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Assistant Professor Linda Shi Reflects on her First Semester at Cornell

Students were broken down into groups to analyze online blogs discussing different topics of planning.


Last summer, the Department of City and Regional Planning welcomed Linda Shi as the faculty’s new assistant professor. Shi joined the department following the completion of her Ph.D. dissertation on climate change adaptation efforts in American metropolitan regions and the precedent they set for future regional governance and policy development. Prior to beginning her doctoral studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she worked as a planner and consultant at several organizations and regions, including AECOM and the World Bank.
This past semester, Shi started her career as an assistant professor by teaching the introductory course to planning practice and history, a class required for all first year city and regional planning students that in previous years had been taught by Professors John Forester, Neema Kudva, Susan Christopherson, and Pierre Clavel. In her version, Shi introduced planning practice through theories that interpret planning as a process of enabling and managing capitalist development. She showcased the diversity of viewpoints by inviting pairs of faculty from the department to dialogue on key topics, inviting developers, city planners, and professional mediators to speak, and asking students to apply theories to case studies in role-play exercises. She also taught a research methods course on research design and qualitative methods.

In a Q&A session, Linda Shi reflected on her first semester at Cornell.

What were your impressions of Cornell and Ithaca, prior to coming here?

Shi: To be honest, I knew nothing about Cornell or Ithaca before coming here, so I had no impression. When people found out I was coming here, everyone who’d been to Ithaca told me, “Ithaca is Gorges!” 


What experiences in your academic or professional endeavors led you into planning?

Shi: In college, I majored in environmental studies and had a very one-dimensional interest in biodiversity and conservation in developing countries. But everywhere I went (Africa, Asia, Latin America), I saw how environmental conditions were tied not only to rural villages but also urban-rural dynamics of migration and resource consumption. I realized that addressing the urban condition is critical to managing global environmental outcomes, and have been engaged in urban environmental planning issues ever since.      


How do you define good teaching? What are some techniques that you have experimented with in your classes?

Shi: I think good teaching should impact real analytical and professional skills, but also inspire students and help them develop the ability to question, critique, learn and, ultimately, create on their own. In the classes I taught this past semester, I’ve tried to mix lectures with interactive exercises. Probably students’ favorite exercise was when I surprised the intro to planning history and practice class with a chocolate cake from Ithaca Bakery and then asked them to devise ways of distributing the cake as a way of discussing concepts of fairness, equity, and justice in planning.


Planning education is always evolving. Where do you anticipate the field heading to, in terms of urgent trends needing to be addressed in future generations of planners?

Shi: No doubt everyone thinks their own subfield is quite important, but I really think climate change is already and will continue to wreak havoc on cities, physically, fiscally, economically and socially. These kinds of challenges require a new kind of planning imagination to envision the kind of cities we want on the other side of the climate transition, and the cross-sector, cross-jurisdiction, cross-temporal integrated strategies that can help lead us through this chaos.


What is your advice for students interested in your scope of planning?

Shi: Build ties to other fields across campus. Climate adaptation is complex and cross-cutting, so planners working in this domain will need to be able to know enough of other fields – how they think, how they work – in order to coordinate, synthesize, and mediate among these interests.


Do you have particular goals as a new professor in the department? What kind of courses would you like to teach that aren’t currently being taught at Cornell?

Shi: Like any assistant professors: getting tenure! But in the near term: not setting a classroom on fire (at least literally), building collaborations across Cornell and other institutions, and starting up a research program that productively involves students. This spring, I’m teaching a course on urban adaptation to climate change, and in the fall I may teach a follow-up workshop class that gets at the interstices of how climate impacts will affect housing stock, infrastructure, social classes, and municipal finance.


What impressed you most about the planning students and the department this semester?

Shi: I’ve been impressed by students’ energy and hunger for knowledge, and their holding me to the fire in educating them on real world problem solving, not just theoretical critique. I’ve also been touched by how kind students and faculty have been to me and to each other – we need more of that in this world.

Published in CRP Faculty

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