed-income housing. We show that HOPE VI developments vary ­dramatically across four key dimensions and highlight additional characteristics that may affect the broader community. 

All Mixed Up: Making Sense of Mixed-Income Housing Developments

Lawrence J. Vale, Shomon Shamsuddin

Journal of the American Planning Association, 2017

Read it here. 

Urban restructuring policies have uprooted residents and dismantled communities. Previous studies focus on housing redevelopment that minimizes the fraction of housing units left for poor residents and on interviewing residents only once the redevelopment has been announced. By contrast, this paper examines how residents over time experienced the HOPE VI redevelopment of the Orchard Park public housing project in Boston, which sought to preserve a low-income community. Using official records and a unique set of interviews with residents before and after redevelopment, we find marked declines in crime and increased residential satisfaction, which are attributed to changes in tenant composition. The redevelopment process reduced the total number of public housing units yet maintained the vast majority of housing for poor families while creating a new social mix. The findings suggest that to more fully capture the impacts of restructuring, existing theory must be expanded to consider who is displaced and how poverty is deconcentrated.

Hoping for More: Redeveloping U.S. Public Housing without Marginalizing Low-Income Residents?

Lawrence J. Vale, Shomon Shamsuddin

Housing Studies, March 2017

Read it here.

Climate change threatens the function and even existence of coastal cities, requiring them to adapt by preparing for near-term risks and reorienting long-term development. Most policy and academic interest in the governance of climate adaptation has focused on global, national, and local scales. Their efforts increasingly revealed the need to plan for adaptation at the scale of metropolitan regions. This dissertation is the first academic comparative analysis of U.S. regional adaptation initiatives. Drawing on multi-method qualitative research of five coastal regions, I argue that adaptation collaboratives are an ecological variant of new regionalism that recenters the role of public agencies in advancing adaptation efforts. Adaptation champions have helped overcome limited local adaptation, even where states are antagonistic to climate action, by sharing knowledge, providing technical assistance, and fostering political support. However, most have yet to tackle the limitations of local adaptation. Only places with regional agencies or county governments that have land use authority, fiscal leverage, or state mandated targets have advanced region-wide zoning and long-term developmental changes. These findings highlight the need to strengthen regional government in order to overcome difficulties in coordinating, implementing, and enforcing multi-sector and multi-jurisdictional responses to climate change — a path to a renewed ecological regionalism where regions function as an ecological whole, rather than as the sum of individual parts. 

A New Climate for Regionalism: Metropolitan Experiments in Climate Change Adaptation

Linda Shi

Dissertation, Ph.D in Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2017

Read it here.

Over three million Colombians were affected by the rainy season associated with "La Niña" phenomenon between April 2010 and June 2011. Colombia also has the second largest number of internally displaced persons in the world at 6.3 million individuals. This research studies the dilemmas that accompany resettlement processes, the involuntary physical and social isolation of residents from access to services and public facilities, the consequences for economic well-being and quality of life, and the improvement of personal security from crime and violence.

This thesis finds that while resettlement processes provided new built environments to address the physical needs of the displaced population, they did not address the needs that perpetuate poverty, vulnerability, and marginalization. It further explores the challenges and dilemmas that resettled communities face in order to inform discussions related to the physical, economic, and social reconstruction of communities in the aftermath of displacement. 

What Happens When Resettlements Focus on the Physical Environment: The Aftermath of the Resettlement Process in a Displaced Community in Cartagena, Colombia

Andrés Achury

Thesis, Master in City Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2017

Read it here. 

Urban scholars frequently call for equitable and inclusive growth to create more just cities but this vision has proven elusive in urban development—especially involving low-income communities and affordable housing. In 2013, the New York City Housing Authority proposed to leverage private development to benefit low-income residents by supporting market-rate residential construction on open space in public housing sites to pay for needed improvements to subsidised units. The Land Lease Initiative was a seemingly win-win plan but quickly faced backlash from multiple quarters. Using interviews with key housing authority officials and analysis of plan documents and media coverage, we show how the content and framing of the plan stoked fears of displacement, despite stated intentions. Our analysis reveals that criticism overlooked four unconventional ideas for preserving public housing, which are embedded in the plan: (1) retaining all public housing units and high-rise public housing towers on site, as opposed to demolishing them; (2) deconcentrating poverty by increasing residential density, instead of displacing poor residents; (3) adding affordable housing units to the site of low-income public housing; and (4) creating mixed-income communities around buildings, in addition to within them. The findings suggest that the future of affordable housing in the neoliberal era involves blurring the line between preservation and privatisation.

Lease It or Lose It? The Implications of New York's Land Lease Initiative for Public Housing Preservation

Shomon Shamsuddin, Lawrence J. Vale

Urban Studies, January 2017

Read it here. 

This work from 2015-2016 is an exploratory study of urban villages, a key source of low-income housing in Chinese cities. In cities like Shenzhen where housing prices are rapidly escalating, we observe that this housing is under a double threat from real estate redevelopment pressure and from climate change, which while little discussed may well be exacerbating urban flooding problems. Our work relies on interviews with researchers, officials, urban village leaders, and residents in Shenzhen, combined with a literature review (129 articles) and data mapping that overlays flood vulnerability with urban village locations. We find that urban villages do not appear to be closely correlated with the areas of worst flooding, even though local propaganda advocating the demolition of urban villages often cites their flooding problems and, globally, low-income households are often located in the most ecologically fragile areas. We also find that Chinese leaders treat affordable housing and urban village redevelopment separately from discussions of urban resilience and climate change, and conclude that these should be considered together. To begin to do this, we examine the relationship between affordable housing in urban villages and four factors that we see as necessary for low-income people to support the resilience of cities: access to livelihoods, environmental quality, shared governance, and security of tenure. 

Affordable Housing and the Resilient Chinese City: The Role of Shenzhen’s Urban Villages in Enhancing Livelihood, Environment, Governance, and Security of the poor

Lawrence J. Vale, Hongru Cai, Zachary Lamb, Colleen Xi Qiu, Linda Shi

Report for the Samuel Tak Lee Real Estate Entrepreneurship Lab, June 2016

Read it here.

What Affordable Housing Should Afford: Housing for Resilient Cities

Lawrence J. Vale, Shomon Shamsuddin, Annemarie Gray, Kassie Bertumen

Cityscape, 2014

Read it here. 

Well-designed affordable housing involves more than the provision of safe, decent, and inexpensive shelter; it needs to be central to the resilience of cities. Framing the issue as a matter of “what affordable housing should afford” expands the agenda for housing designers to consider factors that extend beyond the physical boundaries of buildings and engage the social, economic, environmental, and political relationships that connect housing to cities.

We illustrate four principles for affordable housing to engage to support the resilience of cities with four examples from recent practice. Taken together, these examples demonstrate what is at stake if we ask affordable housing design to serve the greater goal of city resilience.

Public Housing in the United States: Neighborhood Renewal and the Poor

Lawrence J. Vale, edited by Naomi Carmon and Susan S. Fainstein

University of Pennsylvania Press, May 2013

Find the book here. 

This book chapter considers the tortuous and tortured saga of public housing in the United States, viewing it as a kind of double social experiment: first when it was built–under the high modernist hopes of the mid-20th century–and again, as the 20th century closed, when it was redeveloped to mimic a pre-modernist urbanism. In both phases, planners and designers promised new and improved housing for low-income households, clearing slums the first time and, in the second iteration, clearing public housing itself.

The chapter traces both the evolution of public housing and the corresponding way that scholars and practicing planners have responded to it. “Planners hear housing as a verb; architects hear it as a noun; but residents hear it as 'my home.' Achieving progress on the relationship among housing, planning, and people means remembering that housing is always simultaneously a process, a piece of the built environment, and an emotional attachment to a place.”

The politics of resilient cities: whose resilience and whose city?

Lawrence J. Vale

Building Research & Information, 2014

Read it here. 

It is vital to acknowledge the socio-political complexity of the deployment of the term ‘resilience’ and to develop a more unified set of expectations for the professions and disciplines that use it. Applied to cities, resilience is particularly problematic, yet also retains promise. Like resilience, the term ‘city’ is also subject to multiple contending definitions,depending on the scale and on whether the focus is on physical spaces or social communities. Due to cities and city regions being organized in ways that both produce and reflect underlying socio-economic disparities, some parts are much more resilient than others and therefore vulnerability is often linked to both topography and income. Uneven resilience threatens the ability of cities as a whole to function economically, socially and politically.

Resilience can only remain useful as a concept and as progressive practice if it is explicitly associated with the need to improve the life prospects of disadvantaged groups. To improve the prospects of cities proactively (and reactively), there is a need to unify the insights from the multiple professions and disciplines that use ‘resilience.'

American public housing since 1937 is often viewed as a single failed experiment of architecture, management, and policy. This view masks a much more highly differentiated experience for residents and housing authorities, rooted in a long-term moral and ideological struggle over the place of the poorest residents in American cities.

This article reframes public housing history as a succession of informal social experiments: initial public efforts to clear out slum-dwellers and instead accommodate barely poor working-class tenants or the worthy elderly; a 30-year interlude, where public housing authorities consolidated the poorest into welfare housing while gradually shifting responsibility for low-income housing to private landlords, private developers, and private investors; and a series of partnerships since 1990 that reserve more of this public-private housing for a less-poor constituency. Empirically, this article provides an unprecedented graphic glimpse into the ways that the overall mode-share of public housing has shifted and diversified. Ultimately, this article reveals that the reduced role of the public sector has curtailed the growth of deeply subsidized housing provision to the lowest-income Americans.

From Public Housing to Public-Private Housing: 75 Years of American Social Experimentation

Lawrence J. Vale, Yonah Freemark

Journal of American Planning Association, December 2012

Read it here. 

The tax deduction for mortgage interest may not quite be the “third rail” of politics that Social Security is, but politicians on both sides have long been afraid to touch it. So when Mitt Romney recently floated the idea of capping this deduction, Democrats pounced. Here, after all, was Mr. Romney arguing to cut a long-favored tax benefit for middle-class homeowners—in the midst of a soft housing market, no less—so as to make up lost revenue from his proposed tax cuts that, critics say, disproportionately benefit the wealthy.

Illogical Housing Aid

Lawrence J. Vale, Yonah Freemark

The New York Times, October 30, 2012

Read it here. 

The world is urbanizing, but neither easily nor evenly. Modern cities are being shaped by top-down, forward-looking, skyline-transforming, neighborhood-renewing, tourism-enhancing, creatively-destroying, global-investment-enticing forces of change. Yet these same forces exert conflicting pressures on the poorest urban neighborhoods, and so cities are being shaped as well by bottom-up, self-organizing, citizen-activist movements that are struggling to oppose the displacement that so often accompanies real estate development. It is this interplay between the dominant narrative of progress and prosperity and the counter-narratives of protest and resistance that gives early 21st-century cities their distinct dynamism. These struggles are especially magnified when cities become the setting for mega-events that attract both frenzied local development and global scrutiny—none more so than the Summer Olympic Games.

The Displacement Decathlon: Olympian Struggles for Affordable Housing from Atlanta to Rio de Janeiro

Lawrence J. Vale, Annemarie Gray

Places Journal, April 15, 2013

Read it here. 

Throughout history, cities have been sacked, burned, torched, bombed, flooded, besieged, and leveled. And yet they almost always rise from the ashes to rebuild. Revealing how traumatized city-dwellers consistently develop narratives of resilience and how the pragmatic process of urban recovery is always fueled by highly symbolic actions, The Resilient City offers a deeply informative and unsentimental tribute to the dogged persistence of the city, and indeed of the human spirit.

The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster

Lawrence J. Vale, Thomas J. Campanella

Oxford University Press, May 2005

Find the book here.