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MRP Student’s Organization Aims to Improve Provisional Services for the Homeless

Two people posing for photo
Chasidy Miles (left) with co-founder Yadira Gallegos at the Case Challenge. photo / Chasidy Miles

Chasidy Miles (M.R.P. ’21) is co-founder of the organization Homies for the Homeless, which aims to provide specialized consulting services for city governments and community agencies to assist their homeless populations. She and her co-founder, Yadira Gallegos, a student at California State University, Long Beach, began Homies for the Homeless in their home state of California, the state with the largest population of homeless people in the country. Approximately 130,000 people are experiencing homelessness in the state, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

“Homies for the Homeless strives to create comprehensive, cost-effective, and restorative approaches to tackling complex crises,” Miles shared about the organization. “There are several obstacles posed by the chronic lack of affordable housing in regions across the United States, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Achieving progress will require a multi-disciplinary approach of research, regulation, inspired planning, and private-public partnerships.”

Since starting the organization last year, Miles and Gallegos have already begun to consult with different clients throughout the state of California. Notably, they prepared a report for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which focused on improving health outcomes for the homeless population in the city.

“We’ve felt very appreciative of the constructive feedback and advice we’ve received from the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. There is so much to be learned from experts in the field and it has only strengthened our work with other communities.”

In November, the two participated in the Crisis Management Case Challenge, sponsored by the Homeland Security Advisory Council of the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University. The challenge tasked teams of graduate students across the country to address the homeless public health crisis and deliver a product or policy implementation strategy to the panel of jurors. Miles and Gallegos placed second in the challenge.

“As a planning student, I often think of health in a spatial context. When the competition prompt requested that teams focus their recommendations on public health and policy-related interventions, it was challenging to consider recommendations other than housing. Our policy report incorporated the following measures:

  1. Leveraging 311 call data for more effective waste management placement and rat infestation detections.
  2. Investments in public restroom infrastructure, financial incentives for local businesses for restroom access, and employing homeless community members as bathroom attendants.
  3. Implementation of mobile health clinics to target areas and partnerships with Los Angeles Hospitals and Universities.”

Miles also expressed that she and Gallegos prioritized storytelling and incorporated photos of the Los Angeles homeless population throughout their presentation. They felt it was essential to detail the severity of the crisis without stripping the community of their narratives.

“When it comes to the homeless, we are so quick to judge or revel in our entitlement, because it spares us from the harder work of empathy and understanding. The reality is that any one of us can become homeless, and the problem hurts our economy, environment, healthcare and criminal justice systems, and fellow human beings. We must work together to restore the livelihoods of our neighbors and put an end to chronic homelessness.”

Eduardo M. Peñalver: The Fair Housing Act’s Original Sin

Six colored doors with signs
US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Door exhibit, from the 50th-anniversary celebration of the Fair Housing Act. photo / U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development

Date and location: February 28, 12:20 p.m. in Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium, Milstein Hall

Eduardo M. Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law. He became Cornell Law School’s 16th dean on July 1, 2014. Peñalver most recently served as the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He received his B.A. from Cornell and his law degree from Yale Law School. Between college and law school, he studied philosophy and theology as a Rhodes Scholar at Oriel College, Oxford. Upon completing law school, Peñalver clerked for Judge Guido Calabresi of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and at the Supreme Court for Justice John Paul Stevens. Peñalver’s scholarship focuses on property and land use, as well as law and religion. His work explores the way in which the law mediates the interests of individuals and communities. His writing on property has appeared in numerous leading law journals. His book, Property Outlaws (coauthored with Sonia Katyal), published by Yale University Press in February 2010, explores the vital role of disobedience within the evolution of property law. His most recent book, An Introduction to Property Theory (coauthored with Gregory Alexander), was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011. Peñalver previously taught at Cornell Law School (2006–12) and at Fordham Law School (2003–06). He has also been a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and Yale Law School.


From the outset 50 years ago, the Fair Housing Act has had a fundamental imbalance in its dual statutory missions. The act —enacted as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 —familiarly bars discrimination in housing generally, as well as targeting lending, brokerage activities, and other aspects of the housing market that were particularly problematic at the time of the act’s passage. Antidiscrimination was —and remains —crucial, but the Congress that enacted the act had a broader ambition in mind. That Congress sought to combat residential segregation and the dire concentration of poverty by race and ethnicity that was at the heart of the urban unrest of the 1960s. In the act, Congress recognized that the persistence of what people at the time called ghettos created distinct harms that required federal intervention to remedy, much as the federal government had long been intimately involved in the creation and isolation of these communities.

The act’s pro-integration mandate echoes in a sweeping purpose statement and in core liability provisions that courts have interpreted to apply not to acts of discrimination, but also to actions or policies that perpetuate segregation. Congress, however, delegated the act’s integration mission most directly to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other federal agencies, charging them with the obligation to administer housing and urban development programs “in a manner affirmatively to further the purposes” of the act. Courts have made clear that this statutory language means that it is not enough to combat the pathologies of the private market or even for the federal government to refrain from actions that foster segregation. Rather, the act charges the federal government with the task of affirmatively bending its resources and regulatory power to “assist in ending…segregation, to the point where the supply of genuinely open housing increases.”

The challenge — also from the outset of the act — has been that the institutional structures and legal tools that Congress established to advance the act’s affirmative integration mandate rely largely on a discretionary agency apparatus. As to antidiscrimination, the act and later amendments created mechanisms for individual redress and facilitated private litigation to combat discrimination — hamstrung originally and imperfect still, but ultimately not subject to agency control. By contrast, the act’s mandate to directly advance integration and reduce racial concentrations of poverty were to be embodied in a panoply of grant conditions, delegated planning mechanisms, project siting factors, and the like — all within HUD’s discretion as a functional matter. It was entirely predictable — perhaps inevitable —that this aspect of the act’s legal commands would be inconsistently embraced as political priorities and perspectives shifted from administration to administration. Indeed, the “affirmatively to further” aspect of the act has been mostly ignored in the act’s first 50 years. And recent attempts to give life to the mandate during the Obama Administration are now being unwound by the Trump Administration.

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Cleveland in February: MRP/MLA Field Trip

group of people standing outside a tall building, bundled up in the winter
Cleveland Public Square. photo / Nicole Nomura

By Nicole Nomura MRP/MLA ’22

Between February 6-7, the landscape architecture studio class (LA 6020, taught by Visiting Critic Mitchell Glass) and the regional planning urban design class (CRP 5850, taught by Associate Professor Jeffrey Chusid) went on a combined site visit to Cleveland, Ohio. As a dual degree student (MRP/MLA), I am in LA 6020 and my class did analyses to learn about Cleveland’s rich history and landscape prior to the trip. We focused on looking at vacant/unused areas along the Penn Rail, an active and major freight line that divides east Cleveland. Our goal is to design with the community in mind, understanding what their vision is and highlighting their attributes.

people sitting around a conference table
LAND Studio. photo / Nicole Nomura

Our first stop was LAND Studio, a non-profit community organization that serves a multitude of functions. Principal Gregory Peckham welcomed us with lunch and filled us in on their work. Their role was broken down into three C’s: catalyst, convener, and collaborator. They’ve done everything from coordinating local art installations to investing in real estate to working with the community to develop it. One of Cleveland’s major endeavors in revitalizing their community was to repopulate the city with at least 20,000 people in the downtown area by the year 2020. They haven’t reached this number yet, but organizations like LAND Studio are still working with this goal in mind.

Early the next morning we headed to Midtown Cleveland Inc., a community development corporation. Joyce Huang, the director of planning and placemaking, introduced us to their own set of C’s: connections, creating place, communication, and capacity. One of their efforts, Leo’s Listening Party, has been very well received by the community. The party is a series of concerts paying homage to Leo’s Casino, a jazz club that has hosted major figures such as The Supremes, Otis Redding, and Ray Charles. This series has provided an informal forum for people of all ages in the community to connect and share stories from Leo’s era.

I left this meeting inspired by the reports and efforts that Midtown shared with us. We all ate lunch together at Dave’s Markets, a local grocery store founded in the late 1920’s. Before heading back to Ithaca, students were sent out to explore the area further.

About 10 minutes into my walk, my classmates and I were at a busy street intersection when we heard what sounded like four gunshots—but I brushed it off, thinking it was street noise. We later received confirmation that there indeed was a shooting that happened nearby. This was a sobering part of my experience in Cleveland, grounding me in reality. As designers and planners, we often tend to look at our work from above, sometimes glossing over the realities of the community. Although we might not have influence on reducing something like gun violence, the least we can do is respond to the community’s vision and aspirations for wanting a healthier and safer community where they can thrive.

A Preservation Reflection through a Summer Road Trip

Entrance of White Home
The Surveyor’s House mentioned in the book By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder. photo / Elizabeth Burns

By Elizabeth Burns (H.P.P. ’19)

As I stood in front of a small house in the middle of nowhere, South Dakota, staring at the siding that was more than a century old–siding that had weathered tremendous blizzards and oppressive sunshine—I was transported back to my childhood playing in my backyard. To anyone watching, it would look like I was simply pushing a doll around in a wheelbarrow. Still, I was, in fact, traversing the great plains of the United States in my covered wagon finding shelter under the willows lining the riverbank (bushes next to a ditch of rain runoff) or establishing a homestead on which to live (stacking sticks next to the shed to resemble a log cabin).  That house I went out of my way to see in South Dakota was the last surviving structure mentioned in the Little House series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, stories I had so faithfully recreated in my half-acre backyard with a wheelbarrow and a little imagination. That house was not a recreation of history, it was history, and it was my history too. In that instant, I had never appreciated the plight of historic preservation more.

This stop was one of a multitude I made while on an extensive road trip across the United States following my graduation from Cornell and a summer-long internship with the National Park Service. It was a chance for me to fulfill a decade-old dream and after years studying preservation, learning about cities, buildings, and best practices, I wanted to see some things for myself. Going into trip planning, my two goals were as follows: 1. Have fun and 2. Learn something. Preservation wasn’t the focus or the intent, but it’s impossible to avoid.

When I say impossible, I’m not exaggerating. I stopped in St. Louis to see the Gateway Arch, a structure built only after the demolition of hundreds of older buildings along the waterfront, but a structure that itself is being preserved. The national parks where I spent my time hiking and camping continuously deal with the dual necessities of preserving the natural world and the buildings constructed to facilitate the public’s enjoyment of said space. And that doesn’t even account for what I overheard while on the trails. While hiking Montana’s own version of the Highline (an 11-mile trail carved into the side of mountains in Glacier National Park), I had the misfortune of listening to one lady’s tirade regarding the pathetic lack of historic structures in the United States. She disparaged log cabins, said American cities couldn’t hold a candle to European ones, and continued on with other such nonsense. She spoke as if a log structure still standing from the 1800s (or even earlier) isn’t a feat or American cities didn’t present the rest of the world with the skyscraper. I chose to do the magnanimous thing and take a water break.

What I came to understand as I made my way around the country was how ideas spread. I took my fair share of American architectural history courses at Cornell and am familiar with the different styles to the point where I can tell you the general age of the building from its architectural characteristics, but it’s another thing to see Queen Anne homes in Eureka, California; Astoria, Oregon; and Butte, Montana. What you won’t see in abundance out west are Georgian and Federal-style structures as they predate the industrial revolution and the westward expansion of American settlers. It’s easy to understand the theory, but the chance to see this first-hand allowed me to comprehend the intrinsic interconnectedness of the United States and see the movements of history.

Totem Pole in Woods
Studying a totem pole in Alaska. photo / Elizabeth Burns

On a jaunt up to Sitka, Alaska, to visit an old college friend, I learned that totem poles traditionally were allowed to decay and return to the earth, but recognition of the importance of the historical objects has led to a push for their preservation.

Commercial building along Brick Road
The original Starbucks in Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington. (The line was long, so the store was appreciated from afar). photo / Elizabeth Burns

The rest of my road trip continued much in the same vein. I kept learning and applying what I had learned. A friend and I stood outside of the original Starbucks in Seattle, debating the merits of braving the line for a coffee we could get at another Starbucks two blocks over. I couldn’t help but appreciate how the original Starbucks retained much the same appearance as it did in the 70s thanks to local historic districting.

Statue with Japanese Characters
A memorial located in Manzanar, California, historically used for a Japanese Internment Camp. The eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is visible not far in the distance. photo / Elizabeth Burns

Further south, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, I walked the boundaries of barracks in Manzanar, a War Relocation camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II.  Few buildings remain at the site, but each has been painstakingly outlined with painted rocks to convey the sheer size of the camp.  It was its own city.  A few states east in Colorado, I was visiting fellow Cornell graduates and had the chance to go see Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde. I had only ever seen pictures of it before.  Within the week, I found myself wandering through 1,000-year-old building ruins in Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. Lobbying to protect these sites from looters led directly to the establishment of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which paved the way for future preservation laws.

Home with Red Staircase
Elizabeth Burns pictured in front of a Queen Anne dwelling in Astoria, Oregon. photo / Elizabeth Burns

Preservation is all-encompassing. If there are buildings, if there is land, if there is culture, preservation will be there in some form or other. My time at Cornell opened my eyes to the interdisciplinary nature of the field. My internships with the National Park Service in comparison were more narrowly tailored, focusing on the federal side of preservation, following strict guidelines, and working on only federally owned sites (granted this account for 400+ sites in the NPS alone). Cornell laid the framework, provided the knowledge and taught me the theories, my internships presented a manifestation of preservation at work, and my road trip showed me the results of this work all across the country. From Yellowstone National Park to the Seattle Space Needle, from the Russian Bishop’s House in Sitka, Alaska to the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, each story has been recorded and the buildings preserved. It is history writ large in the most everyday places.

Alum Q&A: Natalia Sanchez M.R.P. ’19

woman standing in front of a wall that reads "For McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine"
Natalia Sanchez at the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, one of her many trips across the country for Trail Design project. photo / Natalia Sanchez

In May 2019, the Department of City and Regional Planning awarded alumna Natalia Sanchez MRP ’19 with the Robert P. Liversidge III Memorial Book Award in recognition of her academic achievements during her time in the MRP program. As a student, she was involved in several initiatives both within the department and throughout the university. Sanchez served as the external liaison for the Organization of Cornell Planners where she was instrumental in working with faculty and staff to host the department’s first Park(ing) Day event. 

During her first year as a graduate student, Sanchez enrolled in an immersion course offered by the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise (SGE), where she worked in a team with MBA students to plan and establish a commercialization strategy for a crowdsourcing application for the livestock market in Nairobi, Kenya. She returned to SGE the following spring semester to serve as the teaching assistant for the Sustainable Global Enterprise Practicum course.

Following graduation, Natalia made a brief return to her home state of Florida to work for the National Park Service (NPS). After several months, she was offered the opportunity to transfer to the Washington, D.C. office to work on the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) program where she travels to other satellite NPS offices to offer technical services to communities across the country. 

Q: What is your current role at the National Parks Service?

Sanchez: I’m an outdoor recreation planner with the National Park Service in the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) program. RTCA offers technical assistance to communities across the country looking to develop trail and river access, protect and conserve special places, and increase outdoor recreation opportunities. We work alongside communities, nonprofits, tribes, and state and local governments to get conservation and outdoor recreation ideas off the ground.

Q: What other kinds of projects are you involved with at the National Parks Service?

Sanchez: Based in Washington, DC, I’m involved in a host of projects across the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. My projects include transforming disused railway tracks into multi-use trails for walking and biking; expanding existing community trails to provide more users with river access and other outdoor recreation opportunities; and developing concept plans, funding and marketing strategies, and community engagement guides for various local communities.

Q: What courses do you think have been relevant to the projects you’re working on right now?

Sanchez: Most, if not all, courses have been relevant to the projects I’m working on at the moment. For example, I’m able to provide GIS capacity in my projects because of the GIS courses I took. I can offer new perspectives on the relationship between health and the outdoors thanks to courses focused on human-environment relations. And I’m comfortable working with various partners from diverse backgrounds every day, in part because of the opportunity to do project work in courses such as Planning History & Theory and Residential & Commercial Development while at CRP.

Q: Were there any other experiences at Cornell that informed your work as a planner?

Sanchez: As a planner interested in engaging new and diverse audiences with the great outdoors, I relished the opportunity that Cornell offers to take classes in any program, join in student clubs and organizations, and attend cross-departmental talks. To engage with other students from different graduate programs was a valuable experience that prepared me well in using concise and relevant language to get buy-in from groups that may not yet understand the important role planning plays in any development process, be it engaging underserved communities or developing a commercialization strategy for a mobile application.

Q: What do you miss the most about Cornell?

Sanchez: Definitely TGIF at BRB! Kidding…what I miss the most about my time at Cornell are the friendships that are still going strong with my fellow graduates. Despite going our different ways, it’s great to know that each of us is just a phone call, text, or email away!

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