The Beautiful Cities of Eastern Europe

Western Europe gets all the attention, but that means it also gets all the tourists. Here are some of my favorite old cities that I’ve visited on the other side of the continent, along with a few photos I took while there. Granted, a few of these places are now squarely on the backpacker circuit, but many remain underexplored. What they all share is an incredible, exhilarating sense of urbanism — old and new.

Eastern Europe itself is hard to define. Competing designations might include only the former Soviet states, or all the formerly communist European nations. Others might separate a limited Eastern Europe out from Central and Southeastern Europe. Here I will play fast and loose with the geographic boundaries: these are just cities somewhere vaguely toward the eastern side of the continent. Apologies to any readers whose country is usually considered a part of Central or Southern Europe.

First up: Mostar. A small city in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mostar is most famous for its medieval Ottoman center and its Old Bridge, or Stari Most:

Stari Most old bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Off the Beaten Path in Myanmar

myanmar-29I recently had the opportunity to travel across Myanmar for the first time. It’s a fascinating country, only recently emerging from decades of isolation. Travelers here today are greeted with the first few baby steps toward a tourism industry, as well some of the kindest people and most spectacular sights in Asia.

Myanmar is not the easiest country to approach. It remains, effectively, a military dictatorship wracked with corruption and abuse. Government officials control the airlines and hotels for personal profit. Large swaths of eastern Myanmar are dedicated to opium plantations funneling foreign currency into the pockets of powerful officials. Even its name is controversial: many foreign governments still officially recognize only its traditional name, Burma, as a political statement against the authoritarian regime that renamed it Myanmar in 1989. 
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Hong Kong at Night

Hong Kong is a remarkable place. It is the 4th-densest sovereign state or self-governing territory in the world (in 1st place is its neighbor across the delta: Macau). Yet this density is fantastically constrained by the mountains and the sea into narrow, snaking corridors of high-rises wherever the terrain permits. At no time is this unique urban development better seen than at night, when Hong Kong lights up like a carnival.

I took these photos from the top of Victoria Peak on Hong Kong island and from the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade on the Kowloon peninsula, using long exposures of between 3 and 12 seconds.

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LEED-ND and Neighborhood Livability

I recently co-authored a journal article titled LEED-ND and Livability Revisitedwhich won the Kaye Bock award. LEED-ND is a system for evaluating neighborhood design that was developed by CNU, USGBC, and NRDC. Many of its criteria, particularly site location and neighborhood pattern, accordingly reflect New Urbanist and Smart Growth principles and are inspired by traditional neighborhood design.

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The Inside Field Exam and Urban Complexity

I recently completed my inside field exam, one of the many steps involved in advancing to candidacy. The three professors on your inside field committee send you six questions – a pair per professor – and you are given 72 hours total to answer one question from each pair. The answers are to be in the form of a scholarly article with thorough citations. Long story short, you’ve got to write 30 pages of academic scholarship in three days.

The exam questions themselves are very interesting. The professors construct them based on their reading of your inside field statement, trying to probe areas that might be particularly rich or a bit weak in the statement. Here are the questions I answered:

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How Our Neighborhoods Lost Local Food (And How They Can Get It Back)

Healthy-foodThis post is adapted from an article I wrote in Progressive Planning.

Does food matter in neighborhood design? Should it? The answers to these questions are complicated and obscured by decades of perplexing policy and practice. There are many benefits of good food – that is, food which is healthy, affordable, fair, and sustainable. Proper nourishment has been linked in several studies to better classroom performance. Walkable access to healthy food can reduce America’s growing obesity and diabetes epidemics. Locally-sourced food can reinforce better dietary habits as consumers connect with the value chain and see eating as a more natural process.

The benefits are straightforward, but do most American neighborhoods actually support healthy food access?

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Urban Complexity and the March Toward Qualifying Exams

The Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley has a rather arduous process for advancing to candidacy in the PhD program. It essentially consists of 6 parts:

  1. Take all the required courses
  2. Produce an inside field statement – a sort of literature review and synthesis explaining the niche within urban planning in which you will be positioning your dissertation research
  3. Complete an outside field – sort of like what a minor was in college
  4. Take an inside field written exam
  5. Produce a defensible dissertation prospectus
  6. Take an oral comprehensive exam covering your inside field, your outside field, general planning theory and history, and finally presenting your prospectus.

Whew. Lots to do this year. The good news is I am currently wrapping up my inside field statement and preparing to take the inside field exam. My topic is generally around complexity theory in urban planning. Here is the working abstract from my statement:

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Visualizing Craigslist Rental Listings

Our paper on collecting and analyzing U.S. housing rental markets through Craigslist rental listings has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Planning Education and Research. Check out the article here. This map of rental listings in the contiguous U.S. is divided into quintiles by rent per square foot:

Map of 1.5 million Craigslist rental listings in the contiguous U.S., divided into quintiles by each listing's rent per square foot
Map of 1.5 million Craigslist rental listings in the contiguous US, summer 2014