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