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CRP PhD Student Discusses the Cherokee Nation’s Experience with COVID-19

video conference call still of two people smiling
Dylan Stevenson (Ph.D. ’21) on a video interview with Nicole Nomura (M.R.P./M.L.A. ’22). image / Nicole Nomura

By Nicole Nomura M.R.P./M.L.A. ’22

We connected with Dylan Stevenson (Ph.D. ’21) from San Jose, CA to get his take on COVID-19:

“My research focuses on the intersection of environmental, tribal, & rural planning. My work looks at industrial poultry farming in Northeastern Oklahoma where formal planning practices (i.e., planning conducted by government) aren’t common in this region.

I’m interested in what the Cherokee considerations are: Where is the Cherokee voice in this kind of ‘planning process’ that’s done inter-governmentally? And what are the worldviews that are missing from the discussions regarding regulations and how to protect the water quality and quantity in the watershed there?

During this pandemic, three things are apparent to me. In these rural towns, there are few public health policies in place. It’s really localized efforts trying to flatten the curve.

The second is the rurality of it. A lot of these populations have very limited access to healthcare, especially to quality healthcare. People might have to drive up to two hours to go to a facility. Then, the ability to use other technology to utilize the healthcare system – that’s also limited, which is dependent upon people’s access to the internet, where not everybody has access.

The third would be the native healthcare system here. Since I live in what was previously Indian Territory, there’s a substantial native population here. The Indian Health Service facilities have really ramped up their policies to protect people, but the social aspect of the virus is opposite of cultural norms because people really take care of one another at the community level.

Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself, make sure that you’re taking care of other people in a way that won’t hurt you or them. Just take everything a day at a time.”

Documenting the Built Environment through Diverse Media

person with photos on table
William Staffeld with his vintage films during his discussion to Jennifer Minner’s Art, Preservation, and the Just City class. photo / Franco Uribe-Rheinbolt B.S. URS ’20

Earlier in the semester, Associate professor Jennifer Minner invited AAP photographer William Staffeld to share his work on black and white negative films of his street photography from the 1970s and 80s during a session of her special topics seminar, “Art, Community Preservation, and the Just City.” A nostalgic discussion for Staffeld, his photos portrayed his hometown of Rochester’s nightlife, where he described his technique of long-time exposures to capture the essence of activity and people he encountered.

The class discussed photography as a tool for exploring the built environment and how it has progressed through technological innovations. “It can yield a special kind of awareness about place and time,” Minner shared.

“These images document what was once a rich and dense urban landscape that was becoming post-industrial,” said Staffeld. “As a photographer, I have come to appreciate that ‘ordinary’ people, in ordinary, not so beautiful places are transcendent, and truly remarkable when we encounter them up close.”

The project began as an independent study project while he was a photography student at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The photography Staffeld presented in Minner’s course was part of an exhibit that was featured at the college’s John Hartell Gallery in Sibley Hall in 2016.

Throughout the semester, students in the special topics class have been working towards contributing to a ‘Building Imaginaries’ prototype educational kit aimed at reaching middle school to high school youth. Each student in the class is contributing a set of activities, discussion questions, and background information organized around topics that could spur youth imagination about cities. This includes a focus on creative media for exploring the city (like street photography or mapping), the work of particular artists and artwork that critically engages with the city, or issues like urban reuse and gentrification and displacement and that relate to art and preservation.

CRP Student Coastal Climate Adaptation Project Wins National Planning Award

group of people in winter coats touring a beach
Chris Krahforst, conservation manager for the Town of Hull, gives Cornell students a guided tour of the town’s diverse coastal conditions, including Nantasket Beach, one of New England’s longest sandy beaches. photo / Linda Shi

Coastal cities worldwide are grappling with the immediate and future effects of sea level rise due to climate change. A report by a multidisciplinary team of Cornell students helping Metro Boston’s planning council assess the tradeoffs of different climate adaptation strategies has been selected by the American Planning Association (APA) for its 2020 Student Project Award. In making the award, the APA especially recognized the project’s innovative approach to addressing a widespread societal challenge.

The students’ work is notable for its integration of local budgetary obligations, land-use planning, climate projections, and social and environmental well-being. Their findings underscore the need for regional cooperation to advance equitable and sustainable adaptation to long-term climate impacts.

The project, titled “Staying Afloat in 2100: Evaluating Fiscal and Land Use Options for Coastal Adaptation in Massachusetts,” was the focus of a spring 2019 Coastal Adaptation to Climate Change workshop taught by Assistant Professor Linda Shi in the Department of City and Regional Planning (CRP). Students in the undergraduate urban and regional studies major, master’s in regional planning degree program, and master’s in public administration program made up the winning team. Students from another CRP course, Land Use Planning Methods, taught by Associate Professor Jennifer Minner, served as consultants for the project, providing important analysis for the workshop class.

 “I’m delighted the students have received the highest recognition by the profession for student project work,” said Shi. “This project demonstrates cutting-edge research and thinking in the field of coastal adaptation planning. I’m incredibly fortunate to have worked with such dedicated and passionate students, many of whom continued to work on the project after the semester to deliver a high-quality final report to the client.”

Through the workshop, students analyzed the fiscal impacts of climate change on three coastal Massachusetts towns south of Boston: Hull, Hingham, and Cohasset. Hull, a town on a narrow peninsula, is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, with six feet of sea level rise – likely to take place by 2100 under current emissions trends – projected to chronically inundate over half of the town.

man in winter coat points to frozen waterfront in residential neighborhood
Josh Rotbert (M.R.P. ’20) points out a section of seawall protecting the Town of Cohasset, one of the wealthiest residential suburbs in metro Boston. photo / Linda Shi

The students’ analysis included three adaptation scenarios: elevating houses and roads in Hull; retreating from flooded areas and building more densely inland; and relocating all Hull residents, restoring the peninsula as a sandbar, and adding it to the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park. For each scenario, students created their own analytical methods and models to assess financial, social, and environmental tradeoffs.

Joshua Rotbert (M.R.P. ’20), one of the students in the workshop, felt empowered by the opportunity to create a tangible climate change response. “I believe our team has produced something of significant value, with real-world relevance and application toward fighting climate change, and being recognized for that has been extremely gratifying,” he said. “While I was able to develop my technical and analytical skills through the workshop, I was also pleased that the project team sought to preserve a focus on the humanity of residents caught on the frontlines of climate change.”

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), Boston’s regional land use agency, noted that the project’s fiscal analysis approach fills an analytical gap in planners’ efforts to address climate change, which more typically focus on the vulnerability of infrastructure systems. They plan to extend the project’s analysis to the 101 municipalities in the metro region. The report’s appendix provides a methodology that other regional and local agencies can replicate.

The student members of the APA 2020 Student Project Award winning team are:

  • Erik Bucio (B.S. URS ’21)
  • Naomi Crimm (M.R.P. ’20)
  • Qihui Gao (CIPA M.P.A. ’19)
  • Anushi Garg (M.R.P. ’20)
  • Katharine Long (CIPA M.P.A. ’20)
  • Margaret Ross-Martin (M.R.P. ’19)
  • Joshua Rotbert (M.R.P. ’20)
  • Sanjana Sidhra M.R.P. ’20
  • Jacob Soley (B.S. URS ’20)
  • Audrey Wachs (M.R.P. ’20)
  • Sauvanithi Yupho (M.R.P. ’20)
  • Ryan Thomas, PhD Student Research Advisor, and
  • Khyati Rathore (M.R.P. ’19), Teaching Assistant

The project additionally benefitted from funding support from Engaged Cornell, the Institute for Social Science, and the Department of City and Regional Planning.

CRP Students Present to Town of Lansing Conservation Advisory Council

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Location of withdrawals from facilities, ditches, and culverts in Lansing. image / Joo Eun Seo M.R.P. ’20

Early last month, students in Associate Professor Jennifer Minner’s Land Use Planning Methods course presented to the Town of Lansing Conservation Advisory Council. The students presented natural resource and land use maps of Lansing using geographic information systems. 

The course is comprised of students in the master of regional planning (MRP) and undergraduate urban and regional studies (URS) programs, as well as graduate students in business and landscape architecture.

people sitting along meeting table
Students at the Town of Lansing Conservation Advisory Council meeting. photo / Eunah Jung

This collaborative opportunity came out of the efforts of URS alum Osamu Tsuda ’18, who currently serves as the Outreach & Climate Smart Specialist at the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE). As a participating community in the program, the Town of Lansing has expressed interest in developing a Natural Resource Inventory. Using a Natural Resource Inventory template and manual created by himself and another CRP student Skye Hart (MRP ’19), Tsuda provided guidance to the students while facilitating communication between the course and the Lansing community.

“We thought it would be great to have CRP students involved in the process as part of a larger institutional effort to better collaborate between CCE and Cornell,” Tsuda said.

Students appreciated the opportunity to discuss their Natural Resource Inventory analysis of the town. “It was a wonderful experience – I learned a lot from the council’s perspective,” said Fan Feng, a graduate student in landscape architecture enrolled in the class. “One councilmember is a professor from Cornell who’s an expert on soils. He gave us many useful comments.”

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The Land Use Planning Methods class met via Zoom to recap their discussion at the Town of Lansing Conservation Advisory Council. photo / Jennifer Minner

Minner shared that this experience was an excellent way for her students to apply their land use planning skills to work for a local community as they delved into learning the intricacies of natural resource inventories.

HPP Alum Explores Historic Structures through Sound

Historic Preservation Planning alumnus Andy Roblee (M.A. H.P.P. ’17) recalls visiting Sage Chapel, a popular destination on Cornell’s campus, for the first time as a student, along with other preservation student peers, to examine the integrity of the building. 

While many know the chapel as the resting place for the founders of the university, taking a preservation perspective entails a deeper appreciation for the materials, form, and spatial context of the structure. Those factors were given great weight in the construction of Sage Chapel which, as a performance space, needed to successfully augment sounds.

As a musician, Roblee wanted to break from the overly-engineered recording studios that he feels eliminate all reflective surfaces and ambient sound. As a preservationist, he is always looking for creative outlets and new ways to engage with historic spaces.

He began his “Historic Structures of Sound” project back in August, when he first experimented with sound sessions at a former bank building in his hometown of Auburn, New York. Despite the building being built for commercial purposes, he was astonished by the resonance the sound of the keys from the property owner’s piano had on the space.

“I would say there are two goals of this project: one creative and one more academic,” said Roblee. “First, to produce a record of original music arranged and recorded to capture the intangible historic fabric of the space, imbuing the music with real meaning. Second, to demonstrate how acoustics are a character-defining feature of a historic building, providing another tool for the preservationist/planner/developer to determine and market a new use for an old building. By showing how spaces can be saved to create meaningful experiences, these two goals are merged in the pursuit of sustainability and place-making.”

He hopes that the first phase of his project will open up opportunities for recording at other sites. Some sites where he expressed interest in recording include the Binghamton Inebriate Asylum, currently a vacant National Historic Landmark and the first hospital in the country to attempt to treat alcoholism as an illness.

Roblee is documenting this project through his personal blog,

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