I am a sociologist and planner -- and "recovering" engineer -- whose work focuses on economic opportunity, racial and ethnic diversity, and democratic problem-solving and innovation in urban areas around the globe. From 2009 to 2011, I was on public service leave from MIT, appointed by President Obama to serve as associate director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. I oversaw a wide array of policy, budget and management issues for roughly half the cabinet agencies--Commerce, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Justice, and Homeland Security. My portfolio ran the gamut from economic innovation and competitiveness to criminal justice and border security, from affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization and poverty reduction to the financial markets, foreclosure crisis, environmental sustainability, and more. I led the preparation of first-ever White House policy and budget guidance to all federal agencies on the importance of "place-based" approaches to addressing a range of national priorities.
Research interests: My first book, The Geography of Opportunity: Race and Housing Choice in Metropolitan America (Brookings Institution Press, 2005), focused on how rapidly America is changing demographically, how sprawling and segregated it remains, what's at stake in "housing choice" for economic opportunity, and what can be done. That book won the Paul Davidoff Award, the highest book award in planning, and has been widely adopted in courses. In 2008, after years spent interviewing change agents on four continents, I published Democracy as Problem-Solving: Civic Capacity in Communities across the Globe (MIT Press), which examines efforts to lead change at the local level in Brazil, India, South Africa, and the U.S.; the book was a finalist for the C. Wright Mills Award. In 2010, likewise after an intensive mixed-method research project in greater Boston, Los Angeles, and New York, I published Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty (Oxford University Press), the culmination of more than a decade of work on the impact of housing opportunity and neighborhood context on the well-being and life chances of very low-income children and families (and shared the data collection guides and protocols for the project's qualitative components). MTO won best book of the year from the National Academy of Public Administration and is a CHOICE "highly recommended" title. Along those lines, I have been speaking about economic inequality and stalled economic mobility in America.
I am now working on (a) inclusive and sustainable regional economic development and (b) how changing societies, especially immigrant magnets in North America and Europe, can adapt and thrive with unprecedented levels of social diversity. I work with and study a number of regions under the first heading, with particular interest in the equity and growth potential and limits of the "innovation economy." See my keynote presentation to the American Planning Association national conference (April 2013) and the Metro Business Planning project, in which I participate. As part of this work, I also direct the MIT Puerto Rico Economy Project.
I have taught courses on negotiation, policy analysis, strategy and implementation, the history and politics of planning, housing and economic development, the uses and abuses of research in policy and practice, the politics of the policy process, urban sociology, and how "greening" cities can be a force for equitable development. And I've designed and led professional education programs for change agents in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
I look for ways to reach practitioners, not just scholars, with most of my work, sometimes by publishing "actionable knowledge" directly to the web. For example, I created two online resources for self-directed learning: The Community Problem-Solving Project @ MIT (supported by the Annie E. Casey and Rockefeller Foundations) and Working Smarter in Community Development (made possible by the MacArthur Foundation).
My interests and approach reflect a range of experiences. In the early to mid-1990s, while working on my doctorate, I was a community planner in the South Bronx and other inner-city communities, pioneering a now widely emulated "quality-of-life" approach to neighborhood planning, which won the President's Award from the American Planning Association. In the late 1990s, I was a Clinton appointee at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and have been a consultant to national and international organizations, such as the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and the World Bank, as well as an expert witness in civil rights litigation.
Before coming to MIT, I spent six years on faculty at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. I've served as an editorial board member of leading housing, urban sociology, and planning journals. I now serve on the board of The Community Builders, Inc. and am a former board member of the Citizens Housing and Planning Association, Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC-United), and Aspen Roundtable on Community Change. My views have appeared in The New York Times, Boston Globe, National Public Radio, Salon.com, and other media. I was raised in Miami and the Caribbean. Recent talks include "Do social innovators produce social change?"
Ph.D., Sociology and Education, Columbia University
Master in Public Administration, Harvard University
BS Engineering, Stanford University
Awards + Fellowships
Louis Brownlow Book Award, National Academy of Public Administration
Finalist, C. Wright Mills Book Award, Society for the Study of Social Problems
Paul Davidoff Book Award, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning
Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Fellow, MIT
Carballo Teaching Prize, Harvard Kennedy School of Government
Best article of the year, Journal of the American Planning Association
Best Dissertation, Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management
President's Award, American Planning Association